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B’s and Habs reignite rivalry for first time since pandemic

It had been 641 days since the Boston Bruins last met the Montréal Canadiens in the regular season on Feb. 12, 2020. Less than a month after the Bruins beat the Habs, 4-1, that night at TD Garden, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that COVID-19 was a global pandemic.

The rest of the 2019-20 regular season was canceled after before the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs were held in a bubble about five months later. The entire 2020-21 season was shortened to 56 games and temporarily realigned to create an all-Canadian division to comply with COVID-19 public health accommodations across Canada.

The Bruins were eliminated in the 2021 Second Round by the New York Islanders and watched as Montréal went all the way to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– only to lose in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Sunday night in Boston, the B’s met the Canadiens for the first time during the ongoing pandemic and came from behind to beat their longest, most storied rival, 5-2, on home ice.

17,850 fans in attendance packed TD Garden with proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test and masks required for entry.

The “Olé Olé Olé” chant was sung sarcastically in the third period as the Bruins pulled ahead and a Massachusetts native had a pair of goals in the victory.

A few things look different than in 2020.

Carey Price is on a personal leave of absence, while Tuukka Rask is currently unsigned and just started skating last week in an attempt to return from major hip surgery in the offseason.

Both goaltenders in Sunday night’s matchup made their Boston vs. Montréal debuts.

Jeremy Swayman (5-2-0, 2.16 goals-against average, .914 save percentage in seven games played) came out on top with the win for the B’s and made 27 saves on 29 shots faced in the effort.

Canadiens goaltender, Sam Montembeault (0-3-1, 3.78 goals-against average, .890 save percentage in five games played), turned aside 36 out of 40 shots against in the loss.

Boston improved to 8-5-0 (16 points) overall and remained in command of 5th place in the Atlantic Division, while Montréal dropped to 4-11-2 (10 points) on the season and stuck in 7th place in the Atlantic.

The Bruins were once again without the services of Trent Frederic (upper body) on Sunday, while head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a couple of minor changes to his lineup from Saturday afternoon’s, 5-2, victory in New Jersey to Sunday night’s matchup with Montréal.

Karson Kuhlman was placed on the right side of Erik Haula with Anton Blidh at left wing, while Oskar Steen entered the lineup on the “fourth” line with Tomáš Nosek at center and Jake DeBrusk at left wing.

Steen replaced Curtis Lazar, who joined Mike Reilly and Craig Smith on Boston’s short list of healthy scratches against the Canadiens.

Josh Anderson kicked the night off with a cross checking infraction against Brad Marchand at 3:20 of the first period, but the Bruins weren’t able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Moments later, after controlling possession in the attacking zone, Boston was caught with a defender pinching in as Connor Clifton raced to get back to his spot as Montréal started a rush the other way leading to a 2-on-1.

Instead of passing the puck, however, Joel Armia (1) ripped a shot over Swayman’s glove on the short side to give the Canadiens the night’s first lead, 1-0, at 8:09 of the first period.

Artturi Lehkonen (5) had the only assist on Armia’s first goal of the season as the Habs struck first.

The two teams had a little string of penalties as the first intermission drew near.

Late in the opening frame, Jake Evans tripped Marchand at 15:35, but Boston couldn’t capitalize on the ensuing skater advantage– nor could they do much on the power play at 18:23, when Brendan Gallagher went to the box for slashing Blidh, though that was more so due to the fact that the advantage was cut short when Marchand tripped Lehkonen at 18:59.

For the next 1:24, the two teams skated at 4-on-4, prior to yielding an abbreviated power play to Montréal that extended into the middle frame.

After one period, the Canadiens led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 12-11.

The B’s held the advantage in blocked shots (4-3), while the Habs led in takeaways (2-1) and hits (12-10).

Both teams had one giveaway each and split faceoff win percentage, 50-50, heading into the first intermission.

Montréal was 0/1 and Boston was 0/3 on the power play through 20 minutes.

Jakub Zboril snaked his way through the neutral zone while working a pass to lead Taylor Hall into the attacking zone on his 30th birthday almost midway through the second period.

Hall sent a shot on goal that rebounded off Montembeault and almost landed in the right spot for Nick Foligno to get his stick on the loose puck, but not before Charlie McAvoy (2) pinched in from the point, crashed the slot and sent the rubber biscuit past the Canadiens netminder on the low blocker side– tying the game, 1-1, in the process at 8:27 of the second period.

Hall (5) and Zboril (1) tallied the assists on McAvoy’s first goal of the night.

Late in the period, however, Zboril missed an open ice hit fresh from the bench off of a line change, leading to an overabundance of Montréal skaters getting into their attacking zone before Boston could catch up.

