FOXBOROUGH – The Canadiens rang in 2016 with authority on Friday afternoon – and some serious style, too.
Michel Therrien’s troops claimed their Winter Classic debut with a complete team effort, posting a 5-1 victory over the Boston Bruins in front of 67,246 fans at Gillette Stadium. Given their recent struggles, the New Year’s Day win was especially satisfying. Right from the outset, it was evident the Canadiens desperately wanted to beat their Original Six rivals on their home turf and come away with another two points in the standings.
David Desharnais lit the lamp just 74 seconds into the opening period, and Therrien’s squad seemed to roll from there. Second-period goals by Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher upped the Canadiens’ lead to 3-0 through 40 minutes of play, and they didn’t look back the rest of the way.
“It’s very satisfying, especially with it being the New Year. We know how tough a month December was for us. We wanted to come out and start on the right foot, just give ourselves a chance to win the game. I felt that everybody was ready, and everybody was prepared and sharp. It’s a tough game to sometimes be fully focused for, obviously. There are a lot of distractions and things going on. Right from the drop of the puck, though, we were on it. We were on them and we didn’t give them a chance to breathe,” offered P.K. Subban, who led all players on both teams by logging 27:14 of ice time on Friday. “Throughout the whole game, I don’t think there was a time where they pushed and we didn’t have an answer. We kept it simple. We got pucks to the net. That’s where it started.”
And, they didn’t take their collective feet off the gas at all, keeping the offensive outburst going in the third period after the Bruins finally managed to solve Mike Condon just under four minutes into the frame. Five minutes later, Max Pacioretty scored his 16th goal of the season before Byron picked up his second tally of the night. It marked the first time the Canadiens had scored at least five goals in a game since Nov. 25 against the New York Rangers.
“The way the night went, I couldn’t really ask for anything more. I think it was a great team effort. It was so much fun. You can’t undervalue the smiles everyone had coming to the rink starting on Thursday at practice. Everyone chipped in,” mentioned Gallagher, who returned to active duty after spending the last five weeks recovering from surgery to repair two broken fingers in his left hand. “I said I wouldn’t come back if I wasn’t able to contribute. I was happy to be a part of it tonight.”
As was Condon, who was plying his trade in his home state in front of family members and friends aplenty cheering him on. The Needham, MA native made 27 saves, including a highlight-reel glove stop on centerman Ryan Spooner with 0.1 seconds remaining in the second period to keep the Bruins from seizing any momentum heading into the locker room.
“It was probably the most special [game I’ve played]. Bruins, Habs, Gillette Stadium. Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. I don’t think you could have scripted it any better,” shared Condon, who upped his record to 11-9-3 through 26 appearances on the year. “When it was over, I looked around and took as many mental photos as I could. I wanted to just try and remember this feeling. It was certainly a special one.”
That’s for sure. The Canadiens had one objective in mind before hitting the ice for their first game of the new calendar year, and they achieved it.
“We talked about enjoying the moment, but we also talked about at the end of the game, we didn’t just want to be participants, we wanted to come away with a win. We did that. To a man, everybody showed up, everybody competed. It wasn’t hard to find energy. It wasn’t hard for us to come out and find the motivation to play,” mentioned Gallagher, who didn’t miss a beat after playing for the first time since Nov. 22. “We just played the way we played all year when we had success.”
For his part, the Canadiens’ bench boss believes a win like that could definitely be the start of the something good.
“I think we’re going to build on a win like that,” concluded Therrien. “We have to build on it.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com
From the room
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Memories of another time
A quality start