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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Bruins Sweep Their Pivotal 3-Game Homestand with Resounding 4-0 Victory vs. Montreal

Remember like a week ago when we were all resigned to the fact that the Bruins (29-23-6) weren't going anywhere this season? The inevitable firing of head coach Claude Julien finally happened on Tuesday and that was one of the only real interesting facets left in 2016-17. As my old pal Lee Corso loves to say on ESPN's College GameDay, "not so fast, my friend!" In case you haven't noticed, the B's look like a completely different team these last three games under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. Tonight, they beat Montreal (31-19-8) 4-0 at TD Garden as they go into their NHL-designated bye week with a three-game win streak (tying a season-high) and a whole new outlook on life. Perhaps the best part was after the beating when Canadiens goaltender Carey Price admitted that "we seem to have lost our identity." That is one beautiful quote from the best player of the team that I hate more than any other in pro sports.

It's hard to fathom how the same group of underachieving guys can suddenly turn into a quality team: knocking off the Sharks, Canucks and the Canadiens in the span of four nights. Boston improved to a season-best two games over .500 at the Garden (15-13-0) and they also ended with a split of the four-game season series with Montreal. Tuukka Rask (25 saves, 6th shutout of the season) actually notched his first ever win vs. the Canadiens in Boston (he had been 0-9-3 before that). The heated rivals are going in opposite directions as the Canadiens fell to 3-6-1 in their last 10 games while the Bruins improved to 6-4-0 in their last 10.

Obviously it's way too early to explain why Cassidy's team is superior to Julien's but there are a few interesting trends to point out: the power play which was good under Claude has stayed red-hot with goals in each of their last eight games (11 for 30, 36.7%) while Boston's defensemen have been frequently activated and in turn, contributing way more offensively (adding 2 more goals tonight including Zdeno Chara's 1st shorthanded goal since 2011). From the start, this felt like an old Bruins-Canadiens game when the rivalry was entertaining and unpredictable. Torey Krug and Andrew Shaw fought 58 seconds into the proceedings, settling a longstanding beef from the last matchup.

Adam McQuaid started the scoring with what quite possibly was the prettiest goal of his NHL career (in his 400th game). His one-timer (2nd goal of the season) was assisted by rookie Peter Cehlarik (1st NHL point) and Torey Krug at 8:57 of the first period on what looked like a set play of sorts off of a faceoff win by the B's in Montreal's defensive zone. Boston's penalty kill unit (6 for 6) was great all night, especially late in the first when they had to negate a two-man advantage for 1:37. The Bruins' special teams were the story in the second period as well with Zdeno Chara of all people dangling around Alexander Radulov for a shocking shorthanded goal at 5:08 (his 5th of the season was assisted by Ryan Spooner and Brad Marchand) and then David Krejci finished a beautiful sequence of touch passing on the power play with David Backes and Cehlarik registering helpers on his 14th goal of the season at 15:05.

Both teams had played yesterday (Boston is now 2-6-2 in Game 2s of back-to-backs while Montreal is 6-4-2) but it was still a bit surprising that Price didn't get pulled either after the second period with his team lifeless and trailing 3-0 or when Frank Vatrano put in a lucky bounce off the boards (after Krejci's one-timer from David Pastrnak missed the net) for his eighth goal of the season at 5:00 of the third period. This being the Habs, they were up to their usual low rent tricks as Nathan Beaulieu gave Chara a Milan Lucic memorial nut tap late in the second and Alex Galchenyuk hit Kevan Miller with a high-stick right in the face (which drew blood for a double-minor) late in the third. Miller fought Mike McCarron in garbage time with the funniest part being that McCarron was sent straight back to the AHL after the game. Happy trails, you bum!

The Bruins are tied with the Canadiens and Jets for the most games played so far this season so I'm sure that they are happy to get a rest. They are off through Friday and they will practice on Saturday in San Jose before facing the Sharks (34-18-5) on Sunday night (8:30, NBC Sports). That tilt kicks off a four-game road trip in California (Anaheim and Los Angeles) before they end in Dallas (22-25-10) two weeks from now on February 26 (12:30, NESN). Boston's next home game isn't until February 28 (7, NESN) vs. Arizona (18-28-7) so let's hope that they are still the quality road team (14-10-6) from earlier this season under Julien.

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