MONTREAL – The brothers from Belarus – Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn – got it started, but then the diggers got down to work for the Montreal Canadiens.
The Kostitsyns each scored a goal in their first NHL playoff games in the opening 2:02 of the first period and the usually mild-mannered Canadiens crashed and banged their way to a series-opening 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.
Montreal leads the best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final 1-0 with Game 2 set for Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
“I told (Andrei) before the game that I would score on the first shift,” a beaming Sergei Kostitsyn said. “It felt great.
“Andrei scored, I scored. I’m happy for us both. I’m happy to help the team.”
Checkers Tom Kostopoulos, who also had an assist in his first playoff game, and Bryan Smolinski had the other goals for top-seeded Montreal, which beat eighth-seeded Boston in all eight of their regular season meetings and has a 12-game winning run against the Bruins dating to last season.
Shane Hnidy scored for Boston, which was outshot 32-18 and surprisingly outhit 37-25.
Skill players like the Kostitsyns were among those distributing the body checks on the startled Bruins.
“When you see your star players laying on the body, you have to follow,” said Kostopoulos. “Andrei had a big hit on (Zdeno) Chara and Sergei was physical all night.
“It was exciting. The building was electrifying. But we can’t get too excited. It’s only one game.”
While the Canadiens were hitting, the Bruins were making sloppy passes and turning over the puck, which didn’t sit well with coach Claude Julien.
“On the goals they scored, we should have reacted better, but for some reason we didn’t,” said Julien. “We’ve got to be better defensively.
“They got goals from the slot area. That’s been a strength all year, but we got dragged out of position and got caught.”
The Bruins looked nervous from the opening faceoff and, after a Boston turnover, Sergei Kostitsyn went to the net to bang Patrice Brisebois’s rebound past Tim Thomas only 34 seconds into the game.
“He was in front of me and the crowd was so loud that (defenceman Andrew Ference) didn’t hear me say ‘screen.”‘ said Thomas. “I gave up a rebound and Kostitsyn was on top of it faster than I could believe.”
The towel-waving crowd of 21,273 barely had time to sit down from their thunderous cheering when Tomas Plekanec sent a cross-ice pass from the right boards that Andrei Kostitsyn blasted in from the left circle at 2:02.
The last brothers to score for Montreal in a playoff game were Frank and Peter Mahovlich on April 14, 1974 against the Rangers in New York.
The Bruins got back in the game as Hnidy went to the net to tip a Ference pass between Carey Price’s pads at 8:34.
But they seemed to come unglued after some hustle from Montreal’s checking line saw Smolinski get the puck amid a mass scramble in Thomas’ crease and score on a backhand shot.
And the chances of winning the third period to snatch momentum back were dashed when Montreal took eight of the first 10 shots and got a goal as Kostopoulos scored when falling to his knees to swipe a Maxim Lapierre pass in at 7:24.
“We couldn’t ask for a better start,” said defenceman Mike Komisarek, who returned from a hip injury for the series opener. “We always try to be a well-rounded team.
“People look at our speed and skill, but we tried to play with that extra grit – to battle on the boards and get that puck out of our zone.”
With 3:50 left to play, Chara and Marco Sturm were sent off for stick-fouls on the same play but Boston kept Montreal from scoring on the two-man advantage. A positive for the Bruins was to hold the NHL’s top power play to 0-for-6.
The positives for Montreal were many, starting with the rookie Price getting the win in his first playoff game and winning a game in which acting captain Alex Kovalev was a tad off his game.
The Andrei Kostitsyn hit on Chara was from behind but went uncalled in the second period, but there were many more, including a thundering jolt on big Milan Lucic by Roman Hamrlik.
“The gameplan wasn’t to hit, but we talked about hitting and taking hits because that’s part of the playoffs,” said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau.
“It’s not to be disrespectful to the Bruins, but we played really well against them all year. Our guys were nervous, but they also had a lot of confidence and that’s what we want to keep going.”
Carbonneau wore his lucky tie, an eye-straining multi-coloured number his wife gave him as a birthday present and which he first wore for the game in which Montreal clinched a playoff spot three weeks ago.
“It’s 2-0 – I’m sure you’ll see it again,” he said with a grin.
The Kostitsyn goals were the third-fastest by brothers in playoff history. The quickest were goals 27 seconds apart by Bill and Bun Cook of the New York Rangers against Montreal in 1933. The Mahovlich brothers scored 58 seconds apart for Montreal against Chicago in 1973.
Notes: Canadiens captain Saku Koivu (foot) and defenceman Francis Bouillon (ankle) were not ready to return as well as Boston star Patrice Bergeron (concussion) and Chuck Kobasew (shin). Bruins forwards Marc Savard (back) and Glen Metropolit (foot) were in the lineup.. . With Komisarek’s return, rookie defenceman Ryan O’Byrne was scratched along with Mikhail Grabovski and Greg Stewart.. . With seven healthy defencemen, Boston opted to scratch Andrew Alberts along with Vladimir Sobotka.