MONTREAL – The Boston-Montreal playoff showdown is coming down to who scores first.
In the opening two games, the Canadiens scored early and then shut down the Bruins for a pair of surprise victories in Boston.
But in Game 3 on Monday night, David Krejci put the Bruins ahead on their first shot on Carey Price and they went on to a 4-2 win that put them squarely back into the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series.
Montreal leads 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
”We had a better start,” said Boston coach Claude Julien. ”I’m not necessarily talking about the early goals, they certainly helped, but the last two games in Boston we didn’t have good starts and they scored early.
”When they get the lead they get into that defensive shell and make you work hard to get back in the game. Maybe playing with the lead got them out of their comfort zone. It helped our confidence.”
Goals by Krejci and Nathan Horton in the first period and another by Rich Peverley on a horrendous gaffe by Price early in the second gave the Bruins a three-goal lead.
The Canadiens stormed back with goals from Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec, but couldn’t get the equalizer past Tim Thomas despite a furious third-period barrage. Chris Kelly ended their hopes with an empty-net goal with 26 seconds left to play.
Thomas looked soft on both Montreal goals, but he made a game-saver off Kostitsyn in the third and managed to hold the fort the rest of the way.
Price said later that the Canadiens appeared too relaxed with their two-game lead and will have to bear down in Game 4 to keep the series favourites from Boston from tying the series.
Montreal coach Jacques Martin agreed.
”We didn’t compete in the first 30 minutes of the game,” he said. ”We played the last 30, but at this time of year you have to be ready.
”When your compete level isn’t high enough, your execution isn’t there. It’s hard to get anything accomplished.”
Boston is trying to rebound from an 0-2 start to win a best-of-seven for the first time in 27 tries.
It was a nervy night for Boston captain Zdeno Chara, who played in Montreal for the first time since his controversial hit that led to Montreal forward Max Pacioretty suffering a concussion and a fractured vertebra after a crash into a stanchion on March 8.
Chara was also back in the lineup after missing Game 2 on Saturday with what the team said was dehydration, but he led the club with 26:20 of ice time playing with new defence partner Dennis Seidenberg.
He was undressed by Kostitsyn on Montreal’s first goal, and was beaten by Plekanec on the second, but otherwise was a big help to a defence group that had struggled without him.
”I had another 24 hours to recover and I felt much better today,” said Chara, who refused to discuss his ailment. ”I wanted to play (Saturday) but I knew it wouldn’t be the smart decision for the team.
He also liked how the Bruins did away with the jitters that hurt them at home and outplayed Montreal from the get-go.
”Any time you’re on the road, the first 20 minutes are so important, and you have to focus on your game,” he said. ”We did a good job and we got a lead.
”It’s only one win, so the next one is going to be an even bigger game.”
The crowd booed Chara each time he touched the puck, but they did that even before the Pacioretty incident—which was the subject of a police investigation that so far has not led to any charges.
”He’s been in the league a long time and he knew what would happen,” Julien said of Chara’s reception. ”He hears that in a lot of arenas. Its a sign of respect for a great player.”
Montreal outshot the Bruins 36-24, including 15-6 in the third.
The crowd of 21,273 was roaring before the game even started, sparked by an appearance by legendary captain Jean Beliveau holding a torch. But it was the Canadiens who looked to be lacking focus against a closer checking Boston team than they had faced thus far in the series.
Boston opened the scoring at 3:11 of the first when Patrice Bergeron set up Krejciin the slot to bury the Bruins’ first shot of the game.
At 14:38, Horton took Chara’s rebound off the end boards and banked a puck off Price that defenceman Jaroslav Spacek just failed to sweep away before it crossed the goal-line.
Price was the culprit as Boston made it a three-goal lead 2:02 into the second. His clearing pass was picked off and Peverley shot into the open net.
But the Bell Centre came to life as Kostitsyn, back from missing a game with a foot injury, went around Chara on a rush and slid the puck between Thomas’ pads at 7:03.
Montreal crancked up its intensity in the third and Plekanec scored at 4:08 when, on a rush against Chara, he spun and fired a shot along the ice that again went in between Thomas’ pads.
The Bruins left after the game for Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the United States’ Miracle On Ice Olympic victory, for two days of practice before Game 4.
The Canadiens were given Tuesday off and will be back at practice on Wednesday.
Notes: With Kostitsyn back, Yannick Weber was dropped despite having scored in Game 2. … Chara bumped Shane Hnidy out of the lineup. … One goal in the first two games was Boston’s lowest total since it was shut out twice to start a 1995 series against New Jersey.