The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 3-1, Saturday night in a sold out TD Banknorth Garden filled with 17,565 hockey fans. Brandon Bochenski scored the game-winner for Boston late in the second period.
As the great Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities
, Saturday's match up between Original Six rivals Montreal and Boston was "the best of times (and) it was the worst of times."
In terms of the worst of times
, both venerable National Hockey League franchises limped into the TD Banknorth Garden early this weekend looking to break frustrating losing streaks (that would be three winless games for the B's, two for the Habs) and wanting to make headway towards securing a spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Eastern foes, The New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes, both came into the evening with 73 points -- good for a tie for the eighth and final playoff slot.
As such, Montreal (with 72 pts.) and Boston (65) alike, knew that a victory in the rivalry game was important, not only to the psyche of their rabid fandom and respective hockey clubs, but also to any possibility of their making the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring.
On the other hand, the Montreal/Boston rivalry is the stuff that hockey writers' dreams are made of.
"It's a great environment for fans and the players," said Boston head coach Dave Lewis. "An Original Six (game) on Saturday night, full house, Montreal vs. Boston.
"As a player how does it get any better than that?"
As a player, or fan, it doesn’t.
Whenever the two franchises play, it is quite literally, the best of times
, where pageantry, history and skill all come together on ice and in the space of two and a half hours, suddenly -- at least in our minds -- all of us are kids again.
That was the way it felt as the Black & Gold clad and ticket-carrying Bostonians mingled cautiously with their Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge
wearing "friends" before the warm up session. But things got "serious" as the first strains of "Go Habs Go" started to echo in the building at 6:11, almost an hour before the actual game started.
The Bruins organist began his rendition of "Here we go Bruins" shortly afterward.
"The crowd was awesome," said alternate captain Patrice Bergeron
. "We could hear them before warm up in (the locker room)…so the emotional intensity was there."
In comparison to most NHL contests, the warm up was actually louder than most regular season games.
Despite the cacophony, which carried over into the start of the game and got louder as the contest progressed, there was no scoring in the first and the stanza ended deadlocked, 0-0.
As periods go, beyond the noise from the raucous crowd, the first was not very exciting until the later moments of the session. Several shoving matches erupted between the ancient rivals with the final one resulting in a penalty to Montreal's Sheldon Souray for cross checking Boston's Marc Savard
Habs rookie goalie Jaroslav Halak was tested 16 times, but turned all the Bruins shots aside. The B's Tim Thomas
was also perfect, but only needed to stop seven shots from the Le Tricolore
In the second period, it was the Bruins who channeled some of the Flying Frenchmen of old, as Petr Tenkrat and Brandon Bochenski used their speed to skate unabated into the Canadiens zone and launch rockets past Halak.
Tenkrat scored his seventh of the season at 3:30 and Bochenski sent Les Glorieux
to their locker room down, 2-0, after he scored at 18:57.
"I just poked it by (the defender)," said Bochenski, explaining the goal. "I just kept going and it ended up 2-on-1."
The Bruins Thomas continued his fine play and stopped all nine shots he saw in the period. Meanwhile, at the other end of the rink, Halak finished the second stanza with 25 stops.
Thomas would not stay unbeaten for long in the third, however, as Souray added his 23rd goal of the season at 3:02.
That made the score, 2-1 Bruins, with most of the third period remaining.
But the B's veteran sniper, Glen Murray, put the game away at 15:51 of the final period, when he grabbed a puck from Souray in the slot and wristed his 28th of the season past Canadiens netminder Halak.
Thomas, who had a very solid game, recovered from Souray's goal to nail down the 3-1 victory and finished with 31 saves.
After the game, Thomas said everyone in the B's dressing room knew what was at stake.
"Definitely," said the Tank. "After practice this morning, we knew what kind of crowd we were going to have and we knew how important it was.
"I don't know who said it…but someone in the room said 'If you can't get up for this one you might as well hang the skates up.'"
The final word on the night went to Massachusetts native, Bobby Allen.
"That was awesome," said Allen, who grew up rooting for the Bruins. "The fans were great tonight and you have to give them a lot of credit. They came out tonight in full force.
"Our fans did a great job supporting us…we were feeding off their energy.
"You think about this when you are a little kid, Boston and Montreal. To be able to take part in a game like that, with that atmosphere and the importance of the game, it was really special."
The Bruins traveled after the game en route to a face off against the New Jersey Devils, Sunday at 7:00 p.m.