They thought had this one.
The Boston Bruins really thought they had it.
But in this day and age, coming close, especially when it happens against the Montreal Canadiens, isn’t good enough.
It was a game the B’s played well enough to win and had a Cinderella story in the making when Frank Vatrano, fresh off his recall and playing in his first NHL game fired home a bullet wrist shot for his first big league goal and a 2-1 lead.
Instead, it turned into just another nightmare on Avenue des Canadiens de Montreal.
That the road team ended up with a 4-2 loss thanks to a late David Desharnais power play that should not have even happened if not for an inconceivable meltdown by another David…Krejci… is going to take a while for this B’s team to wrap their heads around.
With the game tied at 2-2 and seemingly headed to overtime when anything could happen, the Boston veteran went after Canadiens forward and fellow Czech Tomas Plekanec not once, not twice, but three times- an initial attempt to go high on Plekanec went uncalled behind the Boston net as it probably should. We don’t know yet what happened to spark Krejci’s rage, but he then followed Plekanec as the Canadien headed to the bench for a change and cross-checked him from behind. The referee’s arm went up and Krejci then hit him again behind the head as Plekanec began to rise.
The resulting man advantage ended in predictable fashion when your team is sporting a league-worst PK rating. Montreal moved the puck around effortlessly, got a shot on net that Jonas Gustavsson kicked over to Desharnais just off the right post, and he put it in. A Max Pacioretty empty-netter was fait accompli at that point to make it 4-2. It might as well have been 10-2 after so crushing the disappointment of playing so well only to give the Habs a 12th win in the last 13 regular season matchups between these rivals.
The game started well enough, with Montreal playing some undisciplined hockey and taking three first period penalties. The B’s cashed in, with Loui Eriksson tallying his fifth goal of the season to continue his tremendous power play work, as Boston still owns the best man advantage unit in the league- talk about extremes. Patrice Bergeron took a pass from Ryan Spooner and put a shot on net that Eriksson was able to redirect in past Massachusetts native Mike Condon to give the B’s a 1-0 lead less than 2 minutes in.
Montreal tied the game in the second period with a power play marker by Plekanec after he got a pass from Brendan Gallagher and snuck it into the net past Gustavsson at 1:09.
Vatrano fired up the Boston fans when he received a Colin Miller pass (who made it a six-game point streak), curled back towards the Montreal net out by the blue line, then ripped that hard, heavy shot- the one that has become a trademark so early in his pro career- to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
With Gustavsson playing well in the second period and nearly half of the third, even weathering a disallowed Montreal goal after it was determined that Gallagher made contact with Gus in the crease, Lars Eller got his third goal of the season out of five total markers against the Bruins to make it a 2-2 game at 8:58.
That set the stage for Krejci’s egregious penalty and another missed opportunity for the Bruins, who have gone 0-3 since beating Tampa Bay last Sunday.
Some late-game ugliness occurred when Nathan Beaulieu hit Zac Rinaldo with a cross-check up high as Rinaldo came in on him behind the net to finish the check. Rinaldo caught the stick in the side of the head and went down, Beaulieu given a match penalty for intent to injure and then chirping at Matt Beleskey as he left the ice. There was no further spillover of what had to be some significant frustration for the Bruins as the game ended.
In the end, we are left with a pretty simple premise. The chances for Boston to not only steal a critical two points on the road but to get an important moral victory for the psyche were there: Torey Krug didn’t hit an open net in the second period on a power play when it looked like the play was there for him to make. Eriksson would have another nice deflection on a Zach Trotman point shot that Condon made an even more impressive save on to keep Boston off the board. But when the B’s look back on this one, Krejci’s inexplicable loss of control will be the major takeaway.
The team will limp off to Brooklyn to face the NY Islanders tomorrow, rested and waiting for a club that doesn’t have any time to dwell on this one.
