BOSTON – They came from the stands as the Montreal Canadiens celebrated – boos and expletives, beer cups and water bottles, rally towels and even a couple pairs of sunglasses. Something appeared to hit P.K. Subban in the head.
“I don’t know,” Subban said. “It doesn’t really matter.”
What did he care? Subban, a villain in Boston, had scored his second power-play goal of the game 4:17 into double overtime late Thursday night, and the Canadiens had escaped with a 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins. The Habs had a 1-0 lead in this second-round series and a 5-0 record in the playoffs. Somehow.
The scoring summary says this was a thriller, a fitting beginning to the 34th playoff meeting between these ancient rivals. The Habs took a 2-0 lead. The Bruins came back and tied it, 2-2. The Habs took a 3-2 lead. The Bruins came back and tied it, 3-3, when Johnny Boychuk scored with 1:58 left in regulation. They went one OT. They went another.
But this was really a blowout – for the Bruins. Boston had 98 shot attempts, Montreal 58. Boston put 51 of them on net, Montreal 33. It was almost as if Canadiens goaltender Carey Price – Team Canada’s goaltender at the Sochi Olympics – had been traded to Latvia.
“Without Carey Price,” Subban said, “I don’t know if we’re even in this game.”
Price was excellent, and he was lucky, too.
“It was quite the performance tonight,” said Canadiens captain Brian Gionta. “He stole that game for us.”
The Canadiens had been sitting around since April 22, when they wrapped up a first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and coach Michel Therrien said they looked like a team that had not played in 10 days. He said their timing was off. He said they would be better on Saturday in Game 2.
He’d better be right, because can the Canadiens win the series like this? With a power play, Subban, Price and some bounces? With the puck in their end constantly? With trade deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek bouncing from line to line and playing sporadically, because of an injury, matchups or Therrien’s wrath?
“I thought we dominated the game,” said Bruins winger Jarome Iginla, who sustained a ton of pressure with linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic. “I thought even when they got the lead, we had chance after chance. They were just a little tougher going in tonight. Some nights that happens.”
This was one of those nights.
This is how the Habs took their 2-0 lead: They went on the power play in the first period thanks to a questionable tripping call on defenseman Matt Bartkowski, the fans booing, accusing Dale Weise of diving. Subban fired a wrist shot through traffic. More boos.
They got a 2-on-1 rush in the second after a turnover by defenseman Torey Krug, and Rene Bourque, who scored nine goals in the regular season, scored his fourth by snapping the puck through the pads of goaltender Tuukka Rask. Soft goal. TD Garden was quiet.
The Bruins almost scored three times on one power play in the second, but Price stoned Iginla on the doorstep, Dougie Hamilton hit a post and Carl Soderberg couldn’t get a shot off in close with the puck in his feet and the net wide open.
Then Reilly Smith made it 2-1 early in the third, firing a shot through the legs of defenseman Andrei Markov and a screen in front, and the Garden woke up. Then Krug made up for his turnover by tying the game with a shot from the left circle. He beat the “B” on his chest. The Garden started rocking. Timeout, Montreal.
The Habs had nothing going, absolutely nothing … until they swarmed, and Krejci lost the puck behind the net, and Gionta sent it out front, and Francis Bouillon gave them a 3-2 lead.
The Bruins almost tied the game with 2:20 to go, when Krug fired a point shot, the puck hit bodies and sat behind Price in the crease – not the last time something like that would happen. They did tie it seconds later when Brad Marchand corralled the puck behind the goal line, sent it to the point and Boychuk became the eighth player to score an equalizer in the last 2 1/2 minutes of regulation in these playoffs.
Through three periods, the Bruins outshot the Canadiens, 36-23. The shot attempts were 69-40. It continued to be lopsided in the overtimes. A puck bounced off the end boards, and Soderberg deflected it between Price’s pads, only to see it skip through the crease inches from the goal line. Price stoned Marchand. Price stoned Krejci. Another point shot hit Marchand’s skate, and as Price spun 360 degrees, he didn’t see the puck sitting behind him. The Bruins couldn’t poke it into the open net before it was cleared.
“When there’s success, you’ve got to take it and get better,” Subban said. “I still think there’s a lot of things we need to get better on. We can’t be giving up 50-plus shots, I can tell you that, for the rest of the series. Pricey shouldn’t have to stop that many pucks. He shouldn’t have to.”
The Habs got not one, but two power plays in the overtimes. Both were legitimate penalties. Daniel Paille went knee-on-knee with Brendan Gallagher late in the first OT and went off for tripping. Bartkowski tackled Weise in front of the Boston net to foil a scoring chance in the second OT. A wicked shot by Subban, and that was it.
“It was a battle,” said Price, who finished with 48 saves. “It was exactly what we were expecting. We just gutted it out.”
The fans vented their frustration, throwing garbage at what they saw as garbage. Rask vented his own frustration. He is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the league’s best goaltender, but he has never beaten Montreal at home in eight tries in the regular season and the playoffs. He has beaten Montreal only three times in 17 tries overall.
“We played a great game,” Rask said. “We can’t change anything except we got to kill those penalties, and I’ve got to keep the puck out of my net. That’s the only change we need.”
But the Bruins in general? They’ve been through too much to show frustration, even after a loss like this, even against the Habs, and they have come back in series many times before.
“It happens,” Iginla said.
The Canadiens won three of their four games against the Bruins in the regular season, and now they have a 1-0 series lead over them in the second round. Well, the Detroit Red Wings won three of their four games against the Bruins in the regular season and took a 1-0 series lead over them in the first round. The Bruins beat them in five.