MONTREAL — The old ghosts of the Forum, filling the sweaters of the Canadiens, might have stood a better chance.
The Bruins slashed downhill Monday night like slalom skiers on Mont-Tremblant, whizzing through a bunch of Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge wickets set up on the Bell Centre ice. Boston’s 4-0 win was decided early, the Bruins mashing the pedal with scant pushback from their no-show hosts.
Playing their third game in four nights, the Bruins played like a team irritated over losing two in a row.
“I know every game matters, but points are at a premium,” defenseman Torey Krug said. “Definitely builds some character. Hopefully we can build on it.”
Joakim Nordstrom scored 2:21 into the first period, Colby Cave added another with 26 seconds left in the middle frame, and David Krejci and Brad Marchand scored in the third as the Bruins (18-12-4, 40 points) jumped the Canadiens (17-12-5, 39 points) for fifth place in the East.
Ex-Canadiens backstop Jaroslav Halak made 22 saves for his third shutout of the season, and second ever as a visitor in Bell Centre. He spent most of the night enjoying the sight of Boston’s caffeinated forecheck, swift breakouts, and the Canadiens fighting the puck. He wasn’t even named a star by RDS, who tabbed David Pastrnak (two assists), Marchand, and Cave the 1-2-3.
“No passengers at all,” said Cassidy, who rolled four lines and three defense pairs with success. “I think we’ve been playing better the last three or four weeks. It doesn’t always show up on the scoreboard.”
Hard-charging and heavy, the Bruins were all over the Canadiens early. Nordstrom’s fifth goal of the season, a give-and-go with David Backes in the high slot, came in a first period that saw the Bruins move the puck with purpose. Boston gave it away once in the opening 20. The Canadiens surrendered it 14 times, 11 in the first 10 minutes alone.
“We reloaded all night, and our forecheck was awesome,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. “That first period, it seemed like every pass they wanted to make was hitting skates.”
The giveaways wound up 24-11 in Boston’s favor. The shots were 35-22 for the visitors, the attempts 63-51.
“We got our offense from turnovers and making good plays, and guys got rewarded,” Krug said. “Any time one guy was beat, it seemed like there was a second guy there.”
If Montreal’s power play was not in a miserable funk (no goals in its last 25 tries), the Bruins might have broken a sweat. But the Habs, who went 0 for 5, had nothing going. Handed a PP try 35 seconds after the opening goal, when Marchand stick-tapped Phillip Danault on the helmet during a puck battle, Montreal managed two shots. Given another at 13:32 of the first, when Noel Acciari dumped the puck over the glass, they came up dry.
The Bruins didn’t score on man-up tries late in the first (Pastrnak drew a tripping call on Danault) and early in the second (too many men). They waited until it was 3-0, but Marchand got one.
Les Glorieux got nothing until midway through the second, when the shots were 18-6 Boston, the attempts 33-14. Halak kicked aside a Paul Byron tip from the slot, gloved a Max Domi wrister, and thanked his left post for stopping a Kenny Agostino mini-breakaway.
“There’s always a push,” Cassidy said. “That was theirs . . . All in all, we defended, kept it to the outside. If there was a dangerous shot, we reset.”
Montreal had another PP chance at 11:57 of the second, when Pastrnak sent a soft breakout chip into Section 102.
Another puck-over-glass? OK, there’s something Cassidy didn’t like.
“You’d hope we’d learn to high-flip it,” he said. “You’d rather ice it. But boy, we’re getting picky, right?”
Boston killed it, and with the Canadiens out of sorts in the neutral zone, Pastrnak went in alone on Carey Price (31 saves). Price stopped that, then flashed the glove on Krug’s rush moments later.
Through all this it remained a 1-0 game, until Cave scored his first NHL goal by finishing a brilliant high-low give-and-go with Pastrnak and McAvoy.
McAvoy, wheeling the blue line in 4-on-4 action, dished it to Pastrnak. The winger, ever confident, controlled as he circled the top of the zone. McAvoy slipped behind Brendan Gallagher, took Pastrnak’s crafty feed, and hit Cave as he charged through the middle.
“My hot take tonight was that he was going to break through,” said McAvoy, who said he predicted on the bench Cave would cash in.
The Bruins made it 3-0, 46 seconds into the third, on a comedy of Montreal errors.
With defensive-zone coverage abysmal, Marchand and Krejci were allowed to break in 2 on 0 from the faceoff dots. Tomas Tatar slid to break up the play and accidentally took out Jeff Petry, the pair crashing to the end boards. McAvoy pinched, found the loose puck, and calmly fed Krejci down low. Krejci outwaited Price’s diving attempt, then roofed it. Price, disgusted, picked up the puck with his blocker hand and chucked it down the ice.
Mike Reilly took a roughing minor when he shoved Pastrnak in the grill. On the power play, it was Petry who went bowling, taking out Pastrnak and his netminder as Marchand went upstairs at 5:06.
“Tonight, not much,” Cassidy said, when asked what he might quibble with in Tuesday’s off-day film session. “Really, as a coach, I won’t say that very often, because we’re always looking at something. But three [games] in four nights, the chances we gave up were so minimal.
“Ask me again on Wednesday, because I’ll watch the video and something will show up there. Maybe we weren’t good on the walls, I don’t know, whatever. There’s always something. But tonight, not much stuck out.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.