Paying homage to Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard, Milt Schmidt, and Guy Lafleur, the Bruins and Canadiens skated toward midnight in the first game of their 34th playoff series Thursday night. It was spectacular hockey and at times it felt like they’d still be playing when folks from Northeastern University lined up to get diplomas Friday morning, but it ended badly for Boston when P.K. Subban blasted a slapper past Tuukka Rask in the fifth minute of the second overtime.
Montreal 4, Boston 3.
This was a kick to the stomach. The most-hated guy on the most-hated team came into our town and won it with a blazing slap shot in the early seconds of a power play. The Bruins had outplayed the hated Habs for almost all of the third and fourth periods, outshooting Montreal, 28-12, in that 40-minute stretch. But they were beaten after Patrice Bergeron lost a faceoff in the Boston zone at the start of a penalty kill.
Watching Subban hit the winner was like watching Bill Laimbeer beat the Celtics with a 3-pointer at the buzzer. It was like watching A-Rod beat the Red Sox with a homer in extra innings.
The rational part of us remembers that the Bruins also lost Game 1 at home in their first-round series against the Red Wings, then went on to beat Detroit four straight times.
“This is just Game No. 1 here,’’ said ever-measured Bruins coach Claude Julien. “You don’t get frustrated after one game.’’
Right. But it’s hard to be rational when the Bruins play the Canadiens in the playoffs. There’s too much history. Too much emotion. Too many ghosts.
A Bruins-Canadiens playoff is bigger than your conventional sports competition. It’s not a simple matchup featuring two of the Final Eight in the Stanley Cup tournament. It’s not a mere sequence of hockey games. It’s about a way of life. It’s about substance vs. style, Sam Adams vs. savignon blanc, Dunkin’ Donuts vs. Tim Hortons, red, white, and blue vs. bleu, blanc, et rouge.
That’s why it hurt to see the Bruins lose Game 1. The Bruins fell behind, 2-0, in the first two periods, rallied with a couple of quick goals at the start of the third, fell behind with eight minutes to play, then forced overtime on Johnny Boychuk’s booming slapper with 1:58 left in regulation. Johnny Rocket’s goal rattled the rails downstairs in North Station. The Garden was Metallica loud. A Bruins victory felt inevitable.
The Bruins peppered Montreal goalie Carey Price in the first overtime, but could not put a puck past the kid from British Columbia. At the other end, Rask — still kicking himself over Montreal’s softie second goal — was nearly his equal. Unfortunately, Matt Bartkowski went off for holding early in the second overtime, and before his penalty was announced to the crowd the Canadiens were celebrating Subban’s goal.
This is where it’s hard to be rational. It’s hard to be rational because these are the Montreal Canadiens. And there is history.
The Bruins’ were the NHL’s best team in 2013-14, compiling 117 points in winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Julien’s team has been universally applauded in our region, receiving boffo reviews not seen since John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency in 1960. Everybody around here loves the Bruins and everybody in Boston picked the Bruins to beat the Canadiens. There is simply no support for the fraudulent, flopping, entitled, once-great franchise from the province of Quebec. Here in the Hub of Hockey, the Canadiens are more hated than the Yankees, Jets, or Lakers.
The Canadiens have beaten the Bruins 24 times in 33 playoff series. Montreal went 18-0 against the Bruins in playoffs between 1946-87. The Bruins have had more luck lately, but still we fear the bleu, blanc, et rouge. Old-timers still talk about too many men on the ice in the old Forum and Ken Dryden beating perhaps the greatest Bruins team of all in the 1971 playoffs.
Old stuff, right? Who cares about the past?
Well, the present hasn’t been great, either. Montreal beat the Bruins three times in four regular-season meetings in 2013-14. So now it’s four out of five.
And Rask? He’s probably going to win the Vezina Trophy, but the ghosts of Montreal haunt him. Rask is now 3-11-3 in 17 lifetime starts against Montreal.
“I was [expletive] tonight,’’ said Rask. “When you suck, you suck . . . I made some saves, I couldn’t make the game-saver . . . I need to be better. From a goaltending standpoint, Price outplayed me tonight.’’
Rask was a standup guy, but like all the Bruins and their fans he knew this was a tough loss to stomach. The Bruins looked like the better team for most of the night, but they lost. And these are the Canadiens. And so, we worry.
Holding call in double OT costs Bruins in Game 1 | Dan Shaughnessy: Bruins’ loss to Canadiens a kick to the stomach | On Hockey: Bruins in good shape despite Game 1 loss | Montreal’s P.K. Subban a productive provocateur | Canadiens’ Carey Price stands tall in net | Timeline: Bruins-Canadiens rivalry | How Bruins-Canadiens match up