A shot from the Canadiens pinballed off of Swayman, might have hit a Bruin and slipped through to the back of the twine– giving Montréal a, 2-1, lead and Michael Pezzetta (1) his first career National Hockey League goal in the process.

Adam Brooks (1) and Anderson (4) had the assists on Pezzetta’s goal at 16:25 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Canadiens led, 2-1, on the scoreboard, despite Boston controlling shots on goal, 31-22, including a, 20-10, advantage in the second period alone.

The Bruins held the advantage in blocked shots (8-6) and giveaways (6-5), while Montréal led in takeaways (3-2), as well as faceoff win% (55-45).

Both teams had 23 hits each, while the Habs were 0/1 and the B’s were 0/3 on the power play heading into the final frame.

Jeff Petry was assessed a holding infraction at 1:25 of the third period and presented the Bruins with a power play as a result.

It didn’t take long for Boston to be successful on their fourth skater advantage of the night as Marchand setup McAvoy (3) for the wrist shot from the high slot over Montembeault’s glove through traffic– tying the game, 2-2, in the process.

Marchand (11) had the only assist on McAvoy’s power-play goal as the B’s tied things up, 2-2, on the scoreboard and McAvoy earned his first career two-goal game in the process at 2:14 of the third period.

A few minutes later– with a surge in momentum– Charlie Coyle sent a pass back to David Pastrnak for a shot that rebounded off of Montembeault prior to Petry getting a stick on it and attempting to clear it from the slot.

Petry, instead, inadvertently sent the puck off of Coyle’s (4) head and into Montréal’s own net, giving the Bruins their first lead of the night, 3-2, on Coyle’s unintentional individual effort at 5:58.

Right place, right time (depending on how you look at it).

Between McAvoy’s second goal and Coyle’s first of the night, Boston rallied for two goals in a span of 3:34.

It wasn’t that much longer before the Bruins scored again as Coyle (5) won a race off the boards into the attacking zone on a chip-in indirect pass from DeBrusk and crashed the net before roofing the rubber biscuit on the short side.

DeBrusk (1) and Steen (2) tallied the assists on Coyle’s second goal of the game and the Bruins pulled ahead, 4-2, at 9:05 of the third period.

Coyle’s pair of goals were scored almost three minutes apart from one another in a span of 3:07 before things settled down until late in the final frame.

With his team trailing by two goals, Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, pulled Montembeault for an extra attacker with about 2:30 remaining on the clock.

Things didn’t go as planned for Montréal, however.

An errant attempt to get the puck out of his own zone from Brandon Carlo hit a linesman before Pastrnak scooped it up, brought it into the attacking zone and sent it over to Hall (4) for the empty net goal at 18:02.

Pastrmak (9) and Carlo (1) were credited with the assists as Hall’s birthday goal sealed the deal on a, 5-2, win for Boston.

Canadiens defender, Chris Wideman, was given a misconduct after the goal at 18:02 and got an early ticket out of the rink to the dressing room as a result.

At the final horn, the Bruins had won, 5-2, and finished the night leading in shots on goal, 41-29, including a, 10-7, advantage in the third period alone.

The B’s wrapped up Sunday night leading in blocked shots (10-7) and hits (31-29), while Montréal left TD Garden with the advantage in giveaways (7-6) and faceoff win% (55-45).

The Habs finished Sunday’s effort 0/1 on the power play, while Boston went 1/4 on the skater advantage.

Boston also improved to 2-2-0 (2-0-0 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal, 2-2-0 (2-0-0 at home) when trailing after the first period and 1-3-0 (1-0-0 at home) when trailing after two periods this season.

The Canadiens dropped to 2-4-2 (1-3-1 on the road) when scoring the game’s first goal, 3-3-2 (1-2-1 on the road) when leading after the first period and 3-1-0 (1-1-0 on the road) when leading after the second period in 2021-22.

The Bruins have five days off before hitting the road to face the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday (Nov. 20th).

The B’s return home next Sunday to host the Calgary Flames.

