MONTREAL — For decades upon decades, this was their little shop des horreurs, the place where the Bruins’ offense often shriveled up and their dreams blew out of the old Forum like tumbleweed and disappeared down Saint Catherine Street.
Not Tuesday night. Led by David Pastrnak’s sixth career hat trick, and helped immensely by the porous netminding of Montreal’s Carey Price, the Bruins shellacked the Habs, 8-1, at the Bell Centre, for their most-lopsided win at this part of La Belle Province in more than 20 years.
The Bruins tallied three times in the first period — about what they sometimes would score in an entire playoff series vs. Les Glorieux in the early ’80s — then added three more in the second and forced Price, the $15 million goalie, out of the net only 1:10 into the second period with the score 5-1.
Sean Kuraly (0-3—3), Charlie Coyle (1-2—3), and Brad Marchand (1-2—3) cobbled together three points apiece as the Bruins won their fourth in a row and improved their league-best scoring differential to plus-30.
Meanwhile, easy to lose sight of during such a blowout, ex-Habs goaltender Jaroslav Halak was stellar in the Boston net, turning away 36 of 37 shots, including 12 saves in the first period when the story line easily could have morphed into the sides constantly trading goals. Halak wasn’t into trading.
“Yeah, he was really solid in the first period,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “They were better than us, five on five. Obviously, our power play got us some goals (2 for 2), and it’s been good for us all year. But Halak made some big saves and we weren’t sharp. We weren’t as hard on the puck as we need to be; they were . . . and then we were able to finish some nice plays.”
The win also included an assist by Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka, who made his NHL debut and made the nice pass that Danton Heinen converted for the 8-1 final.
It was Boston’s most-lopsided win here since a 9-2 pasting of the Habs on Oct. 28, 1998.
The Bruins boarded a train for Ottawa after the win and will take on the Senators there Wednesday night.
The Bruins were hurting for shots on net in the first period, landing only eight. But three of them found their way by Price, who finished the first 20 minutes with a .625 save percentage. He departed 1:10 into the second with the score 5-1 and his save percentage for the night at .545.
Jake DeBrusk cashed in his first power-play goal of the season for the 1-0 lead at 8:03, a short-range snap from the slot after Kuraly (a stranger to power-play duty) made a quick dish to the middle from the goal line. Kuraly had just jumped on the ice to relieve Studnicka, whose debut included second-unit man-up duty.
Cassidy kidded postgame that he expects Kuraly, typically the center on the working man’s fourth line, now will want regular power-play time.
“I think he knows better than that,” said Kuraly, who doubled his assist output for the season. “I don’t know . . . you get a chance and it works out. I thought it was good . . . and I’m glad Jake was able to finish it.”
The Habs were back with the equalizer less than five minutes later when Shea Weber made quick work of a Brendan Gallagher rebound. Halak, Price’s partner here in a prior life, first blocked off Gallagher’s pinpoint drive from the slot, but the Bruins were too scattered on defense, allowing Weber a clean, clear look from the left circle.
A poor officiating call helped the Bruins break the tie at 14:24. Nate Thompson was mistakenly whistled off at 13:56 on a phantom trip on Connor Clifton, and it was Pastrnak who drove home the 2-1 lead only 28 seconds later off a sweet diagonal feed by Coyle from the right point to Pasta’s Place in the left circle. Pastrnak rocketed in the one-timer for his league-leading 21st of the season.
“Obviously, a big win for us,” said Pastrnak. “We knew they’d come strong. They’re a good team, really fast. Good for us that we were able to stick to our plan.”
Pastrnak later bumped his goal total to 23 through 24 games.
“To be honest, I felt absolutely horrible the first couple of shifts,” he said. “Sometimes you feel good and it doesn’t go in the net. That’s hockey, a big up-and-down game . . . just try to play my game.”
An egregious boo-boo by Jeff Petry, mishandling the puck behind his goal line, proved the setup for Marchand’s 17th of the season with only 37 seconds left in the period. The goal came only some 30 seconds after Coyle just missed connecting for one of his own on a wraparound that Price cut off at the left post. The puck stayed hot and it was Marchand, the most recent NHL Player of the Week, who made a doorstep backhand lift for the 3-1 lead. Coyle helped force the puck in front and picked up his second assist of the night.
It all fell apart quickly for the Habs in the middle period. Pastrnak scored his second with only eight seconds ticked off the clock, followed by Anders Bjork on a breakaway for the 5-1 lead at only 1:10. All in all, it took the Bruins a combined 13:07 to roll up five goals.
Bjork’s goal marked the end for Price, as Keith Kinkaid took over. Price for the night: 21:10, 11 shots, 6 saves, and an eyesore of a .545 save percentage. All his fault? No, but best players have to be best players. He wasn’t close to good enough.
A few chapeaus came skittering across the ice when Pastrnak tipped in a Brandon Carlo shot for his third of the night. If there were any old Forum ghosts left in the area, they were boarding a bus out of the Bell Centre. Provided they had a designated driver.