Don't be fooled by the title, it was a whole team effort, but let's give some credit where it's due. When Peter Budaj was initially signed by the Montreal Canadiens back in the summer of 2011 the reaction was almost uniformly negative, coming off of a brutal year where he was a platoon starter for the Colorado Avalanche.
Since then, he's posted 19-12-7 record with a .916 save percentage, excellent numbers for a backup goalie. And most backup goalies don't have three straight wins over the Boston Bruins, all in the confines of the TD Garden. Budaj was excellent last night in Boston, stopping 34 of 35 shots to seal the win for the Habs, and playing with the same confidence he showed during his epic shootout win last year:
Sorry, I just took an 8:20 break from writing this to relive that because, wow! Anyway, let's get into what happened last night and how the Habs managed to beat the Boston Bruins, who have been a much, much better team this season.
Want a hint of how they do it? They're small.
The best players last evening were Daniel Briere, Brendan Gallagher (who was named 1st star in Boston), David Desharnais, and Brian Gionta. Why do you think those guys were the best? Why do you think it was Desharnais and Gallagher who keyed the comeback victory over Boston last year in Budaj's first start against them?
There is an obsession with size in Montreal that's so entirely wrongheaded that it's embarrassing. People always want what they don't have, and every once in awhile a team with size will beat the Canadiens and everyone will point and say "See! You can't beat bigger teams with all these small players!" Yet the Canadiens do, all the time. Every team in the NHL is a bigger team than the Canadiens, yet they happen to have a winning record. How could that be?
Those small guys with a low center of gravity are able to work the puck down low around big, hulking defensemen better than big forwards are. When Chara pushes Gionta, he pushes his shoulders, which Gionta can absorb and keep the puck. When Chara pushes a bigger player like Rene Bourque, he's pushing more center mass, and can move him more easily.
This is easy to see if you watch closely. Zdeno Chara once commented that the player he hated defending most in the league was Gionta, because he's so hard to check effectively. That was before Gallagher was in the league, so imagine how much he hates #11.
Perhaps the Bruins had been watching a lot of Habs games lately and expected the same kind of performances that we're used to seeing by now, because they were sleepy to start the game. Montreal took advantage and the little guys worked the puck through the Bruins' zone with ease, firing 8 shots on net in the first 2 minutes before Alexei Emelin scored his first of the year.
From there, the Bruins took over a little bit, but they never really surged like they usually do. They had their chances, but Budaj was there to shut them down, and Montreal kept pushing back effectively, leading to a breakaway goal by Max Pacioretty, created by a brilliant defensive read by Desharnais to cut off a pass.
Gionta tipped a Plekanec shot through Tuukka Rask in the second, causing Claude Julien to pull him in favour of Chad Johnson for some reason. The first shot Johnson faced was an extremely rare Briere breakaway, and Briere made no mistake.
Nathan Beaulieu was once again fantastic, and he's clocking in at a 60% Fenwick since he was called up, and 65% away from Douglas Murray. Beaulieu's emergence gives a whole new life to the defense, and keep in mind that he's been doing this while playing his off side.
I can't help but wonder how excellent a third pairing of Beaulieu with Raphael Diaz would be on both sides of the puck.
After sitting back for most of the second period, Montreal pushed the play in the third and didn't give the Bruins any room to move, outshooting them 12-10 in the final frame.
Are the Canadiens fixed? No. They were still outplayed while the score was close, sitting back too heavily on their one goal lead, but a win over Boston is something to savour, like the best cut of steak from the butcher.
And speaking of things to savour, as of February 7th, the Canadiens will go a full calendar year without losing to the Bruins. Shove that in their faces.
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