P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens runs hot and cold, like the weather in his team's home city. At his best, the Norris Trophy winner and Olympic gold medalist does what he did on Thursday night -- score two power-play goals, including the game-winner at 4:13 of double overtime as the Canadiens won the opening game of its second-round series against the Boston Bruins, 4-3. This was Subban, the 24-year-old star, at his most impactful and he enabled his team to seize home advantage from the Presidents’ Trophy winners as Boston dropped a Game 1 at home by a goal for the second straight series. (Detroit beat them 1-0 to open the first round.)
And this particular series featured a matchup that is the most storied and historic of all NHL clashes. The two teams are meeting for the 34th time in the playoffs, ten games more than any other pair of rivals in North American pro sports, and Thursday night’s game provided yet another chapter in the growing encyclopedia of standout moments. Boston rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits, outplaying Montreal for most of the night, but Carey Price, Subban’s Olympic teammate, made 48 saves and the Canadiens were the more opportunistic team in a game that only whet the appetite for more.
Here are just some of the highlights from a match that was full of them:
• P.K. is back. Subban lost his game during the first half of April, failing to record a point in his final six games. He also put up a minus-five rating and was benched for part of a late-season game against Ottawa. Subban is normally a key component of Montreal’s power play, which closed the regular season without a goal in its final 23 attempts. When he’s on, he moves the puck quickly and smartly, and in Game 1, he was his usual ornery self. In the first period alone, he knocked Reilly Smith and David Krejci over and went head to head with Boston’s mountainous forward Milan Lucic. But Subban also took his time when he had room and didn’t force plays that could get him in trouble. If he plays like this for the rest of the series, he will need more attention from the Bruins, who like to key on lines and pairs rather than on individuals.
• The Canadiens performed well with the man advantage in Game 1. They were effective at changing their shooting angles on Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, forcing him to adjust in order to be square to the shooter, and getting in front of him to make him look around their screens. On the game’s first goal, at 11:23 of the first period, Subban glided from his right point position to the center of the ice and took a pass from Andrei Markov before wristing a shot through Daniel Briere’s screen. Subban didn’t need to shoot hard; all he had to do was put it on net at the right time. Briere doesn't offer much of a screen, since he is one of the league’s smaller forwards, but he still disrupted Rask’s vision.
• The Canadiens increased their lead to 2-0 at 3:38 of the second period after Boston’s defense fouled up a simple pass at center ice. Johnny Boychuk tried to send a short feed to Torey Krug, but the puck glanced off Krug’s skate and fell in front of him. With Krug out of the play and Boychuk scrambling to get back into it, Montreal forwards Rene Bourque and Lars Eller headed back in the other direction with a two-on-one. Bourque showed pass, forcing Rask to leave a little of the short side open and Bourque found it perfectly. The 32-year-old forward had been a bit of a disappointment since joining the Canadiens in the middle of the 2011-12 season, putting up just 21 goals over the course of two-and-a-half years, including just nine in 63 games during the 2013-14 regular season. But during the playoffs this spring, Bourque already has four goals in five games.
• Boston shouldn’t be too upset with its effort in Game 1. The Bruins outshot the Canadiens, 51-33, including 28-12 over the third period and first overtime. They out-hit Montreal, 56-45, and won the face-off battle, 51-37. But they also missed 17 shots and had 30 blocked. With a total of 98 attempted shots and just three goals to show for them, what happened? Well, Montreal netminder Carey Price played well, but Boston overhandled the puck too often and made key blunders at key times while trying to set up perfect opportunities that weren’t there. This was what happened when the B's didn’t shoot: Early in the third period, Krejci stickhandled his way into the slot and had a wide open backhand available with Lucic heading for the crease. Instead, Krejci tried to drop the puck for Jarome Iginla and it was soon headed out of the zone. And this was what happened when they did shoot: Reilly Smith put a very bad-angle shot at the net from the right corner that Price never saw. The laser caught the top corner, as Smith took advantage of the clutter in front of the goal with Patrice Bergeron pushing against Alexei Emelin. The goal brought Boston to within 2-1 at 2:44 of the period.
• In one sequence with Boston on the power play, Iginla had two point-blank chances at Price, putting one off his pads and shooting the rebound wide when the goalie was down and out of position. Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton then blasted a shot off the post to Price’s left. Carl Soderberg appeared to have a gimmie, but was knocked down and couldn’t get to his feet. What more can a team do? Well, finish. Boston had a lot of zone time, and it should pay off sooner or later, perhaps when the Bruins go to Montreal for the third and fourth games. Teams usually play a much simpler, and often more effective, game on the road.
• Nothing fancy. That was the title of Montreal’s book on Thursday. Stay strong on the puck and good things will happen. After Krug knotted the score, 2-2, with a goal at 6:30 of the third, the Bruins blew a chance to grab the lead midway through the period. Lucic fanned on a simple conversion in the slot and Krug then swooped in for a backhand that never made it to Price. The Canadiens buzzed the Bruins’ net, and though Montreal hadn’t recorded a shot on goal during the previous seven minutes of play, the Habs did get Boston’s defense scrambling a bit. The Canadiens are most effective when they move around and jump into the play rather than sit back. Case in point: 38-year-old defenseman Francis Bouillon, who had scored just 32 goals – and never more than five in one season – during his 14 years in the league moved up from his position and beat Rask to put Montreal ahead, 3-2 at 12:09.
• One good No. 55 deserves another, and Boston’s 55, Johnny Boychuk, is no stranger to shooting the puck. His blast with 1:52 to play in regulation sent the game to OT.
• The eventual winner was more Spam than filet mignon. Montreal’s fourth line of Travis Moen, Dale Weise and Brandon Prust has no natural centers, but these guys are bulls who can crash the net. In double OT, rather than set up plays or even work an organized cycle, Moen went to the net, forcing Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski to tackle him and take Boston’s second penalty of the extra sessions. On the next face-off, Subban drove a screen shot past three Bruins and over Rask’s shoulder.
• Where is Thomas Vanek? Didn’t it look as though the late-season pickup was going to be Montreal’s premier sniper? He has been at times, but for part of Game 1, he was shifted on and off the fourth line. Habs coach Michel Therrien has been giving the veteran less time lately and Vanek skated for just 18:58 -- not much for a theoretical frontliner in a double-overtime game.
The Canadiens and Bruins will meet in Game 2 at 12:30 pm on Saturday in Boston.(NBC, CBC, RDS)