The Boston Bruins
couldn't help themselves.
Heading into Tuesday night's showdown against the Montreal Canadiens
at the TD Banknorth Garden, the Bruins talked and talked about how it was important not to get too pumped up about a game in January.
But the boisterous, sellout crowd of 17,565 had other plans.
scored a pair of power-play goals and Tim Thomas
made 34 saves as the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins skated away with a 3-1 victory in a playoff-type atmosphere.
"When the crowd gets into it like that and the teams play with that much energy, it felt like the playoffs last year," Thomas said. "It was one of the funnest games I've played this year."
And one of the most intense. Thomas was peppered with 17 shots in the first period alone, but the All-Star goaltender stopped them all to keep the Canadiens off the scoreboard. His lone blemish on the night was Andrei Kostitsyn
's power-play tally at 3:24 of the second period.
"It was definitely a playoff-type atmosphere," Bruins coach Claude Julien
said. "I'm glad we had our fans behind us. It was nice to be in Boston for this one."
Boston, which hasn't won a postseason series in a decade, is showing every sign of being primed to make a serious run in 2009. The Bruins took the Canadiens to a seventh game in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year before going home for the summer.
But Tuesday's win increased their 2008-09 season total to 68 points, 12 more than the second-place Canadiens in the Northeast Division. The Washington Capitals
trail the Bruins by 11 points for the conference lead.
After the Bruins fell behind 1-0 on Kostitsyn's goal, Chara responded by scoring twice on the power play. The first came at 8:23 of the second, when the hulking defenseman slammed Chuck Kobasew
's rebound past Jaroslav Halak
to make it 1-1. Chara then put the Bruins in front with 1:36 left in the period when he took a pass from Dennis Wideman
and blasted a one-timer that deflected off Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov
and past Jaroslav Halak
. It was Chara's eighth career two-goal game.
The victory helped Thomas improve to 9-1 in his past 10 starts. He helped protect a one-goal lead in the third when he stopped Tom Kostopoulos
on a pad save with just under five minutes left. He later robbed Kostitsyn with his glove with 2:16 remaining. David Krejci
iced the victory with an empty-net goal at 18:49.
Emotions ran high for much of the night. In the second period, Thomas stuck up for fallen defenseman Aaron Ward
, who was hit from behind by Kostitsyn.
Ward was able to get up and skated off on his own, but did not play another shift. When Kostitsyn made his way near the Bruins' net, Thomas came out of his crease and cross-checked the Habs' forward to the ice. Kostitsyn was given a five-minute penalty for boarding for the hit on Ward, while Thomas was assessed two minutes for roughing.
"I'm going to let the League look into that," Julien said. "I guess the big thing with me is it's not the first time this guy has done that. I don't like to see that happening over and over from the same guys."
The major penalty — which led to Chara's go-ahead goal — left Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau
"I don't get the five minutes," he said. "I saw the replay and I didn't think it was a penalty."
Hits from behind are nothing new to the Bruins, who have lost forward Patrice Bergeron
in each of the past two seasons to concussions.
"We're obviously a little sensitive to that," Julien said.
Material from wire services was used in this report.