The Bruins invited some of their Big, Bad legends back to Boston Saturday night for some overdue banner raisings to the rafters at the TD Garden.
The current group of black-and-gold skaters were clearly inspired by their 1970s predecessors’ presence, as they went out and nearly raised the roof off the place with a 5-2 win over the Canadiens.
Members of Boston’s Stanley Cup winning teams of 1970 and ‘72 never got the chance to watch their banners raised on the subsequent opening nights. They just showed up and the flags were already dangling. It just wasn’t tradition at the time.
That all changed Saturday as Bobby, Espo, Cheesy, and the rest of the gang gathered together to pull the strings and watch the banners ascend.
Brad Marchand, who spent much of the day chatting with the ex-Bruins and listening to stories, acknowledged he was worried his team might come out flat.
“Whenever there’s a night like this and you bring a lot of people in town and there’s a big ceremony, you never know how the team’s going to come out,” said the captain. “I thought we had a great game.
“We kind of owed it to those guys. They’re the ones that built the foundation and the culture that we still try to uphold today.”
The crowd’s cheers were still ringing out and the tears hadn’t yet dried when the Bruins served notice that they’d be playing this one with plenty of emotion.
Thanks to three assists from David Pastrnak, Jim Montgomery’s club jumped to a 2-0 lead after one and 4-1 after two, consistently beating the Canadiens to every loose puck and assuring that they would not blow a lead the way they did in Montreal a week ago.
The coach said it was “absolutely” his club’s best game of the season.
“I thought we played the right way for 60 minutes, the way we want to play,” said Montgomery.
The Bruins took a lead it never relinquished with a pair of Canadiens in the box (Jesse Ylonen for hooking, and Johnathan Kovacevic for tripping).
Charlie McAvoy and Marchand played hot potato with the puck before McAvoy buried it to the top shelf past Canadien netminder Jake Allen.
It was the 500th assist of Marchand’s career, making him the eighth Bruin to reach that milestone. He would later add another.
Boston, which improved to 13-1-2, doubled the lead when Trent Frederic struck for the first of his two on the night.
Standing just outside the slot, Frederic redirected a Brandon Carlo shot from the blue line past a helpless Allen (39 saves).
Pavel Zacha upped it to 3-0 with a little help (well, a lot, actually) from Canadiens defenseman Jordan Harris, the former Northeastern captain who inadvertently tipped Zacha’s shot past his own goalie.
The visitors finally broke through when captain Nick Suzuki slipped a pass from behind the net to Juraj Slafkovsky, who one-timed it past Jeremy Swayman (20 saves).
Frederic, fresh out of the penalty box after serving a high sticking minor, restored the three-goal lead with his second of the night.
Charlie Coyle, who just helped kill the penalty, hit Frederic in stride and the big winger barreled down the wing and slid the puck through Allen’s five-hole.
As he sat in the box, Frederic was fantasizing about a shot at redemption.
“I mean they just scored, so it was kind of a not great timing on the penalty,” said Frederic. “The penalty is what it is, and you’re kind of sitting there frustrated.
“And every time you’re in the box you’re thinking you might get a breakaway,” he continued. “It’s never really happened, but you’re thinking of what you’re going to do. And that’s kind of what I was thinking about, and I guess visualize it and it actually came true.”
James van Riemsdyk bumped the lead to 5-1 with a power-play strike early in the third, and Kovacevic potted one for Montreal late for the final tally.
It was a dominating performance by the team with the best record in the league, and a fitting result for all Bruins past and present.
“I think we talk a lot about how lucky we are to be part of the Boston Bruins history and being able to witness it there and see those great teams of ‘70 and ‘72 and all the tremendous characters that we are lucky to follow in their footprints,” said Montgomery. “It was really special.”