The Boston Bruins arrived in Montreal having clinched the Presidents’ Trophy–and having set a new high-water mark for a regular-season record since the addition of overtime in 1983. To add a cherry on top, the Bruins had defeated the Canadiens in their last nine games.
The Habs? Missing their four top forwards, dressing six AHL call-ups and three waiver-claimed players, and a loss away from a fifth overall lottery pick. A walkover, a stroll in the park, with Bruins coasting to a 65th win, right?
Not so fast. Both teams made concerted efforts to give the game away, but, in the end, the Habs had better mastery of that, and the Bruins left town with two points in their pockets on the back of a rather fortunate 5-4 win. For the Habs, it was the end of a second consecutive tough season, but one that was marked by significant steps forward in the development of their young players.
The first act
The Bruins started the march to the penalty box early, as goaltender Jeremy Swayman flipped the puck over the glass in attempting to clear the zone. So, Tyler Bertuzzi headed to the box for two minutes after just 45 seconds of play.
The Habs’ power play managed two shots on net and one more blocked shot, but nothing of significance was achieved in those two minutes.
After the power play expired, though, head coach Martin St. Louis sent the fourth line on the ice, including Lucas Condotta, who was playing his first NHL game. Condotta promptly won his first big-league faceoff, against Pavel Zacha, setting the team up for an attack.
And what a first attack! Michael Pezzetta stripped the puck away from Bertuzzi and took a shot on Swayman from the left-side boards. Condotta was there to flip the rebound over Swayman, and as his shot fell in behind the Bruins goaltender, swatted it in for good measure. First NHL game, first faceoff win, first shot and first goal–all in the span of 26 seconds.
Oh, yes, that also gave the Canadiens the initial lead at 3:27 of the first.
The always-dangerous Patrice Bergeron was left all alone in the Montreal zone just after that, but Montembeault got his pad out to block the shot. And a few minutes later, the Boston defence was equally lax, giving Brendan Gallagher and Jake Evans scoring opportunities.
The Bruins struck back just before the halfway point of the period, as Evans’ clearing pass from the defensive zone was picked off by David Pastrnak. Connor Clifton took Pastrnak’s pass and sent it off to Trent Frederic, who was standing all alone at the left corner of the net, undisturbed by any defensive presence. An easy tip past Samuel Montembeault made it a tie game.
Justin Barron was penalized for tripping Brad Marchand at 10:05, but the Bruins didn’t manage to find the net on the power play, sending three shots wide or high of Montembeault.
Five minutes later, a funny bounce off the boards in the Habs’ zone found a rushing Jake DeBrusk. DeBrusk quickly sent off a pass toward the front of the net, but the puck actually slipped in between the pads of a surprised Montembeault and the goalpost, giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
Joel Edmundson fell foul of the delay-of-game rule as well, being called for delay of game at 17:10. After the call, Chris Wideman looked for some justice for Mike Hoffman, giving a solid cross-check to A.J. Greer, who had cross-checked Hoffman in the face in the teams’ previous meeting.
The resulting two-minute, two-man man advantage was anything but flattering to the most dominant team in the NHL, as the Bruins managed but five shot attempts, and none of them even reached Montembeault.
The Habs outshot the Bruins 8-7 in the period, but high-danger scoring chances were 9-5 for the visitors.
A sloppy second
Clifton has been sent off just before the end of the first for cross-checking Nick Suzuki, so the Canadiens started the second on a power play, but a single Suzuki shot was all they could make of it. Gallagher had an opportunity in front of the net just as the penalty expired, but Swayman gloved the puck, so all that came of it was a whole lot of pushing and shoving.
Pastrnak had a chance all alone on a breakaway at two and a half minutes, but Montembeault gave him little to shoot at, and the shot ended up ringing off the right-hand goalpost.
DeBrusk was sent off at 5:23 on the next minor penalty, this time for tripping Barron. The Habs couldn’t make anything of it in the first 50 seconds, so the referees decided to make things more exciting with four-on-four hockey. Rem Pitlick had his stick under Charlie Coyle’s arm, and Coyle held it tight, even as Pitlick let go, managing to attract a hooking call on Pitlick AT 6:13.
