This is a game the Montreal Canadiens will look back on as one of the ones that helped them eventually establish a winning team.
And we understand that might seem counterintuitive because they lost this one 4-2 to the Boston Bruins. But only six teams have beaten the Bruins in 35 games at TD Garden this season and the Canadiens deserved to be the seventh in a game they controlled in every way but on the scoreboard.
“I thought we were the better team for most of the night,” Nick Suzuki told reporters in attendance after scoring his 22nd goal of the season to set a new career high and adding an assist to make it his third multipoint game in a row, and he was right.
Mike Matheson, who was at the centre of that, skating nearly 29 minutes and registering an assist, said the Canadiens were reasonably frustrated with the outcome, and that’s also a good thing.
Regardless of them entering the game as David’s kid brother picking a fight with Goliath, they should expect to win if they play as well as they did. Holding themselves to that standard is as important as anything they will do as they continue to build their identity.
That the Canadiens didn’t shrink from the challenge, which was issued all over the ice, only further enables their growth.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” coach Martin St. Louis said. “We were engaged, we were connected, and that’s how you grow as a team. All good teams are like that, and that’s what we’re looking for. That’s what we’re trying to establish and build, and we’re hoping to do it consistently. It’s very encouraging.”
The Canadiens out-shot the Bruins 31-21, had 63 attempts to their 40, and even managed to out-hit them 28-26. Like their winger, Mike Hoffman, who took a crosscheck to the face and returned to the game with a full shield on after receiving several stitches, they never backed down.
We’re talking about an injury-riddled group near the bottom of the standings that, for one night, was better than a largely healthy Bruins team that became the fastest in NHL history to 100 points and is well on its way to a franchise-best season. They refused to be intimidated, and they even found a way to assert their style of play.
It left St. Louis with a sense of accomplishment.
“For me, it’s about having a warrior’s attitude even in a situation where we know we’re not going to make the playoffs,” said St. Louis. “That’s why it’s encouraging, and that’s what’s enabling us to grow at this stage of the season.”
A loss doesn’t hurt Montreal’s causes, either. It keeps them in 28th place, four points out of 27th, and right in the thick of the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.
A win would’ve been good for morale, but their season hasn’t been about wins whatsoever. It’s been about the development of their individual players, of their culture and style of play, and all of those aims have been served on most nights and were especially served on this one—in the toughest building to play in and against the best team in the NHL.
“It’s about how you measure success,” said St. Louis. “Emotionally, it’s frustrating because we played well and gave everything. But we lose today, and tomorrow’s a new day. There’s another game Saturday, where you have to do it all over again. It’s about staying on task and, I find, in general, we can do that.”
The Canadiens have 10 more opportunities to do it this season, and they’ve done it more than anyone expected already with so many of their core players injured.
Think about the impact Josh Anderson could’ve had in this game had he not suffered a season-ending injury as the clock wound down in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With bodies colliding and emotions riding high, it was a game tailor-made for Arber Xhekaj, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in February.
You think about the three times the Canadiens struck iron, the wide-open chances they pushed onto Jeremy Swayman or outright missed and know sure-shooter Cole Caufield could’ve made the difference had his season not ended with shoulder surgery in January.
This team has dealt with all those blows and kept pushing, and this game was a microcosm of that.
Even in losing it, the Canadiens continued to take steps towards becoming the team they want to be.