BOSTON — Back in January, after not playing through the first half of the season, the Boston Bruins defeated their biggest rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, three times in eight days.
The mini-series, created by a quirk in the schedule, truly represents how the season has gone for both Original Six teams.
Late Saturday afternoon, the teams meet again at TD Garden. It will likely be the final time they play this season because the Bruins will be in the playoffs and the Canadiens, despite sweeping a home-and-home set from the New York Islanders on Wednesday and Friday, likely will not.
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The Bruins still have a shot at the Presidents’ Trophy, which goes to the overall regular-season points leader, while the Canadiens are already playing for next season.
That victory left the Bruins in second place in the Atlantic Division, six points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for both the division and the league lead — with three games in hand. They visit the Lightning March 17 and host Tampa Bay March 29.
“They’ve fit in seamlessly,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said of the new players. “You’ve got veteran guys that have been in other locker rooms. I can’t speak to whether they’re good or bad or in different locker rooms. I know that ours is terrific when it comes to our leadership.
“I think our young guys have really helped it as well because they bring a lot of energy. They all have their own personality, but they’re respectful. They want to learn from these veteran guys. So, you get that mix in there, and since they’ve been here, I think every one of them just want to come in, do their part, so they’re good people as well. It hasn’t seemed to disrupt anything.”
After going 2-3 on a five-game road trip that ended with losses in Toronto and Buffalo, the Bruins have won the first two games of a six-game homestand.
The Canadiens, despite the two straight wins, are just 3-4-4 in their last 11 games and were still nine points out of the second wild-card spot in the East. They have five teams ahead of them, so the climb would be a long one.
Montreal started play Friday night 29th in the league in goals per game, 23rd in goals against and 25 in penalty killing. Friday’s win was only its ninth on the road.
Alex Galchenyuk celebrated his 400th NHL game with a third-period hat trick that snapped a 15-game goal-less streak — and also had an assist inFriday night’s 6-3 win in Brooklyn, in the opener of a six-game road trip.
Asked after the game about his team playing loose with nothing to lose. Galchenyuk said, “I don’t think that’s the reason why we’re playing loose. We’ve been playing good hockey the last couple of weeks and we’ve got to keep building.
“Not making the playoffs is hard but we’ve got a lot of young guys coming in and chipping in.”
Friday’s win was costly. Montreal captain Max Pacioretty left with a lower-body injury and did not return. Earlier, rookie defenseman Victor Mete suffered a hand injury and was set to return to Montreal. Defenseman Rinat Valiev, acquired from Toronto in the deadline deal for Tomas Plekanec, was recalled and was set to join the team in Boston.
Tuukka Rask, who once looked at the Canadiens like kryptonite, won all three games against Montreal in January to improve his lifetime record against the Habs to 10-15-3, with a 2.41 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
With Carey Price out with a concussion, veteran Antii Niemi, who won the first half of the home-and-home against the Islanders, figures to goSaturday. He is 6-4-0 with a 2.20 goals-against and .912 save percentage all-time against the Bruins.