There were 13 days between Montreal's series-clinching win over the Tampa Bay Lighting and last night's tilt for an advantage in their series with the Bruins. Perhaps the anticipation influenced the noise level reaching new heights of deafening decibels, but it's more likely that this deep-seeded rivalry brought out the best in the Bell Centre crowd.
"I can't explain just what it does for our team; it just drives us. You look at the last 10 minutes of standing ovations, and they're just going nuts, and that's just so big for our team," said Dale Weise of the electrical storm coursing through his veins after he notched the game-winning goal.
Of course, Weise couldn't have known his goal to put the Canadiens up 3-0 in the game would turn out to be the winner, but he had to have had a sense for the onslaught Boston would try to manufacture, inevitably falling a goal shy of tying the game in dramatic fashion.
As for Weise paying homage to the Bruins chest-thumping goal celebrations, he simply stated he really enjoyed the movie The Wolf of Wall Street.
Speaking of getting caught up in the moment, P.K. Subban had a pretty pure reaction to scoring the game's second goal--a breakaway from the penalty box, picked up at the offensive blueline, polished with speed that Tuukka Rask didn't have a chance to catch up to. The building was an earthquake, as the game shifted to a commercial break.
Everything was going Montreal's way until Patrice Bergeron gave Boston something tangible to chase; a brilliant deflection with a mere 2:12 remaining in a period that belonged to the Canadiens.
To get over the mental hurdle of hanging on to this one after a devastating loss in game two--as Mike Weaver explained--was huge: "You gotta have the key guys out there; the guys willing to sacrifice their bodies. Boston's a great team, and when it's down to the wire they seem to rise up to the occasion, but tonight we were able to hold them off."
How they got to a position of being able to defend a three-goal lead was a big credit to Michel Therrien, who focused his team on a few details omitted in their first two performances of the series. Therrien made some difficult decisions to park Brandon Prust in favor of Travis Moen, opting to sit Francis Bouillon--whom the coach showered with praise after the game despite turning to Douglas Murray instead. Moen and Murray played their roles, not without blemishes, but effectively.
The biggest influence Therrien had over the game was something he kept in the bag the day before. The coaching staff had decided to place Thomas Vanek with Michael Bournival and Tomas Plekanec, reuniting Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais with Brendan Gallagher. The net effect of this decision brought a balance of energy and skill to all four of his lines, something he later insisted was critical to the team's performance.
The game featured several memorable moments, most of them belonging to the Canadiens. Whether it was Subban's penalty on Reilly Smith--one you can safely assume his teammates weren't too upset about, Murray's hit on Patrice Bergeron, the game's opening goal featuring a play made between three brilliant hockey players in Subban, Vanek and Plekanec, breakaway finishes for Subban and Weise, or the hit that Moen obliterated Jarome Iginla with, the game was filled with the excitement only the Stanley Cup Playoffs can offer.
The standout moment of the hockey game came on a Torey Krug one-timer in the second period that Price snatched out of the air with ease, staring down the young Boston defender who'd suggested over the layover between games that the Bruins had figured him out, tossing the puck at Krug after in defiance. It was one of many sensational saves Price made in the game, and it was a statement.
It's a credit to the Bruins that they could still make this a one-goal game with all the big moments falling on Montreal's side of the equation. Iginla pushed another perfect tip by Price to give the Bruins a chance at tying things up with 2:16 remaining in the game.
The crowd, Plekanec, Weise, Josh Gorges, Subban and Lars Eller took care of the rest, with Eller securing the win with an empty-netter.
"I was lucky it was just within my reach to poke it by the first D, and after that I just had to skate it all the way in," Eller said in describing his effort on the last important play of the hockey game.
Claude Julien opted for fireworks after that by putting his toughest players out on the ice with seconds remaining in the game, but that show fizzled as quickly as the time remaining in the game did after the empty-netter. With that, the Canadiens marched to the dressing room with a 2-1 series advantage and another home game to play before game five in Boston on Saturday.
1) The pass that Subban made to find Vanek was counter-intuitive. Another defenseman might have just pushed the puck into the corner to play it safe. To suggest it was a risk to give it to Vanek--who was wide open--would be stretching the truth, but it was the type of intelligent play a player who's hyper-aware of how things were developing in the offensive zone makes.
Vanek backing into Subban's position was less of a cover as it was a perfect example of what he does best. His whole game is about dead space, where he can buy himself the time his skating stride wouldn't typically allow for. Vanek hooked up with another cerebral player in Plekanec, who read the play two chess moves in advance and found himself all alone in front of Rask as a result.
It was a goal that injected the type of energy into the crowd the Canadiens needed.
Boston was a Rene Bourque goal away from not staving off those first couple of minutes of boundless energy Ginette Reno's raucous rendition of the Canadian anthem provides. Bourque missed the net, and the opening push was overcome, as the Bruins took over for the next number of shifts.
Murray got caught on one of those shifts for more than two minutes because Gallagher and Pacioretty each iced the puck in succession. That was the bad.
The good was the hit he threw on Bergeron that stimulated a massive momentum swing in the hockey game, as the Canadiens killed off Subban's penalty and the crowd exploded with him scoring out of the box.
2) Claude Julien was expecting those lineup adjustments on Montreal's end, but there's no way he was expecting the switch Therrien made with Gallagher and Vanek.
The goal Vanek set up was a thing of beauty, but the space he was afforded by Michael Bournival's aggressive forecheck forcing a turnover perfectly embodied what Therrien was trying to achieve on both those top lines.
Pacioretty and Desharnais got Gallagher's dogged puck-pursuit to open up space for them, and though it didn't generate a goal for them on the night, it made them more dangerous, which sets things up nicely for them come game four.
3) Rene Bourque has been an exceptional story, and full marks to him for suiting up with the flu bug that kept him out of practice on Monday.
Lars Eller is crafting his own exceptional story. For the Canadiens to do something unexpected in these playoffs, Eller would have to be the player everyone knew he was capable of being. He adds a whole other dimension to the team, and he showed that again last night. Exceptional is a good word to describe the way he's playing right now, with eight points in seven games, a +4 due to his stellar work in the defensive zone and the neutral zone as well.
4) Interesting stat run by RDS on their telecast: The Canadiens are the only team in this year's playoffs to score at least three goals in all of their games.
Therrien's noted to be a big believer that if you score three goals, you're going to win most of the time.
5) P.K. Subban's got three goals and eight assists in seven games. His +1 rating is a perfect example of how irrelevant that stat can be--not to suggest it never represents an accurate depiction of a player's performance.
There's no knocking Subban's play so far. He's been incredible. But he believes he can be better. He holds himself to a higher standard than not allowing being on the ice for Patrice Bergeron's goal to bother him. He was bothered by it, and admitted as much after the game.
Any reason to doubt Subban on this?
He can be better. That's really something to think about.
Before the playoffs began, you could've easily suggested his negotiation for a new contract with Marc Bergevin would certainly be contentious. He's making it easier by the day with his comportment on and off the ice.