MONTREAL — The Bruins are the better team. This is what the hockey folks keep saying. This is what the regular-season record shows. The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy, earning home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bruins are better than the Canadiens at the five-on-five game. The Bruins play a heavy game. They will overwhelm Montreal with Maximum Heaviosity.
Hmmm. This sounds like what folks in Detroit were saying last October when they played the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. The Tigers were clearly better. Just like the 2007 Patriots were clearly better than the New York Giants. Just like the ’84 Lakers were better than the Celtics.
So why did Montreal win, 4-2, Tuesday night? Why are the Bruins trailing this series, 2-1? In three playoff games, why have the Canadiens led for 107 minutes, while the Bruins have led for only 11½ minutes? When do the Hub’s Heavy Hitters take control of this series? Where is the Bruins first line? Where in the world is David Krejci?
Sorry for asking. I guess this is the time to have faith in the battle-tested Bruins. They trailed the Canadiens in the first round of the magical Cup run in 2011. They trailed Toronto by a couple of goals late in the third in Game 7 last year. They know how to handle this situation.
Still, there is something nagging about this series. If not for three goals in six minutes of the third period Saturday, the Bruins would be staring down the barrel of a 0-3 deficit going into Thursday night’s game at the Bell Centre.
Buoyed by their Game 2 comeback at the Garden, the Bruins arrived in Quebec prepared to assume the role of Big Bad Bears. The Bruins’ decidedly bland postgame remarks from Saturday had been magically manipulated by the locals to make them appear cocky and ready for a fall. The Montreal Gazette led its Tuesday sports section with a nifty column by veteran Pat Hickey under the flaming headline, “Habs play down Boston’s trash talk.’’
I couldn’t actually remember any trash talking, but there it was: Dougie Hamilton’s contention that the Bruins had discovered a way to beat Carey Price (high shots when he drops down — it’s like saying a hitter has trouble with the fastballs up and in, or curves low and away — it holds for everybody) was treated as if Hamilton had said, “Price stinks,’’ or, “I hate French food.’’ Bruins coach Claude Julien, another spoked-B milquetoast, was painted as a ref-baitin’, Quebec-hatin’ son-of-Don Cherry.
“That has always been the Boston Bruins style and it won’t change,’’ deadpanned Habs coach Michel Therrien.
For those of us from Boston, it was Bizarro World. I mean, aren’t the Canadiens supposed to be the flopping, entitled cry babies? Aren’t our guys supposed to be the strong, silent, manly bunch?
Despite the buildup, the Bruins lacked fire for most of Tuesday.
Tomas Plekanec got the Habs on the board in the 11th minute, scoring from all alone at the bottom of the left circle off a pass from Thomas Vanek. The goal was a result of some sloppy defense.
A few minutes later, the Bruins appeared to get a break when P.K. Subban went off for roughing. In yet another play that will bother Bruins fans, the annoying/great Montreal defenseman took a run at Bruins winger Reilly Smith and wound up injuring Vanek.
The ill-advised roughing debunked Harry Sinden’s oft-repeated claim that the only things certain in life are death, taxes, and the Canadiens getting the benefit of the first penalty at the Forum. Subban was banished for two minutes and the Bruins went to work on a power play that yielded nothing.
The Bruins’ powerless play inadvertently led to the Canadiens’ second goal as Subban roared out of the box, took a pass in stride from Lars Eller as he crossed the blue line, and went in alone on Tuukka Rask. It was a de facto penalty shot. Subban deked Rask into the Canadiens’ ring of honor and scored easily to make it 2-0 with 5:16 left in the first.
“I thought our lack of awareness cost us,’’ said Julien. “We dug ourselves a hole too big to get out of tonight.’’
Subban’s goal was a punch to the gut; just like Subban’s game-winning double-OT slapper was a punch to the gut in Game 1; just like Subban’s duck-and-cover vs. Shawn Thornton was a punch to the belly in Game 2.
Face it, Subban-haters. This has been the P. K. playoff series thus far. He has been everywhere. He has been the nemesis and the newsmaker. He has been chippy and worthy. He has been a force of nature. The Bruins have had no answer.
The Bruins were downright slushy in the second and the Canadiens were happy to pounce.
In the 13th minute of the middle period, Daniel Briere did what the Habs did all night long: he got the puck out of his own end quickly and found Dale Weise on the other side of the red line for yet another breakaway on Rask.
Weise made a bevy of moves and potted the puck to make it 3-0 with 6:08 left in the period.
Patrice Bergeron cut it to 3-1 with a tip-in goal before the end of the second which meant that Montreal would hold a two-goal lead in the third period for a third consecutive game.
The Habs lost their leads in both Games 1 and 2 and were intent on not blowing a third one.
A goal by Jarome Iginla cut it to 3-2 with 2:16 left, but the Bruins could not pull off a third straight two-goal comeback in the third.
“They played a better game tonight than they did in Boston,’’ said Julien. “We weren’t good enough at the start to give ourselves a chance.’’
We didn’t get much extracurricular activities until late in the game when Travis Moen teed up Iginla while the Bruins were in desperation mode. There was a dustup at center ice after the final horn and the hard feelings no doubt will carry into Thursday.Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy