Nathan Horton’s overtime goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last season didn’t just propel the Boston Bruins toward the Stanley Cup - it seems to have sent their archrival in the other direction.
The last-place Montreal Canadiens arrive in Boston for Thursday night’s game on the heels of another demoralizing defeat, while the Bruins are looking to build on their latest third-period surge.
Very little separated these clubs during a tense first-round playoff series in April, but Boston prevailed when Horton beat Carey Price 5:43 into overtime in the deciding game.
While Montreal (16-19-7) did beat the Bruins twice in October - one of only two teams to defeat Boston more than once this season - very little has gone well for the Canadiens since their playoff exit.
Their lackluster play cost coach Jacques Martin his job last month. Their current 3-8-0 slump has them at the bottom of the Northeast Division, 16 points behind the first-place Bruins (27-11-1) and in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2007.
The Canadiens lost 3-0 to St. Louis on Tuesday. Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, whom Montreal traded away two summers ago, got a standing ovation from the Bell Centre crowd after blanking his former club, but those same fans are displeased with their own team.
“It disappoints a lot of people when we’re not performing the way that’s expected,” forward Michael Cammalleri said. “But trust me, it disappoints no one more than us.”
Boston coach Claude Julien was disappointed in his team’s effort through two periods Tuesday, but the Bruins outshot Winnipeg 22-8 in the third and scored three unanswered goals in a 5-3 win.
They’ve outscored opponents 60-23 in the final period this season, even more lopsided than an overall 146-76 margin which makes them both the league’s highest-scoring and stingiest team.
“It’s kind of developing a killer instinct,” Julien said. “Our guys really want to finish strong. they don’t want to give the other teams an opportunity to get back into it when we do have the lead.”
Boston is 24-4-1 since Nov. 1, including a pair of wins over Montreal. Tim Thomas was instrumental to both, making 33 saves each in a 1-0 victory Nov. 21 and a 3-2 win Dec. 19.
Price, though, has held his own against Boston this season, going 2-2-0 with a 1.77 goals-against average.
He’ll likely be in net to face a Bruins team that has averaged 4.75 goals in its last 12 games. They surpassed that mark Tuesday even without Brad Marchand, who had been tied for the team lead with 16 goals before beginning a five-game suspension for a low hit on Vancouver’s Sami Salo.
Tyler Seguin’s 17th was the game-winner against the Jets, while former Canadiens wing Benoit Pouliot added an insurance tally while filling in for Marchand on Patrice Bergeron’s line. Pouliot scored against his former team last month and has five points in his last three games overall.
David Krejci, however, has been Boston’s hottest player offensively. He had two assists Tuesday, giving him 14 points during a nine-game streak.
Montreal has been inconsistent in terms of scoring, and it now has to deal with the absence of its captain. Former Boston College star Brian Gionta suffered a torn right biceps Tuesday against St. Louis.
He had surgery Wednesday and may not return this season.