Resilience is defined as the ability to adapt to stressful situations and adversity – it’s what makes the hockey world go round.
The Oxford English Dictionary reliably informs us the term also refers to an object or substance’s ability to spring back to its original form after being bent, stretched, or compressed.
More than anything, the series involving the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins is a contest of wills between a pair of veteran squads that, as Boston’s Patrice Bergeron put it “will never let go.”
The NHL is also about bending, stretching and compressing, and Saturday the Habs and Bruins took turns being both distressed object and springing force.
On this occasion Boston succeeded in clawing back a 3-1 third-period deficit to win 5-3. The win was the Bruins 17th afternoon win this year in 21 games.
The offshoot is that a series the Habs very nearly led 2-0 despite being out-played during healthy stretches returns to Montreal in a 1-1 stalemate.
It didn’t have to be this way, but for a Montreal club that prides itself on being too tough to twist out of shape, that’s okay.
“We’ve just got regroup and realize the situation we’re in. We’re in a good spot and move forward,” said goaltender Carey Price, who offered his second majestic performance in as many games.
Yes, he ended up yielding four times, but two of the Bruins’ goals bounced in off Montreal defenceman Francis Bouillon, another was through thicket of players, and the last was set up by a lucky bounce off Habs forward Brendan Gallagher’s stick.
Price was asked by a reporter afterward if the setback would affect his confidence (the reporter, it has to be said, clearly doesn’t know much about the Team Canada goalie).
“No, not at all,” Price said. “It’s time to regroup like, I said. Winners regroup and realize the situation we’re in. Thought we did an excellent job so far. We came and did what we wanted to do, split these two games. We’ve got to move forward and take it to them on home ice.”
The 26-year-old, who suffered his first loss of the playoffs against five victories, faced a far more manageable 34 shots (after seeing 51 in game one) although he was called upon to make spectacular stops on at least a half-dozen occasions.
There might be a medium-term benefit to his poise: it can create indecision. Boston’s shooters have shown evidence that they believe only a perfect shot will beat him, several wide-open chances were passed up on Saturday that would have been taken against a lesser goalie.
After the game, Price was typically cool and measured.
“We weren’t expecting to come in here and sweep two games,” said Price. “I think keeping in mind what we came in here to do. Like I said, It’s all about moving forward at this point. That’s what winning teams do and you’ve got to have a winning attitude. You can’t hit panic right now.”
The Canadiens were overwhelmed by Boston’s neutral-zone game and lateral passing in the first game, but responded with a much stronger and more aggressive defensive effort on Saturday, for swaths of the game they clogged lanes, cut off passes and put suffocating back-pressure on the Bruins (they limited the Bruins to just one shot in the first 10 minutes of the third).
But it wasn’t enough.
“I didn’t think we played our best game, with that said the series is tied up, we get to bring it back home,” said Brian Gionta. “Two games in a row, we’ve let it get away from us. We’ve got to be better at locking it down.”
For the second straight game, the Habs blew a two-goal lead, which has become an epidemic of sorts in these playoffs.
After jumping out to a 3-1 lead with 10 minutes to play in the game, the Habs’ defence yielded four times – three of them in the space of just 5:32, the last into an empty net in the final minute.
About that empty-netter: the Bell Centre fans will surely have taken note of the chest-pounding vigour with which Milan Lucic celebrated scoring it.
Montreal had talked in the build-up to the game of living dangerously in the series-opener, and if they had turned in an appreciably better defensive effort in game two – in which Price again largely out-played opposite number Tuukka Rask – luck was not on their side.
The Canadiens managed to survive a minute-long five-on-three disadvantage – thanks to yeoman work by Josh Gorges and Mike Weaver – but couldn’t deal with successive waves of Boston attacks for much longer.
After some smart neutral zone play forced a Gionta turnover – the theme of the first was the Habs’ inability to move the puck quickly – Carl Soderberg took a puck into the corner and left a diagonal pass back up into the slot for Daniel Paillé.
With Francis Bouillon and Lars Eller caught betwixt and between and Gionta late on the back-check, the uncovered Paillé had plenty of time to pick his spot, a deflection off Bouillon simply ensured that Carey Price would have no chance at stopping a puck that would find the corner, high blocker side.
But if the Bruins had their way in the first, moving the puck easily and peppering the Montreal net with 28 shot attempts, the Habs were intent to show early that the second would be a different story.
After a good neutral zone regroup, Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher broke in on the right side, fired a shot on net, producing a rebound that Tomas Plekanec nearly tipped in; Brandon Prust fanned on the puck as it caromed off the boards, Gallagher’s shot was rebuffed, but in the ensuing scramble Plekanec came out from the behind the net with the puck on his stick.
