If you watched the first 47 minutes of the Boston Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre Wednesday night, then an eighth consecutive loss to the Habs probably appeared to be fait accompli.
Montreal’s Paul Byron had scored a fluky goal on a shot that deflected into the Boston net off of defenseman Zach Trotman in the first period that had given the home team a 1-0 lead and Canadiens netminder Mike Condon (he of nearby Needham Center) had frustrated Bruins shooters for two full periods and much of the third.
But a funny thing happened on the way to another loss to Boston’s hated rival to the north: goaltender Tuukka Rask turned in what was arguably his best game against Montreal, Loui Eriksson scored a pure hustle goal while killing a penalty, and then Landon Ferraro struck quickly to give the B’s a lead they would not relinquish in an eventual 3-1 victory.
It isn’t that the Bruins played poorly in the first two periods and change, but the Canadiens were the better team not only on paper, but on the ice, where they used their speed and skill to pressure the Boston defense and generate higher danger scoring chances than the B’s as the game went on.
However, Rask was up to the task. He settled in nicely after the Byron goal lent the impression that this might be another one of those games for him…one of the 14 he had lost in his career (until last night, he had just three wins against that franchise) to a team that seemed to be renting space inside the Boston goalie’s head. If Montreal thought they were bound to add to the lead with the pressure they were putting on the Bruins last night, Rask clearly had other ideas.
With the team down 1-0 and Boston on defense killing a Dennis Seidenberg penalty after taking down B’s nemesis Dale Weise on a partial breakaway, the special teams came through.
Zdeno Chara batted an attempted Montreal pass from the point out of mid-air where it cleared the zone near center ice where Eriksson was. He gathered the puck and tried to separate from Canadiens defender Jeff Petry, but was near the end of the shift and was unable to do so. Although being hounded by his opponent, Eriksson used his experience and patience to maintain control of the puck as he skated in on Condon and then put a perfect shot through the former Princeton goalie’s wickets to tie the score at 7:53 of the final frame.
Ferraro struck just 42 seconds later, skating on a newly adjusted line with Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly. Spooner got to a loose puck near the left side half-wall, but with his back to the slot, knew Ferraro was in prime scoring position and backhanded a perfect pass to his linemate. Ferraro did not miss, driving a hard snapshot into the upper portion of the net to give the B’s their first lead.
Patrice Bergeron closed out the scoring when he converted a Brad Marchand pass as he cut to the net, taking the puck wide and sliding into the net past a sprawling Condon, who was unable to seal the right post with his pad. Matt Beleskey made a fine play to set the goal up by forcing a turnover behind the Montreal net and getting the puck to Marchand.
The win was Boston’s first regular season victory at the Bell Centre since March 12, 2014 and was only the team’s second in the last 13 games. It also raised the team’s road record to 10-2-2, the top mark in the Eastern Conference.
It sets up the two teams’ New Years Day matchup in Gillette Stadium for the 2016 Winter Classic nicely.
Tuukka Rask- Immense game from the guy who is on top of his game after a brutal start to the season. In 20 games, he is 10-7-2, with a 2.63 GAA and .910 save percentage- hardly Vezina Trophy-like numbers, but given where he started from, a drastic improvement. Rask had no chance on the Byron goal, but he was terrific when he needed to be, particularly on a Tomas Plekanec deflected shot early in the third period that would have put Montreal up 2-0.
Loui Eriksson- The veteran impending unrestricted free agent continues to have a fine year, netting his 11th goal of the season- good for second place on the team behind Marchand’s 13 markers. He was near the end of his shift on the penalty kill, but instead of playing it safe and dumping the puck, he recognized the opening and did a great job of protecting it from the harassing Petry, then being patient enough to let Condon open up his pads before putting the shot past him. It was an example of a player not having the breakaway speed to separate, but using guile and a strong hockey IQ to make the play.
Landon Ferraro- With three goals and five points in eight games since Boston plucked him from waivers, he’s provided needed speed and an offensive dimension that the Red Wings were hoping for back in 2009 when they made him their top pick (early second round). That Ferraro-Spooner-Connolly combo on the third line might be worth keeping together for a bit to see if they can keep going to the well.
Patrice Bergeron- He continues to be the heart and soul of this Boston team. It was white knuckle time as the Bruins desperately tried to cling to a one-goal lead with Montreal mounting the pressure to tie the game, and Bergeron snuffed it with one of his signature blue collar quick strikes to give the B’s insurance. It was also his 576th career point, moving him past Milt Schmidt into sole possession of 11th place on the team.
The Boston defense- With Colin Miller and Joe Morrow scratched for this one, there is not enough speed and agility on the back line with a core veteran group. Kevan Miller is good (maybe ‘good’ isn’t the word to use) for at least one glaringly bad turnover per game, and Chara, although he made the play on Eriksson’s equalizer, is laboring to stay with quicker, more nimble forwards. Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid work hard, but are limited and don’t bring much of an offensive dimension, though the collective experience does make up a little for what other players can bring in the way of mobility. Bottom line- the Bruins can’t count on lights-out games from Rask every night, so if Claude Julien stays with this group, we’re going to experience our share of peaks and valleys during the course of the remaining schedule.