Habs fans all over the world often get to claim that no organization in sports honours its greats like the Montreal Canadiens. We are often reminded of this when smaller moments come across the Bell Centre on a regular basis. The passing of a man who transcends the great label well into the realm of legend brought that realization to a whole other level on Sunday night as the Habs honoured Guy Lafleur. Honestly, it is extremely difficult to put into words the emotions and countless shivers that were felt. As a fan who is too young to have witnessed Lafleur play (he was my mother’s favourite player, so I saw many vintage games and heard many stories), it was unbelievably touching to watch this moment as the ovation from the crowd last the most appropriate 10 minutes. What an incredible moment, truly.
Their opponent for this Sunday was none other than the Boston Bruins who were 50 points ahead in the standings. For the occasion, Mike Hoffman joined Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield on the first line. Michael Pezzetta spent most of the night next to Christian Dvorak and Josh Anderson. The third line saw Brendan Gallagher join Jake Evans and Rem Pitlick. The fourth line was Laurent Dauphin centring Tyler Pitlick and Mathieu Perreault though the lines were really shuffled all night long.
The blue line saw the usual Joel Edmundson, Jeff Petry, Alexander Romanov, and David Savard forming the top-4. The bottom pair was a new one as Jordan Harris was joined by William Lagesson. Samuel Montembeault was between the pipes facing Jeremy Swayman, with Cayden Primeau as the backup as Carey Price is listed as day-to-day.
The game started with some Montreal veterans skating with an extra gear, noticeably Petry and Hoffman early on. Petry started the game with a big hit on Jake DeBrusk. Romanov followed suit on his first shift as the Habs were physical early on, but this meant that the puck was on the stick of the opposition. Just as the Canadiens found some legs and started to even the playing field, Edmundson was caught flat-footed and took a tripping penalty. The Habs penalty kill was flawless as Boston never even threatened Montembeault’s net.
With the Bruins in full control, the only duo in red that was able to generate some momentum was Anderson and Pezzetta. Anderson crashed the crease and ended up taking a coincidental minor for his effort. At 4-on-4, Hoffman was able to generate a bit of offence, but the Bruins came close on a cross-crease play as well.
With five minutes to play, Suzuki won a defensive zone faceoff but then both he and Caufield made inaccurate passes as the Habs were unable to escape their zone despite two really strong plays by Petry. In the end, Brad Marchand made a great pass to DeBrusk that was met with an equally impressive save by Montembeault, his 15th of the period. The rebound went straight to Patrice Bergeron though and with that, the score was 1-0 Boston.
The final two minutes of the period was some of the worse officiating seen all season long. It started when an errant offensive zone pass by Hoffman led to him racing with Erik Haula where Hoffman played the defensive situation perfectly. However, The official decided this was not the case and called a penalty shot on the play, even though a breakaway never occurred. Haula scored on the play, making the call even more egregious.
The Bruins then got away with a blatant interference on Evans before Petry rocked Bergeron at centre ice which resulted in Marchand throwing his gloves and stick to the ice before getting to Petry but only getting a two-minute minor on the play. The Habs failed to capitalize on their minute of powerplay time to end the period. Trent Frederic went once again after Petry at the end of the period and was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty on the play.
The second period started with another minute of power play time for the Habs, this time at 5-on-3. Montreal squandered the occasion but were able to score at 5-on-4 as Petry made a nice play at the blue line to get deep in the zone. Petry finally made a pass to the slot where Anderson grabbed the puck and outwaited Jeremy Swayman to get the home side on the board.
Two minutes later, Romanov got caught deep which left Savard and Caufield to defend. Caufield’s defensive coverage left much to be desired as Haula was able to skate right by him and put one home at the goalmouth, a play Caufield should have been able to defend.
Five minutes into the period, Haula interfered with Evans, but Evans was on the official’s case since the end of the first, so he joined Haula as he was called for embellishment. Anderson’s great night continued as he deked Matt Grzelcyk and forced him to take a penalty. At 4-on-3, the Habs did a ton of offensive zone passing, but not enough movement made it easy to keep them to the perimeter. The 5-on-4 was much more convincing as Anderson was once again all over the Boston net. Back at even-strength, Dauphin nailed Taylor Hall who took a moment before being able to get back to the Boston bench.
Play had settled considerably over the course of the second half of the period until Anderson checked Marchand who took exception and got his stick up on Anderson. The theme of the night continued as the officials inexplicably sent Anderson to the box with Marchand for a cross-check. Boston dominated the 4-on-4 sequence and then Charlie McAvoy got a gift as his point shot went through a few screens but beat Montembeault on a goal that flew in the face of the netminder’s night to date.
As one would expect with a 4-1 score, the Bruins came out for the third ready to defend and the Canadiens were ready to attack. Three minutes into the period, Marc McLaughlin cleared the puck over the glass which sent the Habs back to the power play.
It was a short sequence as Dvorak won the faceoff and Petry immediately found Hoffman for a one-timer that made it 4-2.
This goal got Boston skating again but it was a little too late as the Canadiens now had momentum. With 12:41 left to play, Dauphin was hit hard and retreated to the bench. While this happened, Pezzetta and Perreault won puck battles deep in the offensive zone. The result here was that Suzuki came on unchecked and Perreault was able to find him coming into the zone. The pass was spot on and the shot was too as the Habs were suddenly right back in the thick of a 4-3 contest.
Montreal buzzed as the second half of the period got underway, but the Bruins were stingier in their coverage as they kept the Habs to the perimeter. They also started skating and spending some time in Montreal’s zone.
With 8:38 to play, Montembeault made a stellar stop on a 2-on-1 to once again keep the Canadiens within striking distance but the Habs were never able to take advantage. The netminder was pulled with 2:20 to play for an offensive zone faceoff, but ultimately, it was Bergeron sealing the fate of the contest with an empty-net marker with six seconds left as the Bruins skated away with a 5-3 victory.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Josh Anderson
This was the type of game from Anderson that makes a large portion of the fan base want to keep him around long term. Unfortunately, those games have been too few and far between for the power horse. Anderson was noticeable on just about every one of his shifts. He made smart decisions with the puck, completed a check or a forecheck, and made the Bruins keep their heads up due to his presence all night long.
Stats: 1 goal, 3 shots, 5 hits, 16:50 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Samuel Montembeault
Another busy night for the young netminder who wasn’t an all-star but kept his team in it as much as one could hope.
Stats: 37 saves, 41 shots, .902 save %, 4.07 G.A.A., 58:54 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jeff Petry
Recently, Petry has looked much more like the player we were expecting this season. This game continued that trend as he delivered big hits, got in the heads of the Bruins early, and then made them pay all night long with smart puck-moving and timely offensive pinches.
Stats: 2 assists, 3 shots, 3 hits, 21:49 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Michael Pezzetta
Pezzetta took his promotion to the third line to heart and played a big game, winning battles and delivering hits. The Bruins are the type of team that likes to play physical and the Habs need players with a little less skill and a little more sandpaper that can still make plays around the puck when that type of game happens. Good game for Pezzetta tonight as he continues to secure his spot on next year’s Habs in my eyes.
Stats: 1 assist, 3 hits, 8:42 T.O.I.