BOSTON -- Gregory Campbell knocked the extra point between the goal posts in the most unpredictable way late Thursday at TD Garden. His 3-on-5 breakaway goal was the final highlight in a night full of them for the Boston Bruins.
Earlier Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens talked about sending a message and getting retribution for an injured teammate by stealing two points from their hated rival. But after Campbell scored to cap the Bruins' 7-0 rout, the Garden again went into an uproar, drowning out the final tinge of air that came out whistling of a Canadiens' balloon that was punctured a mere 61 seconds into the game.
The Bruins started early with Johnny Boychuk's goal on the first shift of the game and never stopped shooing the Habs off their property like a pack of kids who needed to be taught a hard lesson. They grabbed a five-point lead in the Northeast Division, one that looks almost insurmountable considering they also have two games in hand and own two more non-shootout wins than Montreal.
It's possible that Boston and Montreal will renew the rivalry in the playoffs a few weeks from now, and it's pretty safe to say that after Thursday's domination the edge goes to the Bruins. Montreal won four of the first five meetings between the clubs this season, but that's history now as the Habs attempt to swallow the bitter pill they were handed in front of 17,565.
"It wasn't a message; this was a really big game for us," said Boston center David Krejci, who was one of three Bruins to finish with three assists. "We wanted to come out strong and get the two points. I would be happy if it was 1-0, but it was good to get that big of a win."
The controversy prior to the game swirled around Zdeno Chara, whose inadvertent shove of Max Pacioretty into the stanchion between the benches at the Bell Centre 16 days ago created a whole new chapter in this longstanding rivalry.
Chara, who was not get suspended by the NHL, got in the final word (for now) with a trio of assists Thursday. So, too, did Milan Lucic, whose three assists were a single-game career high for him. Nathan Horton and Campbell had a pair of goals apiece while Boychuk added an assist after his early goal for his first two-point night of the season.
The Bruins were backed by Tim Thomas' 24 saves, enough to give him his eighth shutout of the season.
"Basically we had everything going," Chara said.
And the Canadiens offered little resistance.
The Bruins grabbed a 3-0 lead after the first period on goals by Boychuk, Campbell and Horton.
Boychuk beat Price with a long, high slapper from the right side that went past a screening Lucic. Campbell scored on a redirect of Chara's point shot and Horton cashed late in a power play that he helped create. Horton took a high stick to the mouth from Tomas Plekanec, who was assessed a four-minute minor. Horton got stitched up and was back in time to score the power-play goal with 42 seconds still left on Plekanec's penalty.
"I thought it was going to be a tight game, to be honest with you," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "I thought our team played well, set the tone early.
"I could tell we were focused in the dressing room before the puck was even dropped."
Montreal stalled its own comeback attempt in the second period by giving the Bruins three power play opportunities in the final 9:40 of the period. Boston didn't score, but it worked the puck around the zone for nearly the entire six minutes of power play time, getting seven shots on Price.
The rout was on in the third period.
Horton scored his second of the night at 4:03, and Adam McQuaid's goal 26 seconds later was enough to force Montreal coach Jacques Martin to make a goalie switch. He dusted off Alex Auld and sent him in to replace Price, who despite giving up five goals on 33 shots was still one of the Habs' better performers.
Tomas Kaberle beat Auld for his first goal as a Bruin at 11:27 and soon after Campbell raced in for his shorthanded breakaway goal with both Brad Marchand and Horton in the penalty box. It was the first time in the NHL this season that a player scored a 3-on-5 goal in a skating situation.
"If you lose the game like we did tonight, it becomes much less about the points or the events, it becomes much more about our group and what we need to do to be better," said Montreal forward Michael Cammalleri, who along with linemate Plekanec was a minus-4. "It's a little bit of look in the mirror time."
The Canadiens don't have much time to stare. They were already on an inconsistent, win-one, lose-one stretch entering Thursday, but now the Canadiens have been shut out twice in a row by division rivals -- they lost 2-0 at home to Buffalo on Tuesday -- so the desperation level is high.
"You don't punt it away," Cammalleri said, shooting down the possibility that maybe they should try to forget about the blowout loss. "You sit here and say, 'Let's figure this out and figure this out in a hurry.' "
The Bruins recently went through a stretch similar to what Montreal is dealing with now, but they have figured it out. They set themselves up for Thursday's dominating performance by putting together a strong 60-minute effort in a 4-1 win over New Jersey on Tuesday, ending a 1-3-3 slide.
The road to the Northeast Division crown doesn't get any easier as the Bruins' next three games are all against playoff contenders, including Saturday against the New York Rangers, who had their five-game winning streak snapped in a shootout loss to Ottawa on Thursday. The Bruins also play at first-place Philadelphia on Sunday and host Chicago on Tuesday.
"We have to stay focused, not get too high or too low," Chara said. "We gotta stay nice and humble."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl