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Friday, January 1, 2016

Canadiens Embarrass Bruins 5-1 at Gillette Stadium In The 2016 Winter Classic

It is one thing for a much-hyped event not to live up to expectations but it's another for the home team to completely fall on its face in the biggest game of the regular season in front of a worldwide audience on NBC. Today, Gillette Stadium was the setting for one of the lowest moments in recent Bruins (20-13-4) history as they fell 5-1 to the Canadiens in the 2016 Winter Classic. It wasn't even that competitive as Montreal (22-15-3) jumped ahead 1-0 just 1:14 into the game, led 3-0 after two periods and cruised to an easy victory in this bitter rivalry that has had 733 regular season meetings (most in NHL history).

With the two points, the Habs leapfrogged idle Florida back into first-place in the Atlantic Division. It marked the fourth time in the last few weeks that the B's have had a chance to take over the top-spot, only to lose. The easy excuse for the Bruins was that they were missing two of their best players-Brad Marchand (serving the first game of his 3-game suspension) and David Krejci (on IR with upper-body injury). Conversely, Montreal welcomed back Brendan Gallagher who had missed the past 17 games with two broken fingers. He returned with a goal and assist as he provided an immediate spark to what had been a sputtering team without him. Of course, injuries happen to every team and Marchand's reckless play was his own fault so it's hard to feel much sympathy for Boston's current plight.

I doubt anyone on the Canadiens enjoyed this triumph more than Holliston, MA native Mike Condon (27 saves) who had Tom Brady printed on his special mask for the Winter Classic. Even cooler than that, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (the mask also said "Do Your Job") and Brady both signed it since they were temporary neighbors for Montreal's goaltender this week. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (25 saves) did not have quite as enjoyable an afternoon since his teammates were lifeless and there was little that he could do by himself to prevent most of the five goals. Late in the game, he took a shot to the throat but valiantly stayed in.

David Desharnais was scoreless in his past seven contests so naturally he opened the scoring when he batted the puck out of mid-air. It was his eighth goal of the season, assisted by Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin. Considering that Boston was outshot 14-3 in the first period, they were lucky to only be down 1-0 after 20 minutes. Another nobody tallied a goal for Montreal as Paul Byron dove to put in a rebound at 2:00 of the second. Lynnfield MA native Brian Flynn and Mark Barberio assisted on Byron's sixth goal of the season. A cross-checking penalty on Kevan Miller knocked Dale Weise (upper-body injury) out of the game but the Canadiens power play couldn't capitalize. Boston appeared to cut it to 2-1 at 8:20 when Jimmy Hayes put in what would have been a power play goal following Zdeno Chara's initial shot. The referees blew the whistle when they thought that Condon had the puck covered (he didn't) so Bruins head coach Claude Julien (rocking a Belichick style Bruins hoodie) couldn't challenge it.

Rask made a nice stop on Gallagher but minutes later, Montreal's pesky right wing knocked in Max Pacioretty's aerial pass at 17:20 for a commanding 3-0 lead. It was a sublime piece of skill that basically put away the game for the Canadiens with more than an entire period left. Tomas Plekanec had the second assist on Gallagher's 10th goal of the season. With Boston's shorthanded attack, there was no way that they were scoring three or more goals following that. Since he was the only Bruin with a positive +/- today, it was fitting that Matt Beleskey bagged their only goal. He tipped in Adam McQuaid's shot from the point at 3:56 of the third period. Ryan Spooner had the second assist on Beleskey's eighth goal of the season which gave Boston (and the crowd) some brief life for almost five whole minutes of game action.

Pacioretty shut down the B's with a beautiful one-timer off a saucer pass from Gallagher at 8:49 of the third. Plekanec picked up his second assist on Pacioretty's team-leading 16th goal of the season. Hayes and Lars Eller tried to brawl in garbage time but it wasn't really a fight so they were just called for roughing. 10 seconds later, Byron knocked in another rebound from P.K. Subban and Nathan Beaulieu. Truth be told, Montreal deserved to win by (at least) four goals while Boston should have lost by about 10 goals for the pitiful effort they put up in front of a sell-out crowd (67,246).

Boston's next game isn't until Tuesday (7, NESN) when they host Washington (28-7-2)-the top team in the Eastern Conference. Needless to say, that's a huge tilt especially because the Bruins head out on a five-game road trip (Devils, Senators, Rangers, Flyers and Sabres). Then again, this is the same team that remains under .500 at home (9-10-2) while they are 11-3-2 on the road. It is going to be a rough few days trying to digest this bitter loss, mostly because they figure to hear about it non-stop until Tuesday. Keep in mind though, that they are still only three points behind Montreal with three games in hand and two points behind Florida (21-12-4).

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