Why are the Montreal Canadiens
still atop the Eastern Conference? Their dominance of the Boston Bruins
is a big reason.
Saku Koivu scored the lone goal of the shootout on Saturday night as the Canadiens edged Boston 3-2 at the Bell Centre to complete an eight-game series sweep. Montreal has taken 11 straight from the Bruins dating back to last season — the Canadiens’ longest winning streak ever against their longtime rival.
''When you get 16 points, that's a big difference,'' Koivu said of the Canadiens' eight wins over Boston. ''Obviously that's a big reason we're first in the standings right now.''
Rookie goaltender Carey Price was solid again for the Canadiens, as he made 33 saves through overtime before going 3-for-3 in the shootout. Marc Savard and Petteri Nokelainen scored for the Bruins, who are tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Montreal remained one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the conference lead. The Pens coasted past the New Jersey Devils in a 7-1 blowout, but the extra point from the shootout win kept Montreal in front.
''We need to get every point we can,'' Price said. ''Even though we had one point going into the shootout, we knew we had to get that other one. Those are the points you're going to need when it comes down to the last two games.''
Despite surrendering a pair of one-goal leads, the Canadiens won back-to-back games for the first time since March 6 and 8. Andrei Markov and Andrei Kostitsyn scored in the opening period for the Canadiens, but Bruins goalie Tim Thomas settled down and stopped all 19 shots he faced from the start of the second period through overtime.
“I felt good in the second,” Thomas said. “I didn’t feel bad in the first, either. The importance of the game kicked in for everyone on the team. We were laying down and blocking some shots and doing the things that we needed to do to stay in the game.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien opted to start Thomas again despite the latter’s performance against the Canadiens on Thursday night in Boston. The All-Star netminder allowed four goals on 30 shots in a 4-2 loss at TD Banknorth Garden.
“It’s just a decision coaches make,” Julien said. “It’s not always an easy decision, but it’s a decision that you have to make. I thought Timmy played extremely well. He made some unbelievable saves. I feel very comfortable with the decision I made. He just proved me right.”
Julien was happy with his team’s resiliency and its ability to come from behind. Nokelainen drove to the net and tied the game at 2-2 with his seventh goal of the season at 9:33 of the second period.
“I think the effort was there again tonight,” Julien said. “Unfortunately at this stage in the season, we’re looking for wins. Those extra points are very useful to us. It was a tough way to lose a hockey game, but I thought it was a good effort from our hockey team tonight.”
The Canadiens’ 94 points are the most they’ve had in a campaign since back in 1993-94, when they were coming off a championship season. The Habs were without defenseman Mike Komisarek and forward Guillaume Latendresse, both of whom were injured during Thursday’s win.
"It's nice," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said of this season’s success. "If we miss the playoffs now, it would take a total disaster. The important thing is to keep improving and get to that 82nd game (of the regular season) in good position and playing well on offense and defense."
Neither team found much offense in the shootout until Koivu came through in the final round, getting just enough on his shot to beat Thomas between the pads. The goal sent the capacity crowd of 21,273 into a frenzy. To make matters worse for Thomas, the Bruins’ goalie slipped on the puck as he headed for the locker room.
"I got a good piece of it and I was hoping it was trapped under my pad, but the crowd here lets you know," Thomas said. "To add insult to injury, I stepped on the puck as I was leaving the ice."
Nonetheless, the Bruins took solace in the fact that they finally found a way to pick up a point against the Canadiens. Boston continues its playoff push on Tuesday night against the surging Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
“We’re obviously also looking at the games played,” Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward said. “We’ve got a game in hand on Washington. Obviously, you have to capitalize on every opportunity you have. Hopefully we get some help, but we’re still in control of our own destiny. That’s a key at this stage in the season.”
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.