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Montréal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 24-21-11, 59 points

4th in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by Tampa

Additions: F Jean-Sébastien Dea, F Christian Dvorak (acquired from ARI), F Mike Hoffman, F Cedric Paquette, F Mathieu Perreault, D Louis Belpedio, D Sami Niku, D David Savard, D Chris Wideman, G Sam Montembeault (claimed off waivers from FLA)

Subtractions: F Phillip Danault (signed with LAK), F Charles Hudon (signed with TBL), F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (offer sheet signed with CAR, not matched), F Jake Lucchini (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), F Corey Perry (signed with TBL), F Tomas Tatar (signed with NJD), F Jordan Weal (KHL), D Cale Fleury (expansion, SEA), D Erik Gustafsson (signed with CHI), D Otto Leskinen (Liiga), D Jon Merrill (signed with MIN), D Gustav Olofsson (signed with SEA), G Vasili Demchenko (KHL), G Charlie Lindgren (signed with STL)

Still Unsigned: F Joseph Blandisi, F Michael Frolik, F Eric Staal

Re-signed: F Joel Armia, F Brandon Baddock, F Alex Belzile, F Laurent Dauphin, F Artturi Lehkonen, F Michael Pezzetta, F Ryan Poehling, F Lukas Vejdemo, G Michael McNiven

Offseason Analysis: After back-to-back miracle runs to the postseason aided by the circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Montréal Canadiens are expected to fall back to Earth in 2021-22.

The Canadiens were a .500 team that upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, then Montréal was a below .500 team that benefitted from the four teams per division playoff format in 2021.

Any of the 16 teams that make the playoffs can win the Cup and the Canadiens almost bested the 2012 Los Angeles Kings in terms of being a long shot to do so, but the Tampa Bay Lightning had other plans in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Instead, the Bolts repeated as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions while Montréal was eliminated in five games in a Game 5 that was decided by one goal– the only goal, scored by Ross Colton a little past the midpoint of the second period, as the Lightning emerged victorious with a, 1-0, win on home ice to secure their third Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

Corey Perry lost to Tampa in back-to-back years and, as such, as taken the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra to heart in the offseason, signing a two-year contract worth $1.000 million per season with the Lightning.

Fear not, Habs fans, unlike when Marian Hossa bounced from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Detroit Red Wings before landing in Chicago ahead of the 2009-10 season, Perry’s already won a Cup ring. He’s just in search of his second before the twilight of his career reaches sunset.

Montréal’s cast of characters in Perry, Eric Staal and others that joined the leadership of captain, Shea Weber– whether via free agency ahead of the 2020-21 season or prior to the 2021 trade deadline– has mostly disbanded.

Whether or not Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, planned on making an appearance in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final or not as the 56-game regular season approached last season, it’s hard to say that he didn’t give the Habs their best roster in recent years.

They replaced Claude Julien with Dominique Ducharme behind the bench after a shaky start and rode the waves of change into a fourth-place finish in the one-off Scotia NHL North Division to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2021 First Round.

They didn’t surrender when they trailed in the series 3-1, as Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi followed the examples of Perry, Staal, Joel Armia, Tyler Toffoli and other veterans that led the charge.

Montréal beat Toronto in seven games. They swept the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round and upset the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Then David faced Goliath, but Goliath won.

Because of the nature of the salary cap era, Bergevin couldn’t hold onto all of his puzzle pieces.

Perry, Staal, Jordan Weal, Phillip Danault, Charlie Lindgren, Jon Merrill, Tomas Tatar, Kotkaniemi and Erik Gustafsson are all gone for one reason or another, while Mike Hoffman, Cedric Paquette, David Savard, Chris Wideman, Mathieu Perreault, Sami Niku and Sam Montembeault have all been signed to take their place on the depth chart.

The heart of the Canadiens– however recently formed– is changing. The identity of the team last season– forged with the additions of Perry and Staal to the already existent tenures of Danault, Weber, Price and Co. is in transition.

Whereas Suzuki was already leading the charge in Montréal’s new core, this offseason has solidified the inevitable. It may not be a rebuild, but it may be a few more stagnant years in-between before long term success and growth.

It’s crazy to write about how the Habs– a team that made the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– are not going to be as “good” as they were good enough to reach the Final, but it also makes the most sense.

Again, in a normal 82-game season without the pandemic, the Canadiens likely wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in the last two years.

The fact that they have has provided valuable experience for Suzuki, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and more, but the veteran turnover from last season to this season is palpable.

The additions of Hoffman, Paquette, Savard, Wideman and Perreault signal a distinct shift in character.

Heart and grit be damned– Montréal is wholly embracing the speed and skill era. Sort of.

Hoffman joined the St. Louis Blues on a one-year deal last season after amassing five consecutive seasons with at least 55 points or more dating back to the 2015-16 season. His play in an Ottawa Senators uniform was consistent, but his dressing room presence earned him a ticket to the San Jose Sharks in a trade before being flipped to the Florida Panthers ahead of the 2018-19 season.

After amassing 70 points in 82 games with the Panthers in his first season in Florida, Hoffman had 59 points in 69 games in the 2019-20 regular season that was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Then he had 17-19–36 totals in 52 games with the Blues last season after a slow start.

