The task didn’t get any easier for the Habs after a win against the Lightning on Tuesday as they travelled to Boston to take on the NHL-best Bruins. As has been the case almost all season, Boston skated into the Thursday night match on a four-game win streak. The Canadiens outplayed the Bruins for most of the night. In fact, the final shot clock showed a 32-21 advantage for the Habs. However, it was the Bruins who were opportunistic as they managed to score four times as they escaped a poorly played game with a 4-2 win.
Montreal had new lines with the returning bodies that featured Mike Hoffman playing at the top with Nick Suzuki and Rafael Harvey-Pinard. This allowed Kirby Dach to return to centre as he was flanked by Jonathan Drouin and Denis Gurianov. The third line featured Jake Evans as he got Brendan Gallagher and Rem Pitlick, leaving a fourth line of Michael Pezzetta, Alex Belzile, and Chris Tierney. The blue line featured Mike Matheson and David Savard as the top pair with Joel Edmundson and Justin Barron rounding out the top four. Johnathan Kovacevic and Chris Wideman were the third pair while Jake Allen got back to the crease to face the Bruins.
It was all Habs out of the gate as Harvey-Pinard, Drouin, and Gallagher got chances before the Bruins even got a shot on Allen. Dach was particularly solid on his forecheck early on.
Then the Bruins woke up as Jakub Zboril got a good scoring chance for their first shot of the game. 4:34 into the period, Tyler Bertuzzi rolled off an attempted hit by Wideman and fired a pass toward the front of the net. The puck hit Belzile’s stick and banked off Allen who was no longer on his post to get into the net and give Boston the lead. Allen had to regain his composure quickly as he made two excellent saves following the goal to keep it close.
The rough stuff then started as Patrice Bergeron hit Gallagher. On the next shift, Pitlick retaliated on Bergeron and got jumped by Brad Marchand for his efforts. Pitlick got two for interference and Marchand deservedly got four for roughing. The ensuing advantage would last 35 seconds as Matheson was called for holding the stick. Jake DeBrusk hit the post on the 4-on-4 that was uneventful otherwise.
At 11:30, Clifton was called for interference and Montreal’s power play was quite dangerous as Suzuki and Harvey-Pinard missed some good chances before an absolute rocket from the blue line by Barron got by Jeremy Swayman only to hit the post.
The post would prove to be costly as Connor Clifton found DeBrusk as he exited the penalty box. DeBrusk then blew by Edmundson and Savard who looked like pylons on the play as he made his way in alone and fired a shot by Allen to make it 2-0 with to play.
Moments later, Evans sent some snow to Swayman’s face that drew a crowd. This time, it was Evans who received the extra penalty. The Canadiens killed the penalty without allowing a dangerous chance.
With three minutes to play, A.J. Greer cross-checked Hoffman in the mouth prior to a faceoff. This sent both players to the dressing room, Hoffman injured and Greer to the showers as he received a five-minute major and game misconduct. Boston defended well, but Montreal finally got on the board with 18.3 seconds to play. Dach won yet another puck battle and sent the puck to the point. Gurianov was replacing Hoffman in the spot, and he never stopped the puck before firing it cross-ice to Suzuki who also one-timed his shot that was quick enough to beat Swayman.
The second period started with a full power play for the Habs but they were not able to capitalize despite three great stops by Swayman on Harvey-Pinard throughout the two minutes. On the first shift back at even strength, Zboril delivered two cross-checks to the back of Pezzetta. Pezzetta was slow getting back to the bench and the result was costly as Allen misplayed the puck and Edmundson was slow getting to his check. That check was Pastrnak who got a pass in the slot and scored his 49th goal of the season.
At 4:10, Barron cleared a puck out of the defensive zone resulting in a delay of game penalty. Allen made a big save early, but then Boston never got back in the offensive zone as the Canadiens completed an excellent penalty kill. At 6:41, it was Matheson’s turn to take a penalty, this time for tripping. Once again, the penalty kill was quite strong as Boston never generated a scoring chance on the sequence.
The second half of the period started with strong Swayman saves on Pezzetta and Savard before Allen made his best save of the night on Pastrnak on a cross-ice pass. Dach then had another dominant shift where he created two great scoring chances, the second of which for himself barely missed the net. Hathaway then took a penalty for holding with five minutes to play.
The Habs welcomed back Hoffman for the power play and the Habs scored on the advantage. With 3:47 left in the period, a nice pass from Suzuki to Matheson was upstaged when Matheson delivered a beautiful shot-pass to Dach to Swayman’s side. Dach skilfully deflected the occasion home and it was 3-2 for the Bruins heading to the third despite the 25-14 shot advantage for the Habs. Boston’s frustration continued to show at the end of the period as Charlie McAvoy delivered a big hit on Evans nowhere near the puck. Somehow, the officials did not call a penalty.
The Habs came out absolutely flying in the third as Harvey-Pinard created chaos on the first shift, and then Dach completed a full 360 before delivering a pass to Drouin who was robbed by Swayman.
Barron then hit Pastrnak with a high stick. It was Barron’s second infraction on the night, which is too bad because Barron was playing a great game otherwise. The penalty kill continued to be a difference maker in this game as they kept the Bruins away from their net and killed the time required.
With 7:44 to play, the Bruins once again extended their lead. Savard and Pitlick both lost battles for the puck in the defensive zone and the result was David Krejci beating Pitlick to the front of the net where he accepted a pass and waited long enough for Allen to make a move as he tucked around the sprawled netminder.
The Habs were kept at bay for a few minutes, but an awesome passing play by Barron and Drouin with a little more than two minutes to play opened an empty net for Gurianov who managed to miss the net. That was the Habs’ best chance to get back into the game but they weren’t able to get any closer.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Kirby Dach
Dach was playing amazing hockey when he went down with an injury. Since his return, he’s picked up right where he left off as he’s been the best Montreal forward this week. On this night, it meant some nice numbers on the stat sheet, but truly, it could have been even better if some of the chances he created were completed.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 3 hits, 24:00 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki focused on playing a strong defensive game and took only the chances given to him offensively. In my eyes, when he plays this game instead of trying the low-percentage plays is when he’s at his best. His vision allows him to try plays others don’t see regularly and without him having to force things, so it’s no surprise that Suzuki was effective in a game where he used smarts more than skills.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 4 shots, 2 hits, 22:27 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jonathan Drouin
Drouin was engaged from the opening faceoff on this night. Rarely throughout his entire career in Montreal have I seen him take a hit and use his body to protect the puck in an effort to take the puck to the middle of the ice. He did it more than once in this one. His incredible pass to Gurianov with two minutes left? That happened in the low slot. You know, the area where one pays the price to get the best scoring chances. I was truly under the impression that Drouin was headed to a different league than the NHL if he wanted to continue his hockey career after the season, but he’s making a case for himself in this second half. I am personally not in favour of that being in Montreal considering where the Habs are in their rebuild, but someone will at least give him a PTO, right?
Stats: -2, 1 shot, 2 hits, 17:21 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Denis Gurianov
Gurianov had a monster first period before being far less noticeable as the night wore on. Then, he missed some glorious chances in the third period. Missing those chances means that he was in the right spot though. Much like Matheson and Barron, I felt like this was a bit of an uneven effort from Gurianov, but then again, I feel like uneven is the best word to describe his play since his arrival from Dallas, so it might be fitting.
Stats: 1 assist, -1, 1 shot, 17:27 T.O.I.
Following the game, the Habs announced that Josh Anderson is out for the remainder of the season due to a high ankle sprain suffered in Tuesday’s victory over Tampa Bay. He joins Kaiden Guhle as players ruled out for the year with that injury this week.