Playing their third game in four nights, the Bruins were due for a letdown after posting six goals in three consecutive wins this past week. It figures that the Canadiens would be the opponent to make Boston (34-16-3) look so bad too since with Thursday's 4-1 victory at TD Garden, Montreal (29-20-5) has now won five in a row vs. the Bruins. Even great teams have off-nights and that was the case for the B’s as Tuukka Rask was pulled (for the fourth time this season) after allowing three goals, including two soft ones.
For Bruins head coach Claude Julien, it boiled down to three simple elements to explain his squad’s poor performance.
"We didn’t skate well, didn’t execute or make good decisions," Julien said. "We hope it was just a one-game thing, we know that goals don’t come that easy, so we want to bounce back on Saturday and move on.”
The most surprising part in the latest installment of the NHL’s best rivalry is that the home team had such a lack of emotion. Montreal won, 2-1, at the Bell Centre on Dec. 5 and it jumped ahead, 2-0, less than 15 minutes into this one on goals by Alexei Emelin and Max Pacioretty. Dougie Hamilton gave Boston some life with a goal a little over a minute after Pacioretty’s, but former BC star Brian Gionta scored on a power-play goal midway through the second to chase Rask.
“They were first on the puck and won more battles than we did," Milan Lucic said of Montreal. "It’s unfortunate that we came out with that effort. We weren’t good enough from an emotional standpoint, it seemed like the fight wasn’t really there.”
Moments after coming in, goaltender Chad Johnson was faced with a breakaway by Daniel Briere. The underachieving Canadiens forward beat him upstairs for a 4-1 lead. Boston had two power plays after that to try and climb back in but they couldn’t mount any sort of comeback attempt. The good news for the B’s is that they have two more home games left on this four-game homestand: Saturday vs. lowly Edmonton (18-32-6) and Tuesday vs. Vancouver.
What they'll be saying: There will be plenty of hand-wringing over the next 36 hours, but let’s not forget that this is only one game. If the Bruins come out on Saturday and also lay an egg against the terrible Oilers, then we’ll have something, otherwise, calm down. This was Boston’s first three-goal loss of the season at TD Garden. The only two worse games were their 6-1 loss at Detroit the night before Thanksgiving and a 6-2 loss in Vancouver on Dec. 14 (end of a 3-1 road trip).
This was further proof of why the Bruins want to avoid the Canadiens in the postseason. The Habs provide matchup issues for the Bruins for whatever reason (Montreal’s speed?). Even with the win, the Canadiens are eight points behind Boston and the Bruins have a game in hand.
Just like I expect the Bruins to play much better on Saturday, I assume that Rask will be himself again on Saturday. With the loss, he fell to 2-10-2 vs. Montreal in his career. Further proof of why Boston should hope to be done with the Canadiens after the last two regular season meetings - March 12 in Montreal and March 24 back at the Garden.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate