The Boston Bruins fell just short of the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night, 1-0, as a full house in Montreal's Bell Centre saw a strong defensive effort by both Northeast Division teams turn on one goal.
In a game played at Stanley Cup timbre, right wing Guillaume Latendresse of Ste. Catherine, Quebec, scored the winning goal and young Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak, shut out Boston to give Le Club de Hockey Canadien two pivotal points in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Boston backstop Tim Thomas
was outstanding in defeat and made 31 saves to keep the B's in the game for 60-minutes.
"They did a good job in the neutral zone and we didn't get established…until late," said Bruins head coach Dave Lewis. "That was probably the difference in the game. The neutral zone was how they got their goal.
"I know one of our guys got beat, but it was an outnumbered rush and (that came out of) the neutral zone."
When the NHL schedule was distributed after last season, any member of the wide and varied fandom of the Bruins circled this week as surefire, on-ice entertainment. Bookended by a two game set with their chief American rivals, the New York Rangers, the B's would "enjoy" a home-at-home series with their ultimate nemesis, the Habs, in late March.
But despite the hype and the playoff stakes surrounding the Original Six match up, it was a very carefully played first period by both squads. The Black & Gold and Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge made sure to minimize mistakes and only three minor penalties were called (2 to Boston, 1 to Montreal).
Thomas, the Boston goalie, and Montreal young netminder Jaroslav Halak, each needed to make just seven saves in the initial session. Meanwhile, the rugged trio of Jeremy Reich, Ben Walter and Jeff Hoggan started the game for Boston and Bruins head coach Dave Lewis' newest energy line was involved in several scoring chances off the hop.
Much of the second period was a mirror image of the first, this time with the Stanislav Chistov, Mark Mowers, and Petr Tenkrat unit earning some notice. But with about five minutes remaining in the middle stanza, the "Flying Frenchmen" began to live up to their ancient moniker.
Thomas kept the Montrealers from gaining more than the one goal lead they had earned by the 40-minute mark. But the newest New England folk hero was unable to stop Quebec's latest legend-in-making, rookie Guillaume Latendresse, who scored his 16th goal of the year at 19:00 when he ended up alone in front after beating a Bruin defenseman to the puck.
It was the only blemish on what had previously been a superlative effort for the Boston goalie, and through two periods, Thomas had made 19 saves and several of the spectacular variety.
But the Habs rookies would rule the day and Halak would earn his first NHL shut-out on the strength of his 30 saves and Latendresse's lone goal.
Thomas, who fell to 30-24-4 on the season, finished the evening with 31 saves.
"We haven't scored a goal in six periods," said Lewis after the game. "We have to score. We were around the net sometimes, but not enough.
"For most of game it was pretty evenly matched. They did generate some more scoring chances in the second. We didn't get enough."
The Canadiens will follow the Bruins, who now reside in 13th place, back to Massachusetts for a return bout on Thursday night in the TD Banknorth Garden.