FOXBOROUGH — Nearly everything about Friday’s Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium was perfect.
Claude Julien stole the show with his hoodie homage to Bill Belichick. Clouds kept the sun from eating away at the ice. Temperature at puck drop was 40 degrees, crisp but not uncomfortable. Both Tuukka Rask and Holliston’s Mike Condon honored the Patriots and their trophies with the paint jobs atop their heads.
It’s too bad the Bruins blemished the party they hosted.
“It’s something that you want to leave here with a good memory and not how we’re feeling right now,” Landon Ferraro said after Friday’s 5-1 massacre. “It’s something you’ve looked forward to for a long time. We’re not happy with how we played and how we came out. We’re going to have to figure that out moving forward. At the end of the day, we lost 2 points to move ahead of them. We’re going to have to keep climbing now.”
There is no stopping the Winter Classic. Nothing has rivaled the artistry of its Buffalo debut in 2008, when Sidney Crosby scored the shootout winner amid a shower of snowflakes. Hollywood has punted such implausible scripts out the window.
But the spectacle is still good enough to continue well into the future, even amid the dilution of outdoor games into Heritage Series this and Stadium Series that. Everybody gets a chance to play outside, even Boston Latin.
The Bruins should not expect another invitation soon. They turned Friday’s event into a dud. It’s never good when the best moments happen before the game.
“I was trying to do that in warm-ups and kind of appreciate, soak everything in, and realize how special it was to be on the ice and be there,” Patrice Bergeron said. “After that, I was trying to get focused and get back to being ready. It’s tough to enjoy when you’re playing catch-up hockey all game.”
We will have to wait to see how Friday’s game translated to television. Probably not well by the third period, when disgusted New Englanders reached for their remotes while the rout was on.
Bruins fans believed the Three Stooges marathon ran on New Year’s Eve. They did not expect to watch a repeat performance the day after.
“Everyone’s really disappointed and really frustrated with the way we showed up today,” Bergeron said. “I can’t pinpoint one reason why. It’s tough to get embarrassed like that.”
Seventy-four seconds into the day, while the home crowd was still marveling at the show they had come to see, David Desharnais shoved the first puck down Rask’s throat. It didn’t get much better. The Canadiens chewed up the ice in the Boston zone with 27 shot attempts. Condon shivered in the other net because the Bruins challenged him with just four attempts.
The Bruins tried to regroup at the start of the second. But two minutes in, Paul Byron gave the Canadiens a 2-0 lead.
“It was great for the beginning,” Ferraro said of the atmosphere. “You enjoy it. It was loud and exciting. But it loses momentum quick when they get on top of you and you can’t seem to get back up to the surface quick enough. It’s disappointing. There’s 70,000 people coming to see us play and wanted a little more effort out of us.”
Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, returning after missing 17 straight games, made it a 3-0 game at 17:20 of the second. Matt Beleskey gave the Bruins life at 3:56 of the third. But Gallagher set up Max Pacioretty for the win-sealing strike at 8:49 of the third. By then, the race was on for the fastest lane onto Route 1.
“The unfortunate part,” said Julien, “is that I think we played one of probably our worst games at the worst time.”
Neither team played with a full deck at Gillette. Montreal goaltender Carey Price remains out.
The Bruins were without David Krejci, the casualty of a collision with Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan last Sunday. They were also missing the suspended Brad Marchand, who had only himself to blame for his absence.
Just shifts into the first, it was clear the Canadiens were the better team. Before the game, pilots from the Rhode Island Air National Guard steered a C-130J overhead. General manager Don Sweeney was busy trying to alter its flight plan to scoop David Pastrnak out of the World Junior Championship and parachute the right wing from Finland back to Foxborough for the third.
The Bruins had nothing — no rhythm, no pace, and certainly no puck. After 40 minutes, Montreal led in shot attempts, 49-27. The only reason the Canadiens’ bulge wasn’t bigger than three goals was the angry man in the Boston net. Rask (22 saves through two periods) was under assault. If not for Rask’s acrobatics, the game might have been called after 40 out of mercy.
“Mentally, we were just not there, I guess, and didn’t execute the game plan like we wanted to execute it,” Rask said. “When a couple little things go wrong like that, it becomes big. We gave up a ton of scoring chances in the first two periods.”
The Bruins chased the game for 60 minutes. They remain in pursuit of the Canadiens in the standings.
They could have grabbed a 1-point lead over their rivals with a win. Instead, the sixth-place Bruins are 3 points behind the No. 3 Canadiens. The Bruins have dropped four of their last five games. They are going in the wrong direction.