In 91 years and 909 meetings, the Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens have waged war under any number of circumstances: both in the hallowed halls of hockey cathedrals, the Montreal Forum and the Boston Garden, and their contemporaries, the Bell Centre and the TD Garden; at the height of their respective faculties, and at their nadirs; in ordinary regular season tilts for two points in the standings, and on the sport’s grandest stage for its most coveted prize.
But even when the 910th meeting brought the two Original Six franchises outdoors for the 2016 Winter Classic, the enduring hallmarks of the rivalry were on full display beneath the lights of Gillette Stadium: a skilled, calculating Montreal team exploited a clumsy Bruins squad’s flaws, and in embarrassing fashion.
“Probably our worst game at the worst time,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. Have the game in Boston. Have it in Foxborough. Hell, have it in Helsinki. It makes no difference—the Habs sit on prime real estate inside Boston’s head.
“Losing like that obviously takes the fun out of it, you know? Too bad we couldn’t give the fans a little bit more to cheer for,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask, who made 25 saves on 30 shots. “We looked flat out there and they kind off caught us off-guard. And it’s just disappointing…it’s very disappointing. I really don’t know what else to say.”
A fair portion of the 67,246 fans in attendance had yet to reach their seats when David Desharnais put the Canadiens to a 1-0 lead just 1:14 into the first period. “We knew it was going to be like that tonight, you know? Greasy goals and we got a couple,” Desharnais said post-game. “That first goal gave momentum to the whole team and we never looked back.”
Rask kept Boston in the game early on, as Montreal peppered the Finn with shots while his defense crumbled in front of him.
“There’s no excuses. We just weren’t ready to play and…we didn’t represent the Bruins or the city of Boston very well today,” defenseman Torey Krug said. “Forever now, it’s going to be a game we’re not very proud of and we’re always going to look back and be embarrassed about.”
The Canadiens extended their lead just two minutes into the second period when B’s defenseman Adam McQuaid failed to clear the puck from Rask’s crease, allowing Paul Byron to knock home an easy goal, with help from Brian Flynn. The tally was emblematic of what the Don Sweeney era is already shaping up to be: a routine error by a player given a four-year, $2.75 million contract extension last off-season leading to a goal by an opponent boasting the kind of depth that just doesn’t seem to materialize here anymore. (Habs picked up Byron on waivers from Calgary and traded a fifth-round pick to Buffalo for Flynn.)
Brendan Gallagher, back from a 17-game absence following surgery to repair two fractured fingers on his left hand, improved Montreal’s lead to 3-1 after batting a puck sent airborne by captain Max Pacioretty at 17:20 in the second. “He’s a player we all admire, the way he plays, the way he handles himself,” Pacioretty said. “And for him to come back and have some fresh legs and play the way he did in his first game back, it really meant a lot.”
With star forwards David Krejci and Brad Marchand out of the lineup with an injury and three-game suspension, respectively, Boston floundered offensively. Matt Beleskey stopped the bleeding only temporarily, deflecting a shot from McQuaid to bring the Bruins to within two with nearly 16 minutes remaining in the third. The goal spoiled a potential shutout for Needham native Mike Condon, who was otherwise brilliant, if unchallenged, in net for Montreal.
“To see his dad and how much it meant to him, to be a part of the day yesterday, to see his son—the way he came up and his story, it’s just unbelievable,” Pacioretty said of Condon, whose helmet bore the likeness of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his four Lombardi Trophies. “I think about his dad every time he makes a save and probably the expression on his face when he’s watching. That’s really special, and I think everybody saw how much it meant for his dad and his family to be a part of this team and to play the way he did was even more special.”
Two more goals from Pacioretty and Byron snuffed out any hope of late-game heroics, and the Canadiens would once again best the Bruins, 5-1.
“We definitely feel like we let everybody down,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “It was such a big build-up. I’m sure everybody in here wanted to come out on the ice with a little bit more jump and bring a little bit better effort.”
“But that wasn’t the case today.”
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