MONTREAL -- On some streets corners in parts of this glistening hockey city, the "Stop" in the red octagonal signs, apparently too anglicized for some tastes, has been spray-painted over with the word
You might recall that last spring some of those same signs -- at least on T-shirts around town -- were imprinted with Halak, apparently the Slovakian word for stop.
As the crowd streamed into the Bell Centre Monday night for Game 3 of the Bruins-Canadiens series, the white word in the red octagon was Price.
Jaroslav Halak made the Canadiens some $10 million, give or take, last spring with his spectacular playoff goaltending, but he went from Eastern Conference finalist to St. Louis and Carey Price, the long-anointed saver, if not the savior, resumed his rightful place in the Montreal net. Price sparkled during the regular season, of course, and then allowed one goal in the first two games in Boston, as the Canadiens bored the suddenly Big, Sad Bruins into submission. Price looks laconic at all times, but his placid demeanor had edged to something closer to poise as Montreal played a pair of perfect road games. Back home, the city reacted as if the first round of the playoffs had been reduced to best two-of-three.
In the face of this hill to climb, seemingly Boston coach Claude Julien had to do something different. He had the second pick in the 2010 draft, forward Tyler Seguin, wearing civvies. He had a capable back-up goalie, Tuukka Rask, waiting in case he wanted to sit presumptive Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who gave up a couple of rebounds in Game 2 that, if they had been any fatter, would have been candidates to appear on
In the end, Julien did exactly the right thing: almost nothing.
"We didn't expect any changes, to be honest," said Patrice Bergeron, who had two assists, was a plus-3 and won 59 percent of his faceoffs. "We just had to do what we were capable of doing. We know we weren't good in the first two games. That's all we had to worry about." The Bruins' 4-2 victory was a testament to self-belief, to staying the course, to replicating the kind of performance that made them the best team in the Northeast Division. The beleaguered first line of David Krejci centering Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic awoke, Thomas was spectacular under late pressure and the only lineup change Julien made -- the reinsertion of captain Zdeno Chara, paired with Dennis Seidenberg instead of usual partner Johnny Boychuk -- paid off with an assist and 26:20 of mostly steadfast play, a memorable night for a player who had missed Game 2 because of a virus that left him dehydrated.
Chara, the towering infernal, is not a popular figure in Montreal. He couldn't get arrested in this town. Well, maybe he could. The last time the gargantuan defenseman played in Montreal, he shoved Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty into the stanchion between the benches, an act that did not seem to overly trouble the NHL -- even though Pacioretty sustained a concussion and a non-displaced fracture of a vertebra -- but certainly got the local constabulary in a tizzy. The police even announced they would investigate the March 8 incident and while the file might still be open, as was reported last week, the case seems very much closed. He was tried by the vox populi, which lustily booed whenever he had the puck, but then as Julien noted, Chara has been booed in many rinks. This is simply a twisted expression of respect.
"Z's one of our most important players," Thomas said. "It's harder to play without him. The last game we wanted to step up for him but weren't able to get it done." Chara looked his old healthy self, except when Andrei Kostitsyn scooted around him midway through the second period and shoveled the puck through a Ted Williams Tunnel 5-hole that Thomas flashed, not exactly a brilliant moment for the two Boston stars. But the Bruins had already put three shots past Price, who seemed to lose his edge and in one case, his angle.
The two Bruins goals in the opening period occurred when Montreal was trying to sort itself out after expired power plays -- Krejci scored three seconds following a Montreal man-advantage and Horton 22 seconds after another when Price took himself out of position -- but the third Boston was gift-wrapped. Price tried to clear the puck from behind his net, but it glanced off Mark Recchi's shin pads and then directly to Rich Peverley's stick. Peverley scored into the gaping net, forcing Montreal to start climbing out of a hole that ultimately was too deep.
Not that the Canadiens, the faster team, didn't try. Tomas Plekanec performed a pirouette that took him further from Chara, then shot another puck between Thomas' pads four minutes into the third period -- the type of goal that might have signaled a comeback. But in the final seven minutes, as Montreal buzzed, Thomas was perfect. He flashed his right pad to stop a screened point drive from James Wisniewski, foiled Kostitsyn from the slot, did not allow Scott Gomez to stuff a puck in from the crease with 2:35 left and seconds later made another kick save on Kostitsyn.
"He made a lot of big saves, and the fact he was able to do that showed a lot of character," Julien said. "He'd want to have back the two goals that went in on him, but the goaltender could have had negative thoughts in his mind and not been sharp at the end. For him to do what he did meant he was willing to redeem himself and make the big saves. They were huge. Instead of a tie game, we were able to score an empty-netter."
For the Bruins, Thomas' big stops made this series a two-way street.