Habs - Bruins Recap: Did That Really Hab-en?

Yesterday, Mitch Melnyk, respected Montreal journalist / radio personality and host of Melnyk in the Afternoon on the Team 990 said that he doesn't want to see the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens face off one more time this year in the playoffs. After last night's... debacle... I'm really not sure about whether I agree with him or not.

In case you didn't see the game, or didn't hear what happened, then you were likely in a short coma. But for the sake of recapping, let's just say that there were a lot of goals. And a lot of rough stuff. And a lot of fights. Oh Lord, were there ever fights.

I won't go through every single goal, because, frankly, I have other things to do today, but the big performers in last night's 8-6 Habs loss were Nathan Horton (1G - 4A - 6PIM - +5), Milan Lucic (2G - 1A - 16PIM - +5), David Krejci (3A - +5 and a fight) and Michael Ryder with two goals. On the Canadiens side, Yannick Weber scored his first NHL goal and added two assists, Max Pacioretty continued his hot streak with two goals, and PK Subban, Brian Gionta and David Desharnais each contributed a goal and an assist, while James Wisniewski and Tomas Plekanec has two assists each.

But even with fourteen goals scored and more than a dozen players ending up with multi-point nights, the real story of last night's game wasn't on the scoresheet, but what was going on after the whistle.

At the end of a relatively typical second period that saw the Bruins go up by two goals, the rough stuff started with a scuffle after the final period whistle. That would transfer over to the second period, where things would quickly degenerate into pretty much the NHL Royal Rumble. The Canadiens would score 25 seconds into the period to make things 2-1, and would tie things up 8 minutes later. A minute later, the Bruins would go back up 3-2, and by 12 minute mark, it would be 4-3 Bruins (10 goals would be scored by the end of the second).

But at 12:36 of the second period, what happened was maybe 20 or 30 years in the making, and it was rough. After a seemingly incidental punch to Gionta's face by Mark Recchi, a late hit would take place behind the Habs net on an icing call, and a major scuffle would ensue. Carey Price would try to separate everyone, which brought over Tim Thomas from the other side of the rink. When the dust would settle, 32 penalty minutes would be handed out, including fighting majors and minors for leaving the crease for both goalies. Six Bruins would fill one penalty box, and five Habs would fill the other.

And the rough stuff would continue til the end of the game. 118 penalty minutes would be handed out, in only the final 3 minutes of the game, including six 10 minute misconducts and 10 fighting majors. And since the Canadiens don't have all that many tough guys, the ones taking the punches ranged from Travis Moen to Benoit Pouliot (the only two who won their fights), to Tom Pyatt, Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik. We were this close to seeing a Plekanec / Recchi dust up, but three officials got in the way.

When the dust had finally settled on the game, the Bruins would take an 8-6 victory. Words can only say so much about the original incident, so here's the video, including the goalie "fight":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=251___mEwZA

Price was the only one to really throw a punch before Thomas went down, so you have to wonder whether their hearts were in it. Thomas must have really hated that Shea Weber story Price told him at the All-Star Fantasy draft. Both goaltenders shrugged off the questions that were obviously going to be asked after the game, and downplayed the incident.

"I didn't want to end up like DiPietro," said Thomas, referring of course to the other recent goalie fight between Brent Johnson and Rick DiPietro, where DiPietro suffered multiple injuries that may end his season.

Price's take? "I think we were just play-fighting more than anything. Neither of us really wanted to get hurt, but we are out there doing whatever we had to do, I guess."

In fact, the tenders and players shrugged off most of the happenings of the game, from the goals to the fighting, but it's pretty clear what happened here. The Bruins, sensing a Canadiens comeback and the fact that they pretty much can't beat them playing actual hockey, did the only thing they knew how to do in order to take the game. And that can be summed up in one word.

INTIMIDATION

It's no secret to anyone that the Habs aren't the biggest team in the league. They have no heavyweight, no enforcer, and only one guy who even comes close to knowing how to fight in Travis Moen. That's just not how the Canadiens play, and the Bruins know it, and know that when it comes to speed and skill, the Habs have their number. Hell, the Bruins hadn't beaten the Habs in over a calendar year, and the one night they finally do, it's an 8-6 final score and a game that may as well have been the script for the next Slapshot movie? That's not a coincidence.

While the Bruins are having a great season, the Canadiens have to be in the back of their mind 24/7. They're constantly nipping at their heels in the standings, they seldom ever beat them lately and there have been some bad memories for them in the playoffs. The latest encounter between the two was a 4-0 sweep by the Bruins two years ago, but I think we can all agree that this wouldn't be the case if they met again. It's clear that the Bruins were sending a message last night. If the Habs can beat them in the actual hockey skill department, then the Bruins have to resort to the rough stuff in order to take them off their game, shorten their bench and make the game wide open.

We could talk about how Scott Gomez, Lars Eller and Andrei Kostitsyn were pointless -4s on the night, the defensive woes, and problems in the Canadiens' game last night, but it's all sort of irrelevant. These kinds of games happen and I don't think any one player can be blamed for any goals or the final score last night. The Canadiens allowed 8 goals, yes, but the Bruins allowed 6 themselves. With those totals, either team could have taken the victory. The fact is that this game was won because of the intimidation factor.

The Bruins were after PK Subban all night not because he chirps, not because he's cocky, but because he's the Canadiens best player. If you don't believe me, just look at the box score from last night. He played over 26 minutes, the most of either team, put up two points, and was one of the Canadiens best players in an ugly night for everyone. People need to shut up about his attitude and his mouth and realize that it's not the extra-curricular activity that other teams dislike, it's how good he is when the game is on. Yes, they know he'll push back, talk back and react, and that's why they go after him. But no one hates him because of his attitude, and that was made more than clear last night.

Subban was bullied, but he still stepped up. The Habs in general were bullied, but they still stepped up, took advantage of nearly every powerplay, and fought back no matter how much bigger the opposing team was. And despite the fact that the Bruins won by dropping their gloves, there is much for Habs fans and the team itself to be proud about here. They were pushed-around but they fought back, and they scored 6 goals on a Tim Thomas that's supposed to be lights out this year.

While this game clearly shows Pierre Gauthier's priorities lie heading into the trade deadline, it also shows their strengths. They're tougher than people give them credit for, and they can take advantage of other team's mistakes. The rough stuff between these two teams will likely carry over into future games, but it won't be an all-out brawl like this again. And now the Bruins now that if they take penalties, the Canadiens will respond with powerplay goals. If they go after their players, the Canadiens will not back down anymore.

Does Gauthier need to add a big body or two, even a fighter? He certainly does. Because it isn't only the Bruins. I'm sure that the Flyers, the Pens, the Lightning, even the Leafs, who may not be making the playoffs but have games with the Habs coming up, you can bet that they're all very aware of what went on last night. And you shouldn't be surprised to see them try the same things to get to the Habs going forward. But at the same time, if the Canadiens stick to their speed and skill game, they can hit all these teams where it hurts.

It's tough to really make a call here. A part of me is proud of the effort the Canadiens put in last night, despite being out-muscled to a loss. But a part of me thinks that this shouldn't have to happen, and it's pretty simple to see how this team can make sure that it doesn't.

Would you trade for a bigger body now, with some big games forthcoming, or would you rather keep the team the way it is and not give up any assets just to get tougher? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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UPDATE:

The Canadiens have called up 6'2" 200lbs "tough guy" Ryan White from the Hamilton Bulldogs. You're a few hours late there, Pierre, but it's a good start.