We have our first controversy-cum-scandal of the Boston/Montreal series, long-time observers of the rivalry will tell you, it was only a matter of time.
Watergate is already taken, so this regrettable episode will have to be dubbed Squirt-gate.
In the final moments of Game 5 between the Bruins and Canadiens, rugged Boston forward Shawn Thornton was apparently caught by television cameras squirting a water bottle at the Canadiens’ P.K. Subban as he skated past the bench during a sequence in play.
Subban spun around to yammer at the Bruins’ bench, and after the game – won 4-2 by Boston on the strength of Carl Soderberg’s three-point night – he was asked about the episode.
“With Thornty, I don’t know if it was him, but somebody had squirted water twice you know at the end of the game there, hit me in the visor, I couldn’t even see the last minute-and-a-half out there, so I was pretty upset about that. But that’s part of the game,” he said.
When it was put to him whether it really is part of the game – if the tape conclusively shows Thornton squirting water he can expect a fine – Subban said “I don’t know if it’s part of the game, but I’m sure that if that was me who did it, it would be a different story, you know? Probably be on the news for the next three days, but I don’t expect that to be a story. But listen, whatever it takes to win, right?”
There is a serious part to this, of course: Subban’s visor was spattered with drops, ensuring his vision was limited with the Habs net empty and Montreal pressing for a late goal.
But as Subban himself said, it shouldn’t overshadow the main talking point from this game: after their worst effort of the playoffs, the Habs are now facing elimination.
“Listen, they beat us, that’s not the reason why we lost today. It’s just one of those things that frustrates you even more towards the end of the game. I don’t want to take anything away from their team, they played well today, they executed, we’ve got to be better. Now it’s do or die for us going back home,” he said.
Teammate Josh Gorges insisted the Habs aren’t prepared to fold their tent, and said it’s not especially hard to shut out the result.
That sounds suspiciously like bravado, but he’s right when he says “we said it from the start of the playoffs, even when we’ve won games, that the next day is a new day.
“It’s doesn’t get harder to park it because we can’t come into tomorrow and wonder what we did wrong today. We can’t think about this Monday. It’s: what do we have to do to get a win. We don’t have a choice but to win,” he said.
The first indication the Bruins would be present and accounted for came as they lined up for the opening faceoff.
On left wing, Boston’s Brad Marchand gave a vigorous chop to opposite number Brendan Gallgher, then slammed him to the ice before the puck could be dropped.
Then, on Boston’s third shift, Reilly Smith cranked a shot from the slot off Carey’s Price’s right goal-post.
It was apparent to everyone in attendance there were goals in this game.
The Bruins would score three straight, and while Montreal would draw to within 4-2 on a late power-play goal from Subban – his 12th point of the playoffs, earned after a slick stick-handling display forced Matt Bartkowski to haul him down – there would be no miracle.
Montreal spent much of the closing six minutes with Price on the bench in favour of a sixth attacker, but couldn’t narrow the margin.
“There were stretches we played very well. They capitalized on a couple of opportunities right at the start of the second period. That was a tough hole to dig out of,” Price said. “We’re going to stay positive. The series is not over yet, we’re going home and we’re going to bring our absolute best.”
Boston had led for only 11 minutes and change before Saturday night, and when they got their chariot out front, they were keen to keep going at full gallop.
“We’re a pretty good team with a lead. If it’s a three-goal lead or two-goal lead, we try to play the same way. I think today was a pretty good example of that. We just kept going and playing our system. It gives you that little breathing room there when you have a lead,” said Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, who stopped 29 of 31 shots to earn his second straight home win against Montreal, a team he had never beaten at TD Garden until these playoffs.
Now the Habs head back to Montreal trailing 3-2 in the series, and thoughts of what might have been could start edging their way into their collective consciousness.
What if they hadn’t bungled a two-goal lead in game two? What if they’d managed to find an overtime winner in game four on home ice?
Michel Therrien may also rue some of his lineup and tactical decisions. But the there will be ample time for second-guessing.
Prior to the game, much of the talk was about Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, who after scoring 39 goals in the regular season has just one in the postseason, and none against Boston.
He showed his speed early, whizzing past Boston’s Zdeno Chara on the outside, but as has too often been the case for the big American, it was all build-up and no end product.
Pacioretty would take the evening’s first penalty and register 6 shots in the game, and chipped in an assist on Subban’s goal.