Frank Vatrano- It’s hard to believe that a year ago, the Western Mass. native was playing in just his first full season at UMass after having to transfer from Boston College due to academic issues and missing all but one game in the 2013-14 campaign. Since the B’s got wise to Vatrano’s willingness to forego his remaining NCAA eligibility last March and inked him as a free agent, the young winger has undergone an astounding transformation- losing significant weight and taking maximum advantage of every opportunity to show off his high-end offensive strengths. Playing on his “off wing” over on the right side tonight, Vatrano had a ‘welcome to the NHL’ moment in the first period when he tried to get past Montreal defender Alexei Emelin along the boards and was drilled with a hard, clean hip check. He then scored his goal in the second frame, and even made a nifty pass to Krejci in the third period that very nearly resulted in a goal and Vatrano posting a helper to go a long with his first NHL goal. The contrast between what Vatrano did with his opportunity and how Alex Khokhlachev looked this week against Dallas and Washington was striking: Vatrano leveraged what he does best and looked exactly like the AHL-leading goal scorer by playing aggressively and looking confident with the puck. He’ll make mistakes out there, but because he’s a dangerous player, you can live with those errors if he’s able to compensate for them by bringing offense to the table. The fact that he got 14:20 of ice playing with Krejci and Eriksson tells you all you need to know about what the Boston coaches thought of his fit on that line. Vatrano has not yet arrived, but even if he goes back down, there is every reason to think that much bigger things are in store.
Zach Trotman- Playing his first game since opening night, Trotman brought some physicality and played with a burr under his saddle. He did make one ill-advised pass in the third period that would have banished him to Siberia had Montreal capitalized, but overall, he played a strong game in place of Joe Morrow, who wore some goat horns after the loss to the Caps Thursday. He is what he is: a role player who is at his best when keeping things simple, but he did what the B’s needed to get out of him after missing so much time while sitting on press level over the past month.
David Krejci- It’s hard to fathom how costly a penalty it was for the veteran leader to take even as you rewind the film and watch it. He went after Plekanec once and wasn’t called for it. At that point, he could have quit while he was ahead and skated back to the bench. Maybe the B’s still lose this game on a late goal, in overtime or in a shootout. But the reality is- he made a boneheaded decision that had a significant consequence. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he took all three Boston penalties tonight, two of which ended up with goals on the scoreboard. You give Krejci the benefit of the doubt because this is so out of character for him and he’ll no doubt take it hard once the emotions come down and the reality of how costly his actions were sink in. It’s on to the Islanders, but maybe a motivated Krejci seeking redemption isn’t such a bad thing.
Jonas Gustavsson- Some observers liked his play tonight, I thought he was out of position too much and did a poor job of controlling his rebounds, leading directly to the Eller and Desharnais goals. He gave the Bruins a chance to win, making 29 saves on 32 shots, but he was unable to make a stop when Boston needed it most. He doesn’t get the blame for this loss, but he didn’t do enough to make the difference, either. Back to Tuukka Rask tomorrow.
B’s Penalty Killers- They’re in last place for a reason. The PKers do not maintain their cohesion…they pressure and force at the wrong times, allowing teams to exploit them with puck movement. There is not enough speed and quickness across the board to win more races to pucks and battles along the boards than they should. Kevan Miller is probably not the best choice to kill penalties, but he’s what the coaches are going with. Finally, the last line of defense- the guys between the pipes- just can’t seem to pull out some stops. You feel for them because teams are able to collapse and disrupt the box and diamond with their possession game, but neither Rask nor Gustavsson seem able to stop the bleeding. This is Boston’s achilles heel, especially when the team takes bad penalties.
EDIT- For his part, Krejci took responsibility as expected he would. Here are some postgame quotes from him, which appeared on the Bruins Twitter feed afterwards:
“Stuff like that shouldnt happen…especially when it’s guys that have been in league and know better. Guys battle hard and I do something like that… It was stupid and it cost us the game. I feel bad for letting my teammates and coaches down.”