BOSTON -- Nothing that happened on Monday night assuaged the fears of anyone around the Bruins that the Canadiens will be a handful if these two teams meet in the playoffs.
The Bruins still salvaged a point and probably should have won a game they dominated during five-on-five play, but the Habs also rattled the cages of the Black and Gold like only a team from Montreal can in their 2-1 shootout win over Boston at TD Garden.
It’s the kind of game that’s played out countless times over the 90 year history of the Black and Gold.
“You know, they’re just one of those teams that you want to hit, and after 100 years they’re good at it . . . a lot of practice,” admitted Brad Marchand, who knows a thing or two about being a guy that other players want to hit. “We have to be more disciplined than that and be better next game.”
Agitators like P.K. Subban and Alexei Emelin were creating brush fires with Bruins all over the ice, drawing penalties while pulling the Boston skaters out of their games.
“The Marchand penalty was frustration because he got tripped on the faceoff before — it wasn’t called. Those are things that are gonna happen in a game and you can’t retaliate by taking a bad penalty,” said Claude Julien. “[Johnny] Boychuk’s penalty was a bad one, either, so you know, there’s discipline, but they didn’t score on those.
“That’s not why we lost. But I think we have to be better disciplined against them. It’s simple . . . you don’t let it happen. It happened a little bit tonight. But like I said before, we can sweep a team in the regular season and we’re gonna get to the playoffs and play them. I’m not going to say it’s going to be easy — same thing. Just because [Montreal] won tonight in a shootout doesn’t mean we’re going to go into the playoffs and have the same kind of situation here. If we happen to meet [the Canadiens] in the playoffs, and that’s an ‘if’, then we’ll deal with it. You can be sure that [the lax discipline] is not going to happen.”
You can be sure the Bruins are going to try to retain their cool heads and not play into Montreal’s antics if they meet in the playoffs, instead imposing their will with physical, grinding play like they did in the second period of Monday night’s game. But the Habs -- led by Michel Therrien, who looks like he could play the role of the villainous Russian coach in another movie on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team -- have a unique ability to get under the skin of Boston players.
An aggravated Milan Lucic called Alexei Emelin “a chicken” following the game for his low hip check on the B’s forward in the opening minutes of the game, and the two added another chapter into what’s quickly becoming a heated hate story between the two players.
Marchand went Full Sedin on Subban behind the Montreal net after the Montreal defenseman whipped his leg out to try and trip the Bruins agitator. Marchand cross-checked Subban in response while sitting on top of him well behind the play.
Johnny Boychuk tried to execute one of his hip checks on Subban as the Montreal defenseman tried to turn out of the way, Subban punched the B’s defenseman in the back of the head as both players fell to the ice and then Boychuk tossed the Norris Trophy winner to the ice with a horse collar maneuver.
It was highly entertaining stuff and classic Bruins-Canadiens to be sure, but it also was a case of hockey players gone wild that doesn’t normally suit Boston in their efforts to play a controlled, grinding, physical brand of hockey. The Bruins were able to focus a little more on hockey in the third period while getting four power plays of their own, tying the game in the process.
But it’s futile to try to explain a dynamic between the Bruins and Habs that is as old as the NHL itself: The Bruins will try to play a physical, imposing brand of dominant hockey, and the Canadiens will play an antagonistic, skill and speed game designed to draw penalties and score goals.
“It’s tough to say. I’ve been here for a long time and it’s almost been the same question for the last seven years, so I don’t have a real answer for you,” said Lucic, when asked about keeping it cool against the Canadiens. “You have to have your emotions in check as much as you can, and unfortunately there were times where we took some penalties, especially in the first two periods.
“But once we were able to kind of put that aside and focus on what we needed to do to get a win -- as you saw in the third period -- we were able to create, get penalties and get power plays more than being in the penalty box. We probably could have got more out of the power play, but we still get one to tie the game. Hopefully next time when we have that many opportunities we get more than one.”
In reality, the Canadiens won Monday night’s game because of Peter Budaj standing on his head as much as anything else. The Montreal backup is a perfect 5-0-0 lifetime at TD Garden in his career.
That superior goaltending combined with the early Emelin power play goal gave the Habs all the ingredients they would need to hand Boston their sixth loss in the last seven meetings between the two clubs.
But Les Habitants also proved once again they are the only NHL team that can routinely push the Bruins out of their game plan, and move the B’s players to distraction with their antics. It’s the kind of style of play that can be very problematic for the Bruins in the playoffs, and could be a major issue for Boston if they do come across their divisional rivals in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Bruins are clearly the better hockey team, but Montreal’s style, speed and uncanny ability to frustrate Boston could be the only thing to derail the Bruins in the East if these two teams say “bienvenue” in the playoffs.