Canadiens easily handle Bruins in Winter Classic, take first in Atlantic
The Habs crashed the net often, scoring all four goals from in close on Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, including multiple shots that were deflected and batted out of the air. When all was said and done, David Desharnais, Paul Byron (twice), Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty added to their goal totals while the Bruins managed to get their offensive game only going in spurts.
“I think we just had a tough night,” Bruins coach Claude Julien lamented. ”The unfortunate part is that I think we played one of our probably worst games at the worst time. I think it just seemed like it was one of those nights we couldn’t get anything going in the first period. They were all over us. And it just didn’t matter what we tried to do here, we just couldn’t get it going.”
Montreal goalie Mike Condon, a big local story, made some stellar saves, finishing with 27, but he rarely found himself in trouble while Boston searched for a spark.
Here are three thoughts off a game that put a new leader atop the Atlantic Division:
Condon takes a star turn
The Habs, who had lost seven of their last eight games coming in, showed some of the offensive panache that helped them start the season with nine straight wins. Much of it had to do with the return of Brendan Gallagher, who had sat out 17 games with a pair of fractured digits. Montreal’s star pest potted a goal and an assist in his comeback, and he was an effective cog in an offense that had mustered more than two goals only once during its recent eight-game struggles.
“I said all along as soon as I was hurt I wanted to get back for this game but I didn’t want to come back for selfish reasons,” Gallagher said at his postgame presser. “I think I only wanted to come back if I could help the team win and be a contributor. I think everyone did that. Nobody tried to do too much. Nobody did anything they’re not normally asked to do. But shift after shift we went out and we got the job done. From Mike out to the forwards, everyone did a good job. Everyone contributed, and it was just a fun night to be a part of.”
At the other end of the ice, Condon found some of the form that he has been severely lacking in Carey Price’s absence. With the defending MVP and Vezina Trophy-winner sidelined since Nov. 25, Condon’s stumbles had led the Canadiens to acquire goalie Ben Scrivens from Edmonton earlier this week, but the Massachusetts native stepped up to the task with plenty of eyes on him in a pretty grand homecoming game.
“I was just trying to keep my head on the ice the whole time,” he said, “but when the final buzzer rang I looked around, just tried to take as many mental photos as I could and just to try to remember this feeling and it’s certainly a special one.”
Boston felt the absence of its stars
The Bruins have been a surprise to just about everyone this season by staying competitive in a wide-open Atlantic Division after a slow start. This game was an opportunity to overtake the Habs and tie Florida for the top spot, but Montreal that seized the lead.
Boston was very obviously missing forwards David Krejci (upper-body injury) and Brad Marchand (three-game suspension for clipping), two of its top possession players who are defensively responsible and a big part of its offensive game. Without them, the B’s look discombobulated and they struggled to maintain consistent pressure in the Canadiens’ end. Montreal, on the other hand, was often able to the find time and space it needed to keep Rask on his toes throughout the afternoon and take advantage of rebounds.
Yes, going outdoors still works
For all the commentary about the NHL oversaturating its most marketable product by adding more outdoor games, it’s hard to argue with the results. The weather and ice conditions were excellent and the crowd of 67,246 at Gillette was boisterous from the get-go, with Bruins and Canadiens fans joining together for pregame tailgating. They brought that communal spirit and energy into the stadium.
Fans chanted “We want Rene!” for renowned TD Garden anthem singer Rene Rancourt, who was bumped for The Voice winner Jordan Smith, and then they cheered for a flyover by Air Force jets. While Canadiens fans had more to cheer about during the game, they were outnumbered by an estimated 60 to 40 percent and their Bruins counterparts made their voices heard on the few chances they had to let loose.
It’s hard for an event to not be special when that many fans come together to watch some hockey, and until they stop showing up, outdoor games will surely remain a part of the NHL’s yearly schedule.