Good teams find a way to win even when they’re outplayed, and this afternoon in Montreal, the Bruins claimed victory behind the stellar goaltending of Andrew Raycroft. It was an unfortunate outcome for the Habs on a day when the club celebrated the ‘Hockey Fights Cancer’ initiative, though one can presume that fans went home at least satisfied that they’d watched an entertaining hockey game.
The unique goal of the game was scored less than a minute into the second period when Nick Boynton put a slick pass on a streaking Glen Murray’s stick during a power play zone entry, and the latter then fired a seeing-eye shot upstairs on Jose Theodore. After that point, the Habs completely dominated, but could not manage a goal against rookie of the year candidate Raycroft.
The first was a frame where the flow of play was slightly in the favour of the Bruins, but where chances at both ends were few and far between. The best Hab chance of the night came on a Saku Koivu wrap-around attempt which slid tantalizingly thought the crease, but failed to hit the mark.
As usual, the rivalry produced plenty of hard hits, and the game was still in its infancy when Steve Begin, in his first game back since having shoulder surgery, hit Joe Thornton and slammed him to the ice. The buzz never left the crowd after that point, and indeed, every time Begin hit the ice, there was an air of expectancy. The Canadiens number 22 didn’t disappoint, hammering Bruins all over and sending a large number sprawling to the Bell Centre ice.
In the battle between three of the rookie of the year candidates, the Habs Michael Ryder acquitted himself very well, making numerous splendid plays and creating quite a few chances. Late in the first he even moved around two Bruins to put himself alone in front of the Boston goaltender. His shot beat Raycroft, unfortunately the post came to the rescue.
After the goal in the second, the Habs dominated much of the rest of the way. There were numerous scoring chances during the second frame including a wonderful pass from the corner from Jason Ward to a pinching Francis Bouillon. As well, both of the Habs top two lines were routinely buzzing about, making good use of a clear speed advantage.
The third was much the same for the Habs, as they outshot the Bruins by a count of 15 to 2. In fact, Boston’s first shot of the period didn’t come until there was less than five minutes remaining in the game. However, despite utterly dominating, the Canadiens couldn’t find the net behind Raycroft.
The best chance in the third came on a powerplay when Andrei Markov fired a laser pass to Yanic Perreault alone on the doorstep. Once again, Raycroft was beaten, but the deflection went squarely off the post. There were plenty of other great chances, including a Pierre Dagenais one-timer from alone in the slot that hit Raycroft squarely in the chest, and another set of great Ryder attempts which were thwarted at the last moment.
Of course, despite the victory by the Bruins, the real winner today was the fight against cancer, and particularly the youngster afflicted with the horrible disease in attendance. And while a victory by the home side would have made the day perfect, it was surely a special event to be able to attend and find some semblance of a normal life.
Now, unfortunately, the Habs find themselves looking at the scoreboard tonight, hoping for a loss by those teams catching up in the Eastern Conference race. The Islanders are at home to the Panthers and should the Isles win, they’d come to within a point of the Canadiens. The Rangers are in Buffalo as well, and both teams aren’t that far behind. With the Habs struggling lately, they suddenly find themselves closer to the race to make the playoff than that for position in the East.
And of course they must rest well, as the Chicago Black Hawks come to town for another afternoon affair. The Hawks won last night, breaking an extremely long road losing streak, and should arrive in Montreal with confidence. It will be another big test, but one that the Habs should win if they have aspirations of the playoffs.