BOSTON – The latest chapter of the Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens rivalry might have featured more intrigue off the ice than on it.
Taking advantage of a shorthanded Montreal team that swung a trade involving one of its best players during the second intermission, the Bruins used a couple timely goals and solid goaltending from All-Star Tim Thomas to hold off the Canadiens 2-1 at TD Garden Thursday night.
Thomas finished with 33 saves on 34 shots, including 11 of 12 when the Canadiens were pushing for the equalizer despite the absence of star forward Michael Cammalleri. The winger was pulled from the game after two periods – and 9:02 of ice time – because he was traded to Calgary in a multi-player swap for forward Rene Bourque.
"[Thomas] bailed us out," said Bruins coach Claude Julien, whose team finished its homestand with a 3-1-0 record. "He's done that in the past, and it's something we've gotten used to, but not that we want to play that way too often. Tonight, he came up big and bailed us out in those sloppy moments. Like I said, you can't just be happy with wins. You've got to be happy with the way you play. And sometimes you lose, and you play hard, and you can come up here and say, you know what, we gave it a good effort, and the team played a little bit better, and they were good. Tonight, I'd have to say that we didn't play well. Not well enough."
Cammalleri made a couple of remarks about ice time and the Canadiens' attitude after practice Wednesday. Thursday morning, he said he didn't understand the controversy about what he said and that he loved being with the Canadiens and playing in Montreal.
After the game, Habs GM Pierre Gauthier said the comments had nothing to do with the trade, a move he'd been working on for several weeks.
Coach Randy Cunneyworth liked the way his team responded in the face of adversity against the Northeast Division leaders.
"I thought we worked hard, we battled hard. It's obviously a good team that we're up against," he said. "And maybe a couple of untimely calls and maybe some favorable calls in their direction kind of enabled them to kind of pull it off there. We thought we were coming on pretty strong there with the big power-play goal that gave us a lot of life. And even before that, some of the opportunities that we had, Thomas was excellent between the pipes there when we were putting the push on and we did that (in) earlier parts of the game. But obviously it was a little bit too little too late. But we were proud of the way the guys battled."
Down 2-0 in the third period, Montreal halved the deficit on a power-play goal by Yannick Weber from the top of the right circle. The Canadiens outshot the Bruins 12-10 in the third period but couldn't solve Thomas again.
"Well, we battled. We hung in there," defenseman Hal Gill said. "We have to obviously do some things better but we were in the battle. We had one tough break on that first goal and we battled through that. We stayed in the game and we came up short but, you know, it was a better effort and it was a game we played hard and it's disappointing, but sometimes it's tough to come by wins."
The Bruins used a friendly bounce to get on the scoreboard first. Johnny Boychuk wristed the puck from the red line into the Montreal zone and off the end glass. The puck ricocheted to the front of the net with Price behind the cage waiting for the puck to come around the wall. Jordan Caron was all alone in front for a tap-in at 1:23.
"I think it's easier, you lead the whole game and it makes it easier for us," said Caron, who was just recalled from the Providence (AHL) farm club Thursday morning. "They're a tough team to play against, they are pretty fast – they're like bees on the forecheck. They gave a good push in the third but we responded pretty well."
The Bruins grabbed a 2-0 lead 3:43 into the third period after some solid down-low work by their first line. Milan Lucic beat Price with a backhand shot from the slot inside the left post after a pass out front from behind the net by Nathan Horton.
Maybe the only venom of the night between the two hated rivals was spewed after a hit by Montreal's P.K. Subban on Boston center David Krejci at 12:17 of the third period. Replays showed Subban extended his arms and caught Krejci above the shoulders with his elbow. Boston defenseman Andrew Ference took offense and went after Ference. The resulting double minor to Ference and one minor to Subban put the Canadiens on the power play, which they used to slice into the lead.
"It seemed like both teams weren't really that sharp with their passing – it seemed like the puck was spinning all over the place and jumping off everyone's sticks," Lucic said. "I think [there were] a lot of blocked shots, a lot of shots that missed the net and [it was] just one of those games where you have to fight it through to get to the end and get to the result. For us, I don't think it was our best effort, but we found a way to win."