The Montreal Canadiens came into Boston and gave the juggernaut Bruins one heck of a fight a little less than 19 hours after achieving a hard-fought win over the New York Islanders.
The Canadiens were without defenceman Victor Mete (hand) and captain Max Pacioretty (lower-body injury), who were both returned to Montreal earlier on Saturday for medical evaluations. They were also without defenceman Shea Weber (shutdown for the year with a foot injury) and star goaltender Carey Price (concussion).
But they played their hearts out in this one. The result turned out to be a 2-1 overtime win for the Bruins, but it may very well have washed away the bad memory of the Canadiens’ last game at TD Garden—when they embarrassed themselves in what was probably the worst of the 40 losses they’ve suffered this season.
Here are some takeaways from the game.
Bruins a Stanley Cup favourite?
It was in the fourth week of January that Bruins star Brad Marchand did something incredibly stupid, elbowing Devils forward Marcus Johansson and getting himself suspended for five games.
That was going to be a major test of Boston’s contender status. They passed it with flying colours, going 4-1 in Marchand’s absence.
Their best player, Patrice Bergeron, suffered a fracture in his foot and was put on the injured reserve list three games ago.
Boston’s response? Three wins without Bergeron so far.
Defenceman Charlie McAvoy went down 37 seconds into Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury. It was announced six minutes later he would not return, which should cause considerable concern around Boston.
Then again, the Bruins managed to prevail in their first test without him.
This team has won 30 of its last 41 games and lost only six in regulation over that span. If it was believed they were too top heavy to win the Stanley Cup, acquiring forward Rick Nash before the trade deadline should’ve undone some of that. Adding Brian Gionta and Nick Holden for depth wasn’t a bad call, either.
I’d not be too shy about calling them a favourite to emerge out of the Eastern Conference as a Cup finalist. I’ll wait to give my playoff predictions, but if they were being made now, I’d be betting on Boston to win the Cup.
Antti Niemi’s revival continues
The goaltender who had a 5.08 goals-against average and .872 save percentage with the Florida Panthers after putting up a 7.50 goals-against average and .797 save percentage with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this season put in a heroic effort in Boston.
Niemi stopped a career-high 48 shots in this game. His 45 in regulation eclipsed his previous high of 43. He made 19 in the second period alone and stopped 20 on the power play in the game before Jake DeBrusk tipped one in at the 17:15 mark of the third period.
Niemi was 4-2-2, with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 11 appearances with Montreal before Saturday’s game. What he might be doing is earning himself a new contract with the Canadiens. Yes, Montreal has backup Charlie Lindgren on a new three-year contract that begins next season, but Niemi might serve as a good insurance policy for him and Price.
As we’ve seen across the NHL this season, you need more than two NHL-capable goaltenders. Just ask the Vegas Golden Knights, who had to rely on fifth-stringer Dylan Ferguson for a game at one point.
Brendan Gallagher keeps the ball rolling
It doesn’t seem to matter which line Brendan Gallagher plays on, he’s been Montreal’s most dangerous player all season long.
It was on a late change in the first period that Gallagher found himself on the ice with Canadiens fourth liners Nicolas Deslauriers and Byron Froese. He jumped off the bench, picked off Kevan Miller’s pass and rifled a shot past a helpless Anton Khudobin.
It was Gallagher’s 23rd goal of the season, which puts him one away from his career-high of 24. A night prior he helped spark new linemate Alex Galchenyuk to a hat trick, and now he’s just seven points back of his career-high of 47 points.
With 17 games remaining in Montreal’s season, chances are Gallagher will eclipse his previous bests, which were both set in 2014-15.
Tough breaks for Jonathan Drouin
Drouin had put up three points in his last two games before Saturday’s against Boston and was really starting to come on stronger. But he caught some tough luck before night’s end.
It was Drouin who fired the puck over the glass with David Backes bearing down on him deep in the Canadiens end, leading to the game-tying power play goal from DeBrusk.
Then Drouin got caught on a marathon shift in overtime and was forced to chase Marchand around for most of it. It didn’t end well, with Marchand taking Drouin around the Canadiens’ net and leaving him behind in the slot before scoring the winner on Niemi.