That’s what matchups between these two rivals provide — an already established backdrop of ill-fated opponents, no matter the eventual outcome of the game and no matter how heated the current rivalry.
Such was the case on Wednesday night in Montreal, as Boston entered hostile territory and came away with two victorious points in the teams’ final meeting before the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1.
The Bruins’ 3-1 win marked the first time that they had won in the Bell Centre since Mar. 12, 2014 and just the second win against their longtime rivals in a stretch of 13 games.
“It’s been a long time, you know, and the last time we were in here I thought we had a great chance to win and we foiled it there at the end,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “But I thought we played well enough that we could have won the last game here, so we weren’t coming here discouraged or on our heels. We were coming here determined and hoping to get a better fate than we did.”
There had been too many solemn plane rides back to Boston. The Black & Gold finally found a way to change their luck.
All they needed was a span of 42 seconds in the third period for Loui Eriksson to give them life with a shorthanded goal that tied the game at 1-1 and Landon Ferraro to put them ahead 2-1. Unlike their last outing at the Bell Centre in early November, the Bruins didn’t let a 2-1 third period lead evaporate.
Patrice Bergeron gave them the 3-1 cushion they needed with just about six minutes left in regulation to finish off the late comeback.
“We just had to stick with it,” said Eriksson. “And finally we got a break there and got the first goal and then all of a sudden we turned the game around, so it was definitely nice to come out of here with two points.”
“We just told ourselves to keep going,” said Dennis Seidenberg, who slotted back into the lineup after being scratched for the past two games. “We were still in the game.”
“In the third period the past few weeks, I think we’ve been pretty good at it, just staying with it and not getting too down on ourselves.”
Beyond the Bruins’ push in the third, the rest of the night belonged mostly to Tuukka Rask, who made 32 saves and controlled the pace of the game. Enough is always made of his career record against Montreal, which was 3-14-3 entering the game. Rask was calm, and he was excellent when he needed to be.
As a newer Bruin, Ferraro gave a unique, untainted portrayal of Rask’s night.
“I don’t know how he’s done in the past, but since I’ve been here he’s done exactly what I expected — making those big saves and being steady for us,” said Ferraro.
Among Rask’s numerous stops, he made one about three minutes into the third period that was timely.
Tomas Plekanec deflected a puck right in front after perfect tic-tac-toe passing, but Rask kept his butterfly stance. As the puck found a way between his legs, he was able to get it with his left leg and keep it out.
“He makes that one [save] that kind of squeaks through his legs and he turns on it and keeps it from going in the net and that saved the game for us,” said Ferraro. “If that goes in, we’re pretty deflated, so he’s done exactly what’s expected from him and even more, so he’s done a great job.”
The start wasn’t there for the Bruins, who couldn’t seem to find their legs and were losing races to the puck.
Paul Byron scored at 8:49 into the first when his shot deflected up into the air and missed two Habs trying to bat it in before going off Zach Trotman and behind Rask for the 1-0 lead. The goal was originally given to Plekanec but it was deemed that he did not touch.
The Bruins ended up with only even shots on goal in both first and second periods. They needed Rask to keep them in it.
“We were able to give him some help again in that third period — you know, he’s the reason we were still in the game after two periods,” said Julien. “He was playing extremely well, making some big saves for us and allowing us to still have an opportunity after two and in the third period our guys kind of turned it on a little bit, got better as a team, found ways to score some goals there.”
“The goaltender’s so important in this league and proof is Tuukka’s performance again tonight.”
The night marked the seventh straight game Rask had helped earn the team a point with his performances. He’s 5-0-2 in that span with two shutouts.
“Feels good. I mean, we didn’t play our best game, but I thought we defended pretty well, keeping them on the outside and taking care of the rebounds and what not,” said Rask. “That’s a great win for us.”
The Bruins improved to 10-2-2 on the road, which keeps them as the best road team in the Eastern Conference. They entered the night third overall in the NHL on the road.
“That’s a good win, on the road especially,” said Rask. We’ve been a good team on the road and to come here and get two points is good.”
While Rask was needed, the Bruins started to play much better at the end of the second period and the start of the third. They finally found the other gear that they needed.
“I think they’re a team that’s tough to beat if you don’t bring your best effort,” Bergeron had said prior to the matchup, before scoring his ninth of the season. “So we’re definitely going to need that.”
The Bruins may not have played their best game or put forth their best effort — but they were still able to mount yet another comeback.
Eriksson helped changed the momentum. With Seidenberg in the box for tripping after he dove to break up a Dale Weise breakaway chance, Eriksson was nearing the end of a shift on the penalty kill.
Eriksson could have gone for the change, but Zdeno Chara batted an attempted pass out of the air and right on to his stick, leaving him free to break up ice. With Jeff Petry on him the entire away, Eriksson still managed to slip the shorthanded goal past Habs netminder Mike Condon for the important tying goal.
“That shift — he was pretty tired, but he found a way to make it all the way down and score a big goal for us and just give us the life that we needed,” said Julien.
“It was kind of a relief for me,” said Eriksson, who fell on his back and into the boards immediately after the goal from the momentum. “But I was able to find some room there to get a breakaway and didn’t really see what happened, I fell down after I scored, but it was nice to see it go in.”
The goal gave the Bruins the spark they needed. Partly due to the penalty kill, and mostly due to the lack of offense five-on-five throughout the night, Julien quickly switched up the lines to add speed to every trio.
The first lew-look line rolled out consisted of Ferraro, Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly. They scored on their first shift together. After Torey Krug kept the puck in the zone, Spooner sent a feed to Ferraro in the slot, where he fired his third goal as a Bruin top shelf for the game-winner.
The Bruins caught the Habs off guard, and just like that, it was 2-1 in their favor.
“It seems like a lot of great things are happening right now since I joined this team, and to do this in Montreal is pretty exciting obviously,” said Ferraro, who has three goals and two assists through eight games with Boston.
“But the way we came out in the third is how we wanted to play the whole game — it just took us a little bit to get into it, so it was a big win for us. We’re really happy right now.”
“We were in a close game, but we weren’t generating some offense, so I thought I could change my lines and get a little bit of a spark there,” said Julien.
The way Rask controlled the game — and the way the Bruins controlled the third period — made for a slightly quieter Bell Centre crowd than usual.
The boos still rained down throughout the game, usually every time the Bruins — and, most notably, Chara — had the puck. But the end result was not what the Montreal fans had grown accustomed to in recent years.
“There is a long history and we haven’t had a ton of luck lately against them,” said Julien. “I think they’ve pretty well had their way with us for almost a year and a half at least, so it was nice for us to get this win.”