Fans may have thought the coach’s decision to scratch Daniel Brière, a point-a-game guy in the playoffs over his career, in favour of a clearly diminished Brandon Prust would prove costly.
Or that Therrien’s willingness to stick with the slow-footed Douglas Murray on defence in a game where he didn’t have the advantage of last change, might bite him where it hurts.
Instead, the player who cost the Habs most dearly was the man considered to be their most reliable forward.
There must have been an occasion where Tomas Plekanec has taken three penalties in a game before, but not recently.
Though the Habs survived Plekanec’s interference penalty in the first period, they didn’t have the same luck when he iced the puck despite being under minimal pressure.
With Murray and Alexei Emelin on the ice against the Bruins’ third line – the team’s best in game four – Plekanec lost the subsequent draw, Murray chased Loui Eriksson behind the net, the pass ticked off Emelin’s stick to an open Soderberg in the slot.
The big Swede’s shot was partially stopped by Price, “it hit the top of my pad,” he said, but tipped up and into the top of the net.
After a pair of fruitless Montreal powerplays – there were as many penalties assessed in the first half of the first period as there had been in the previous two games combined – Plekanec barrelled in toward the Boston net in search of a loose puck.
As he did, his stick came up on Tuukka Rask, the Finn fell backward, then retaliated with a punch to Plekanec’s head. A melee followed, only one player went to the box: Plekanec.
That was at the end of the first period, and on fresh ice to start the second, the Bruins wasted little time in making Montreal pay.
After a nice bit of lateral interplay at the point, Dougie Hamilton’s shot caromed off Reilly Smith’s stick and skate and slithered through a helpless Price’s legs at 1:04.
It was Boston’s first power-play goal of the series, snapping a string of 10 straight Montreal kills.
Plekanec left the box to take the draw at centre ice, and just 26 seconds later, had a coming together in the Habs’ end with Boston defenceman Johnny Boychuck; Plekanec’s stick came up, Boychuk’s head snapped back, and it was another powerplay for the Bruins.
This time, it took just six seconds for the Bruins to find their opening; Chara’s pass to Torey Krug was whipped across the ice for Jarome Iginla to one-time past Price.
The TD Garden was dancing on Bobby Orr Day – May 10th being the anniversary of his legendary flying Stanley Cup-winning goal – and the Bruins were looking every inch the President’s Trophy winners.
In the minutes that followed, a disorganized Montreal squad started to come unglued.
At one point, Subban scuffled with Boston forward Milan Lucic along the boards, later the two exchanged words at the player benches – Lucic flexing his arm while jawing at Subban.
“I think it’s self-explanatory. Just one of those battles within the game,” Lucic said. “Just having a little bit of fun within the game. As series as this game can be, sometimes it has to be fun as well. You know he likes to have fun too. Turn the page and focus on the next game.”
Subban admitted that he was trying to get a rise out of the powerful Bruins’ winger.
"I’m just trying to find anything I can to try and, you know, maybe goad him into taking a penalty or something. He’s a pretty smart player, he’s been around a while so he didn’t really fall into the that,” he said, later adding “I have nothing bad to say about him . . . he was showing me he's strong and I felt it.”
At the 13:01 mark, Marchand got tangled up with Lars Eller at centre-ice, trapping his stick and hand under his arm.
The referee’s arm went up, and Marchand went ballistic, cross-checking the Dane in the shoulder and neck; if he hadn’t gone for the hold, he reasonably could have gone for the stick work, a harsher official might have given him a double-minor.
As it was, the Habs had their fourth powerplay of the game, and after Gallagher was crunched into the boards from behind by Matt Bartkowski (the puck was cycled back to the point), he dusted himself off and worked his way to the net to deflect a Plekanec shot – finally, a positive development for the Czech – past Rask.
With just under six minutes to play in the third, the Bruins added a fourth when Eriksson eluded a sub-par back-check from Brian Gionta to pounce on a poor rebound allowed by Price – a true rarity in these playoffs – and stuff the puck past the sprawled goalie.
It was Soderberg’s third point of the night, he also set up the overtime winner in game four.
In a series where the top two lines have largely canceled each other out, the Bruins’ third-line centre is proving to be a pivotal player.
“I think for him last year, when he came to us maybe a little late, he didn’t get much of a chance to play . . . a couple of things you noticed is that he needed to be in better shape, which he did this year,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “Eventually he just kind of found his game and he’s fitting in extremely well.”