As Prust got up from being plowed into Rask by a Boston defender, Montreal’s Mike Weaver launched a slapshot that found the net.
With the teams playing more evenly in terms of puck possession, Boston continued to rack up scoring chances, but Price was equal to the task.
When Loui Eriksson found himself all alone in the slot after a Bruin bounce, Price tracked across and managed to make a pad save on his shot.
Moments later, he stoned Jarome Iginla, who then clanged a shot off the right post (it was the second time of the game Price was bailed out by the pipe, Shawn Thornton having sizzled an early slapshot off the crossbar).
Then Price stopped Paillé, shot out a pad to deny Torey Krug, and then made a sparkling left pad save to thwart Milan Lucic at the side of the net; Lucic did get the puck past Price at one point, but did so with his hand.
The large Bruin winger had the decency to look sheepish, the goal was waved off after a video review.
The temperature edged a little closer to the boiling point with just over 16 minutes played in the period
First Lars Eller showered Rask with ice chips when he went hunting for a rebound and slammed on the brakes.
Boston’s Krug took exception, touching off a scrum behind the net; punches were thrown, both players were shown the gate.
Just 16 seconds into the four-on-four, Andrej Meszaros – playing in place of Matt Bartkowski, whose costly overtime penalty in game one led to the Habs’ winning goal – roughed up Tomas Plekanec in the corner and earned a penalty.
Boston very nearly nearly killed off the ensuing four-on-three, but P.K. Subban delivered a pinpoint pass to Thomas Vanek in the slot, and the Austrian tipped it expertly into the top corner.
Vanek hasn’t been especially effective in the postseason – when asked on Friday if he was injured or sick, he said “no, it’s just a matter of not being good” – but demonstrated once again that he’s hard on the Bruins (63 points in 57 games, including 32 goals, 16 on the powerplay).
In the third period, he scored his second of the game – with Dougie Hamilton in the box for interfering with Brendan Gallagher – with a gorgeous tip of a Subban rocket from the point.
“It feels good to contribute, especially at that time of the game with the penalties they were taking. It was good to get the lead,” Vanek said.
But Boston wasn’t quite done.
Despite generating just one shot on Price in the first half of the third period, they drew to within a goal.
Brad Marchand spun away from Alexei Emelin’s check, then sent a pass to the point, where Hamilton pounded a shot through traffic that sailed past a helpless Price.
“On their second goal there, it’s just over-backcheck, they find the late guy,” Gionta said.
Just 3:21 later, Marchand slid a puck up the boards to Patrice Bergeron, whose shot clipped Bouillon’s thigh and found the net past Price.
“It was the end of the shift, so I was just trying to put it on goal – actually I meant to do that,” Bergeron said with a laugh. “No, it was just a question of throwing it on net, you can never predict what will happen.”
And just over a minute after that, the Bruins had the lead.
With Marchand and Subban battling by the net, Krug slipped a cross-ice pass that Gallagher unwittingly tipped directly to Reilly Smith, who deposited the puck into a yawning cage.
In 5:32, the game had been turned on its head.
“That’s a good team. They know how to win. They didn’t quit, they just kept believing in themselves. We got the lead we wanted and just gave it away,” Vanek said.
Boston coach Claude Julien was clearly irked by the officiating, the Bruins took nine penalties, including a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“We had a tough second period and the start of the third they got that other power-play goal, but the way we just battled back through I felt a lot of crap that we put up with today, was pretty indicative of what our team’s all about. It just shows that if you focus on the things you need to focus on there’s a pretty good team that can accomplish a lot,” he said, declining to elaborate on what he meant by “crap”, although he did cop to voicing his displeasure with the refereeing before the bench minor.
Julien’s comments conveniently elide the fact Boston’s players initiated several post-whistle scrums, and tried repeatedly to punish Habs players; the main example being tough guy Shawn Thornton’s healthy run at Subban near the side boards as the defenceman cleared a puck in to the Boston end.
As Subban took evasive maneuvers and spun out of the way, Thornton’s glanced off him and went face-first into the boards; he had to be helped off the ice with an apparent right knee injury, but did return.
Afterward, Thornton complained about it being “a dangerous play,” but said Subban apologized on the ice “so at least there’s that” (why Subban would feel the need to express contrition wasn’t immediately clear.)
As it happens, Subban was also banged up in this game, suffering a cut on his hand when he got tangled up with Brad Marchand in the early going.
But the playoffs are about bouncing back, expect the stylish defenceman to be at his regular station for game three, which goes Tuesday at the Bell Centre.