The Montreal Canadiens came out flying and eventually beat the Boston Bruins in game three of their playoff series by a score of 3-2. Bob Gainey had his decision to acquire Alex Kovalev vindicated on this night as the enigmatic Russian scored two to pace the Habs to the victory.
Right from the get-go on this one the Habs were pounding the Bruins as an electric capacity crowd of 21 273 all but drowned out the commentary. And the Habs rewarded the crowd fairly early when Kovalev took a pass from Saku Koivu in the slot and deked Andrew Raycroft out on the way to scoring his first of the playoffs.
Unfotunately, the Habs surprising Achilles Heel these last two games, Jose Theodore, allowed yet another terribly weak one by when Andy Hilbert tossed a wrist shot at the net from the near boards. Sheldon Souray had started the play when he sent out a weak pass that Hilbert intercepted, but Theodore was weaker when he looked completely baffled on the shot.
It didn’t take long, however, before the Habs pulled things together and got the crowd back on their feet. Michael Ryder was stellar repeatedly and only just missed scoring moments after Boston’s first goal. The power play even looked alert at times as Mike Ribeiro was stopped from in close by Raycroft.
Kovalev made a great defensive play, chipping the puck past his opponent to clear the zone after that. His speed was such that he was able to move past the defender and skate in two-on-one with Richard Zednik on his other wing. The pass having been taken away by good defensive positioning, Kovalev elected to shoot, and his laser perfect shot beat Raycroft to put the Habs up by a goal once again.
The rest of the period consisted of more solid Montreal chances and domination, particularly from the first line of Koivu, Kovalev, and Zednik. Interestingly, Theodore earned an assist on each Montreal goal which speaks to the Habs’ speed and counter-attack abilities.
The second was much the same as the first with Montreal getting chance after chance on the Boston goal. Ryder and Zednik again had solid chances to put the puck in the net, yet failed to capitalize.
Finally, near the end of the period, the Habs broke in one more time with Koivu feathering a pass to Zednik. His shot was saved, but the rebound went straight to the stick of a pinching Andrei Markov, and he made no mistake, putting the Habs up by two going into the third.
Somehow the Habs lost a little momentum and intensity in the third and more defensive errors led to a few chances to start the frame. Brian Rolston took advantage of yet another miscue from Theodore and Stephane Quintal to bring the Bruins to within one after only a quarter of the period had passed.
With speed as he gained the blue line, Rolston turned to the outside and for whatever reason had Quintal turning the wrong way. With aging limbs, Quintal could not keep up and alled the Bruin forward to penetrate into a solid shooting position. His shot whistled through Theodore’s legs leaving the Montreal fans worrying about their supposed strength.
After that the Canadiens were just holding on, no longer pressuring the Bruins on the forecheck. The feat managed more than a few solid defensive plays, Markov and Jan Bulis two of the Habs that distinguished themselves because of great play.
Late in the period the Habs were awarded with a power play, and while they didn’t score, Ryder showed some special plays again and was dominant down low. Ribeiro also just missed on a wrap-around attempt leading up to the power play.
In the final minute, with the goalie pulled, Boston lost control of the puck and Ribeiro went down hard chasing it. He lay on the ice writhing in pain for a few moments until the whistle ended the play. While it looked like he’d separated his shoulder, after a moment with the trainer, he was up, skating back to the bench and trash talking with the Bruins. If there’s one play that will motivate Boston for the next game, this is it, and it was a shame to see such a play from the Canadiens. Surely the referees will take closer notice to every time he falls to the ice in the future.
When the clock ran out and the Habs had pulled to within one in the series, they could think back to two of the best periods they’d played in the playoffs as the turning point in this game. Surely Julien will make sure they start game four the same way with hopes of taking the series back to Boston all tied up.