The Montreal Canadiens are still perfect in the postseason, and Canada’s last and only hope to end a two-decade Stanley Cup drought has taken another step.
Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban scored his second goal of Thursday’s game on a power play 4:17 into the second overtime, and playoff giant Daniel Briere had an assist on that goal — his 112th point in 113 playoff games – as the Canadiens took a 1-0 series lead over the Boston Bruins with a 4-3 win in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal at TD Garden in Boston.
Alas, Boston also lost Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round – then won four straight – so the loss isn’t cause for panic just yet. But Montreal has won all three games at TD Garden this season and the Habs have a long and mostly pleasant history with the Bruins.
Game 2 is Saturday in Boston.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Carey Price goes against the grain: The Montreal goaltender was caught moving to his left on a pass across the slot to Boston forward Brad Marchand in the first overtime. Marchand, a left shot, was cutting back across the slot and had the open side of the net that Price had just vacated available. Somehow, Price managed to stop his momentum, stick out his right pad and get the puck with his toe. It was one of his 48 saves.
1. Carey Price, G, Montreal: Price is 17-8-3 lifetime against Boston in the regular season, but has lost both series which he has played against the Bruins. He took all four losses in a sweep in 2009; he and the Canadiens came up just short in a seven-game defeat in 2011 (with Game 7 decided in OT). But on Thursday night, Price got inside the Bruins’ heads a bit with spectacular saves through the first two periods and in the first overtime, when Boston threw 14 of its 51 shots at him.
2. P.K. Subban, D, Montreal: It was clear from the outset that the Bruins were targeting Subban, the quarterback who makes the Canadiens offense and power play click. But Subban was poised, Subban eluded a big hit from Jarome Iginla, and Subban potted a pair of goals, including the game-winner in double overtime on a slap shot through traffic.
3. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston: Marchand had two assists and was around the puck all night. He just missed scoring when Price made his aforementioned best save of the night.
Key stat: Boston goalie Tuukka Rask has faced Montreal more than any other team in his career, but has just three wins in 18 games against the Canadiens.
Key player: Rene Bourque, RW, Montreal. Bourque had nine goals in 63 regular-season games. He has four in five playoff games, including a second-period tally that gave Montreal a 2-0 lead. He also added an assist.
What we learned: Despite having not played since completing a sweep of Tampa Bay on Tuesday of last week, Montreal did not suffer for momentum. The Canadiens came out strong in the first period, matching chances with Boston and getting on the board first when Subban snapped a well-placed shot through a screen and past Rask at 11:23 of the first period. For the eighth time in these playoffs, a team tied a game in the last 2:30 of regulation, this time when Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk buried Marchand’s feed with 1:58 to play in regulation to send the game to overtime. But for the first time in those eight rallies, the team that gave up the lead won the game. Boston threw everything it had at Price, scoring three goals in the third period. But forwards David Krejci and Iginla both missed good chances and defenseman Dougie Hamilton hit a post. The Canadiens did a great job of getting in the shooting lanes, blocking a whopping 30 shots. It’s too early to draw comparisons yet to Montreal’s magnificent run to the conference finals in 2010 behind the goaltending of Jaroslav Halak, but the Habs have won 24 of the prior 33 meetings between these teams and they have won four of five meetings with Boston this season. Perhaps another cloud of Montreal mystique is forming over the Hub of Hockey?
Next game: Saturday at Boston, 12:30 p.m. EST
Final thought: Two more series get underway on Friday when Pittsburgh hosts the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center at 7 p.m. ET, and Chicago hosts Minnesota at the United Center at 9:30 p.m. Given the storied history of the Canadiens-Bruins series, the proximity involved in the Kings-Ducks series and the long-standing rivalry between the Rangers and Penguins, it’s hard not to think about the lost opportunity that came with Colorado’s elimination. Watching the Blackhawks and Avs match skill and speed would have been spectacular playoff theater. Not that the Wild care.