DeBrusk looked like he might have regretted his scheme just a minute later, as a high Joel Edmundson shot from the left side of the blue line was tipped past Swayman and into the top right corner of the net at 7:16, by Suzuki, standing just outside the blue ice.
To rub salt into DeBrusk’s wounded ego, Swayman made poor decision as the Habs’ penalty ended. With Pitlick streaking into the Boston zone in pursuit of the puck, Swayman skated for it into the corner but fumbled the play, falling down. Pitlick snatched the loose puck and skated for the empty net. At the last moment, rather than tap the puck over the goal line, he passed it to Pezzetta, who finished the play, putting the Habs back in the lead, this time at 3-2, at 8:24.
The Bruins were not demoralized by those mistakes, though, and started exerting sustained pressure in the second half of the period. It paid off at 13:58, as deadline acquisition Dmitry Orlov took a shot from a bad angle on the left side, and lifted the puck over Montembeault’s left shoulder and into the top of the net to tie the game back up.
The Habs held a 13-5 shot edge against the league’s top team in the second–who saw that coming?–and a 7-5 edge in high-danger scoring chances in the second.
A third comedy of errors
Pezzetta was called for a rather unnecessary high-sticking offence off the opening faceoff of the period, giving the Bruins yet another power play. With Boston’s power play skills imitating those of the Habs, there was but a single shot on Montebeault and no real scoring chances.
Until Montreal’s penalty kill unit got into action, that is. Jake Evans and Pitlick broke out of the Montreal zone, Evans passed to Pitlick at the right side of the net, and Pitlick got a good shot off–but hit the goalpost. Evans picked up the loose puck and spotted Barron skating in, just at the right time, though, and Barron lifted the puck over Swayman to put Montreal back in the lead at 1:09, with the team’s fourth short-handed goal in the last four games.
At 8:48, it was the Habs’ turn for mistakes. DeBrusk put his moves on display as he broke into the Montreal zone, but Barron was able to poke-check the puck away from him. Unfortunately, he poked it to Charlie Coyle, who skated in with it, left Chris Wideman flat-footed, and then lifted the buck over Montembeault to tie the game up again.
The A.J. Greer show wasn’t quite over yet, as Edmundson dropped the gloves with him at 9:45. Edmundson is not known as much of a fighter, but he appeared to be intent on demonstrating to Greer that dirty checks will not be tolerated. After he pummeled Greer for a bit, both men were sent to the penalty box.
Just over a minute later, it was Orlov that skated circles around Wideman, and then found Pastrnak on the other side of the net, Kovacevic couldn’t contain Pastrnak, as the Bruins’ star forward potted his 61st goal of the year to make the final score 5-4 for the Bruins.
The final frame saw the Habs outshooting the opposition again, 13-9 this time, although the Bruins held a 5-6 edge in high-danger scoring chances.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Lucas Condotta (1g, 0a, 5 shots, 11:02 TOI) and his fourth-line mates were effective all night long, and how can one not hand out a star for such a performance in the first 26 seconds in the league?
Second Star: Nick Suzuki (1g, 0a, 4 shots, 19:23 TOI) scored his 26th goal of the year, setting a career high and matching the injured Cole Caufield’s total. Suzuki consistently lifts up his teammates’ performance, and, with Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia, was no different from when he would play with Caufield and Kirby Dach.
Third Star: Justin Barron (1g, 0a, 1 shot, 25:49 TOI) played another 25+ minute game. After spending the first half of the season in Laval, he has gone from strength to strength in the second half, and his mature play in the season finale only underscored his potential.
Honourable mention: Frederic Allard (0g, 0a, 3 shots, 16:26 TOI) played a solid game alongside (mostly) Barron, in only his third NHL game of the season and fourth overall. Not on the ice for any Boston goals, and largely kept the opposition away from high-danger chances.