On Sunday, the Habs came into Boston Garden, the home of their dearest enemies, having played significantly better recently, and taken four out of six possible points in the last three games. On the other hand, they were now down Jake Allen and playing a second game within 24 hours.
And, indeed, the early lead proved to be too good to last, as the Habs ran out of steam in the third period, and gave up five goals yet again. The points percentage falls back down to .294, worse than all teams but Arizona.
All It Takes Is One
Once again Habs stormed out of the gate, getting the upper hand in the game immediately, looking for a way past Bruins’ rookie goaltender, Jeremy Swayman. Swayman held the fort in the early going, though, giving his team a chance to regroup.
And the Bruins got their chance at 3:20 when Josh Anderson was called for high-sticking Brad Marchand. With the Habs having one of the worst penalty kill percentages in the league and the Bruins one of the best power plays, the fans in the Garden were primed for some scoring.
The Bruins did get the power play going, but it never looked really potent as the passes were not crisp and the shot attempts were sloppy. While they did register four shots on Samuel Montembeault, the second power play unit was considerably less effective and the Habs’ penalty killers were able to repeatedly clear the zone.
As the minutes ticked toward the halfway mark, the quickness of the Habs’ third line paid off. Nick Foligno took a shot from close up on Montembeault and the rebound dropped in front of the young goalie. Artturi Lehkonen was there, picked up the loose puck and found Joel Armia behind him. Armia took off at top speed, with Jake Evans on his left wing.
Evans slowed to ensure he wasn’t offside but was not able to get into position for a pass. In the end, it didn’t matter, as Armia lifted a pretty goal over Swayman, giving the Habs an early lead.
Boston didn’t give up quite that easily and at times the pressure in the Habs’ end was relentless, never more so when the Bruins had their top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak on the ice. Montembeault was solid, though, and kept his net clean.
Jeff Petry was called for tripping at 15:35, but it took Jake Evans nearly two minutes to convince the referees that he had committed the foul, and not Petry. Eventually, Petry was able to exit the box, with Evans taking his place.
As for the ensuing penalty kill, it was as if last spring’s playoffs had returned. Christian Dvorak won the faceoff and the Habs cleared the puck. The Bruins re-enter the zone, and the Habs cleared. Cleared, cleared and cleared yet again. In total, Boston spent less than 30 seconds in Montreal’s zone during the penalty.
Not a minute had elapsed yet, though, when Brendan Gallagher was called for slashing, in what would rarely get called in another game. This time the Bruins were able to apply more pressure, but neither were they dominant and as Lehkonen buzzed around Marchand, the Boston forward knocked the Finn’s skates from under him, turning the Boston power play into a four-on-four.
Nothing came of that, though, and the teams headed for the intermission with the Habs having outshot the Bruins 12-11, and, more importantly, outscored them 1-0.
It Takes Two To Tango
If the Habs had started the game with force, the Bruins doubled that as they came out for the second. Clearly, their coach, Bruce Cassidy, had had a few choice words during the intermission about being outplayed by a sad-sack team such as the Habs. And his team responded, showing much more energy and urgency than in the first period.
Just under five minutes into the period, Bergeron and Marchand broke out of their own zone on a Habs’ defensive miscue, and then into the Habs zone with Ben Chiarot trailing behind. Chiarot was able to take the pass away with a well-timed slide, and Montembeault made an outstanding save to maintain the Habs’ lead.
The Bruins’ effort paid off just after the eight-minute mark, as another Boston press was underway and Charlie McAvoy skated to the side of the net unharassed by either one of the Montreal defenders. Lehkonen tried to keep him away but could not budge the much bigger Boston defender, allowing him to tap in a Marchand rebound to tie the game.
The goal actually appeared to function as a wake-up call for the bleu, blanc et rouge, and there was newfound determination in the Habs’ attacks, even if they could not put up sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
At 16:25, though, two of Montreal’s newcomers combined to take the lead back. As Josh Anderson led the attack into the Boston zone, making a nifty move around a defender to take a zone, he was trailed by Adam Brooks, who then circled back to the point with the puck. Brooks shot the puck at the net, with traffic blocking much of Swayman’s view, and Michael Pezzetta got his stick on the shot to redirect it past the helpless Boston goaltender.
First point of the year for Brooks, the first NHL goal for Pezzetta, and a 2-1 Habs lead going into the third period. However, a 20-10 shots edge in the Bruins’ favour was nothing if not ominous.
Bad Things Come in Threes (or Fours)
Things looked calmer as the final period got underway, giving hope to Habs fans that the team might be able to hold off the onslaught.
However, Petry handed over the key to the floodgates to the Bruins just 1:25 into the period, hauling down Pastrnak and earning a two-minute stay in the penalty box.
While the Habs were able to initially clear the zone, the Bruins re-entered and this time there was neither sloppy play nor a bad pass to be found. As the penalty killers scrambled to try to get control of the puck, Marchand passed it back to McAvoy at the blue line, and the defender’s shot evaded the heavy traffic in front of Montembeault and ended up in the back of the net to tie the game.
Petry’s next mistake was at the six-minute mark: as Montembeault made a save on a shot by Pastrnak, the veteran defenceman attempted to shoot it into the corner. However, the shot hit Charlie Coyle’s helmet and bounced directly behind Montembeault and into the net. A weird goal that probably could not be replicated if they were to spend an entire day trying, but it counted, nevertheless, and proved to be the winning goal of the game.
Three more minutes and Coyle chased a dump-in into the Montreal zone, curved over to the net with Brooks in tow, and lifted the puck over Montembeault’s shoulder for his second of the night.
With Ducharme pulling the goalie once again with the Habs two goals behind, Pastrnak fed a pass to Taylor Hall, allowing the veteran forward to add insult to injury and record a final score of 5-2, thanks to the third-period outburst.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Joel Armia (1g, 0a, 3 shots, 3 hits, 17:06 TOI) finally broke out of his scoring slump, cementing the Habs’ early momentum with a pretty snipe. Still, it’s only one goal on 37 shots, but if he can build on this one it would help the Habs’ struggling scoring.
Second Star: Michael Pezzetta (1g, 0a, 2 shots, 7:34 TOI) stayed calmer this time and did not give the Bruins a single penalty kill at night. Not the most beautiful of goals, but the tip-in was exactly the type of goal he can contribute when he focuses on his play rather than trying to get excessively physical.
Third Star: Samuel Montembeault (40 shots, 36 saves, 0.900 save percentage) kept the Habs in the game through the Bruins storm in the second period. He would have recorded a 0.925 save percentage without Petry banking the puck in off Coyle’s head, not even considering the other defensive miscues in the third.
Honourable Mention: Adam Brooks (0g, 1a, 0 shots, 2 hits, 8:52) finally saw action again, even if it was for less than nine minutes in total. Will he get another opportunity as the Habs approach the point of throwing in the towel for the season?