With a lineup mostly dictated by the injuries the team has been amassing in recent games, the Montreal Canadiens’ road trip moved on for an afternoon game against the Boston Bruins. Victor Mete’s absence meant Jordie Benn was back in the lineup, and taking the rookie’s place alongside Jeff Petry on the top pairing. Max Pacioretty having to fly back to Montreal with a lower-body injury allowed for Nikita Scherbak to move up beside Phillip Danault, which had cascade effects lower down the order.
The Bruins were forced to manage their own injury after less than one minute of play when Charlie McAvoy went down after a trip from Brendan Gallagher in a battle for the puck. He did not return to the game, leaving the Bruins with just five defencemen.
At times in the first period, it looked like the Canadiens were the team missing blue-liners, allowing several odd-man rushes against. The most dangerous of them had three Bruins bearing down on the Canadiens’ end with just Mike Reilly left to defend the fort. He gambled and attacked the puck-carrier, being unable to stop the charge, leaving Antti Niemi to deal with a 2-on-0, though the chance went for nought.
The Bruins weren’t so lucky on a defensive lapse of their own moments later. Kevan Miller’s attempted stretch pass was intercepted by Gallagher, and he raced into the zone, waiting until Torey Krug had moved in front of the puck in an attempt to block it before ripping a snapshot past Anton Khudobin to put the Habs on the board first.
The unassisted goal put Gallagher back in sole possesion of the the team scoring lead after Alex Galchenyuk had pulled even with a four-point performance the night before. His 23rd of the season is just one off his career high, through injuries have derailed campaigns in which he’s been on pace to score more.
Paul Byron had a chance to make it a two-goal edge soon afterward when he created a turnover and raced away. While it was a breakaway, he was unable to pull away from the defenders as he’s often done in the past, allowing Sean Kuraly to keep up with him into the zone. Kuraly tied him up, preventing him from getting a shot away, but the referee awarded just a minor penalty, and not the penalty shot that the infraction probably deserved.
It was the Bruins who had the best chance to score on the Canadiens’ power play, but once again the execution around the net wasn’t good enough to generate a dangerous shot, and the game returned to even strength with no harm done to either team.
With two minutes left, Karl Alzner’s pass along the left-side boards went to the Bruins, calling Noah Juulsen into action to defend the entire net front. He was able to prevent a goal, but a took a penalty in the process, sending Boston to the power play.
As he had been doing all period, Niemi got in front of the rare Bruins shots that actually hit the net, allowing his team to get to the intermission up a goal despite allowing several great chances right around the net.
The second period opened with the Bruins getting an odd-man rush right off the bat. Juulsen’s attempt to keep the puck in at the offensive blue line with his foot didn’t work, allowing two Bruins to get behind him. No goal came of the chance.
Despite being in control of the puck for the majority of the second period, the Bruins were either missing the net or taking telegraphed shots from the outside. With exceptional positioning all game long, Niemi was able to easily stop the majority of the shots by simply being square to the shooter.
Khudobin wasn’t going to be outdone by his counterpart. Facing a two-on-one, he turned aside Andrew Shaw’s attempt to carry the puck across the crease with a Hasekian sprawling snow angel, getting his leg on the puck to neutralize the chance.
With Brandon Carlo in the box for getting retribution for a clean hit on his teammate, Alex Galchenyuk got the puck and lots of time in his office, but the Bruins goaltender fired out the glove to prevent a top-corner goal.
Even down two men, the Bruins couldn’t solve Niemi. With disciplined positioning from the penalty-killers, Boston wasn’t able to get any dangerous shots on target, and the Habs survived the period unscathed despite their netminder being peppered with 19 shots.
No longer dealing with the long change, the depleted Habs lineup was able to at least get some time in the Bruins’ end in the third, though Boston retained the lion’s share of the possession in the final frame. Their offensive-zone pressure resulted in three Canadiens penalties in the final 20 minutes, and the last proved the most costly for the visiting team.
With Jonathan Drouin in the box serving a delay of game penalty with just a few minutes to go, the Bruins finally solved Niemi with a shot that got deflected just inside the far post by Jake DeBrusk.
The Habs had nothing left for the three-on-three overtime period, and it was just a matter of time before the Bruins finally ended it with consistent pressure in the Habs’ end. It was Brad Marchand who finished things off by hanging onto the puck behind the net, carrrying it out to the front with Drouin unable to shadow him, and turning to fire it past Niemi to earn the 2-1 win.
With Carey Price out, the tandem of Niemi and Charlie Lindgren has been earning the Habs results well above what the talent level of the team they’re currently able to ice should be achieving. Niemi set a new career high with 48 saves last night, and was the only reason why the game wasn’t out of hand before the end of the first.
The Canadiens get two days off to recover and then begin a stretch of 12 games in 21 days, starting on Tuesday in New Jersey.