As a top-nine forward, Hoffman’s one-dimensional game as a sniper isn’t that bad as long as he scores.

Since being traded by the Lightning, Paquette had a little bit of a journey on his way to Montréal. First, in nine games with the Senators last season he had one goal. Then in 38 games with the Carolina Hurricanes, he amassed seven points (three goals, four assists) for a grand total of 4-4–8 totals in 47 games combined between his Sens and Canes tenure.

As a fourth liner, it’s a low-risk, high-reward move for the Habs, but that’s assuming he’ll be in the lineup from night-to-night as the Canadiens have a backlog of bottom-six talent looking to earn a regular role.

Savard might just be the best value signing this summer by Bergevin. The 30-year-old defender was signed to a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and had six points (one goal, five assists) from the blue line in 54 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Lightning last season en route to winning his first Stanley Cup ring.

Don’t let his offensive shortfalls fool you, Savard is a quality shutdown defender of the top-four variety.

Seriously, it’s a good signing by the Canadiens.

Wideman hasn’t made an appearance in the NHL since the 2018-19 season, when he played for the Senators until the infamous Uber ride, then was traded to the Edmonton Oilers and finally traded again to the Panthers.

In 181 career NHL games, he’s had 16-29–45 totals from the point and spent 2019-20 in the American Hockey League with the San Diego Gulls after signing with the Anaheim Ducks and missing out on the roster after training camp and spending last season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia.

While in the KHL, Wideman reinvented his game– compiling 9-32–41 totals in 59 games with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.

With Niku on the injured reserve to start the season and Weber’s career in doubt, Wideman is a welcome addition to the bottom pairing as Montréal looks to hold things together in their own end with Carey Price out indefinitely (Price entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program last Thursday) and Jake Allen as their last resort as the de facto starting goaltender.

Meanwhile, Perreault’s arrival shores up the fourth line and Montembeault should provide an added cushion as a backup option to Allen in the crease.

By now, you’ve read almost 1,300 words on Montréal’s summer and we haven’t even gotten around to talking about the ongoing feud with the Hurricanes as a result of the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, as well as the Christian Dvorak acquisition.

Let’s try to keep this brief, O.K.?

Carolina signing Kotkaniemi wasn’t revenge (allegedly) for Montréal signing Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet, but it was an offer that was too good to refuse (for Kotkaniemi, anyway).

A one-year deal worth about $6.100 million with a $20 signing bonus (symbolism!) means that Kotkaniemi will be due for a decent payday if he’s tendered a qualifying offer next summer.

The Canadiens didn’t have the cap space and even the Hurricanes had to make a move to finagle his salary on the books. The Habs will gladly take Carolina’s 2022 1st round and 2022 3rd round draft picks, despite losing one of their better centers for the future.

It was hard enough to let Danault walk to the Los Angeles Kings in free agency, surely things only got harder for Montréal to find a replacement after Kotkaniemi left too– oh.

After swapping draft picks on the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in three separate trades, Bergevin made his only trade that resulted in a change to Montréal’s roster this offseason on Sept. 4th.

The Canadiens dealt a conditional 2022 1st round pick and a 2024 2nd round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Dvorak and with that brought in his 17-14–31 totals in 56 games from last season to their top-six forward group.

Since making his league debut in 2016-17, Dvorak has never reached the 40-point plateau, but with teammates like Toffoli, Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Caufield and anyone else that might bounced around inside the top two lines on any given night– Dvorak is sure to have a more consistent supporting cast around him than in his Coyotes days.

Offseason Grade: C

It’s not a great look to have mismanaged Kotkaniemi over the years– culminating in the loss of his talent via an offer sheet, but what’s more concerning for the Canadiens is just how much of what made them pernicious in their Cinderella run to the Final last year that they lost.

It wasn’t just one or two minor moves that were made to improve from last season to this season– Bergevin made some sweeping changes, by necessity or otherwise.

The top-six forward group should be fine, but do the Habs have the same level of depth that they had last season? That’s another question entirely.

At the very least, they’re not getting caught up having an overstayed welcome with replacement level talent, yet their window in the Price era may be coming to a close.

Hopefully Price gets the help that he needs most as there’s a lot more to life than just hockey. In the meantime, time marches on as the 34-year-old goaltender is susceptible to the inevitable fallout from a goaltender’s prime.

Montréal may very well win another Cup someday soon, but Price might be in a more limited role as the club’s backup by then, if all things go according to plan with this ideally seamless transition from a team that lucked into postseason runs.

The Habs need to improve in the regular season in a division that’s already tough enough to compete in with Tampa, Toronto, Florida and Boston expected to be in the playoff hunt in the Atlantic Division.