The Canadiens, to their credit, looked like a different team with the insertion of one player into their lineup: Brendan Gallagher. I'm not saying that Gallagher was the difference today, but he brings an energy with him that seems contagious through the Montreal lineup when he's on his game. Gallagher playing on Pacioretty's line once more and being back on the power-play, however, gave the Canadiens a completely different look, and his presence disrupted the Bruins and Rask on a number of occasions.
On the flip side, Brad Marchand began serving his suspension today, and his presence was sorely missed. Montreal skated and free-wheeled around the rink a little too easily, and their team speed showed through as they won puck battles all night. David Desharnais' first goal where he batted the puck out of the net, as seen above, was simply Desharnais beating Joe Morrow to the net. Marchand's speed and grittiness was sorely missed today, and no one stepped up to slow down the Canadiens.
Montreal outshot the Bruins 14-3 in the first period while scoring just one goal thanks to some outstanding netminding by Tuukka Rask. Boston would win the shots-on-goal battle for the next two periods, but still lost on the shot clock where Montreal outshot the Bruins 30-28 overall. When half of Montreal's shots come in one period, that's a pretty weak effort. Rask wasn't happy with his team's effort, and he voiced his displeasure after the game.
"Embarrassing more than disappointing," Rask told Jon Lane of NHL.com. "Embarrassing loss. I haven't seen us play so bad in a while. It was bad. You would think that, especially when we're missing guys like we are, you'd have to play hard and stick with the system. It definitely didn't look like it today.
"Overall we definitely didn't deserve to win."
The key in all this is that the Bruins had worked their way up the Atlantic Division standings and had a chance to leapfrog their arch-rivals to move into a tie for first-place with the idle Florida Panthers. Instead, they cough up two points and find themselves alone in third-place after the Canadiens moved three points ahead of the Bruins and one point ahead of the Panthers. The fight for Atlantic Division supremacy is far from over, but a divisional loss is a four-point swing with the Habs winning and the Bruins losing a game to try to make up that ground.
The next game will be a big one for the Bruins as they welcome another tough team to Beantown when the Washington Capitals visit on Tuesday. The Capitals have an 11-point lead on the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division and are one point back of the Dallas Stars for first-overall in the NHL. In other words, it doesn't get any easier for the Bruins over the next few days.
The Canadiens, for their part, didn't look like the same team that struggled throughout December. They moved the puck well, they were clearly the faster team, and they won battles all over the ice - three things that almost always ensure success at any level of play. They skated four lines all night, and all four lines were productive in their roles. So what was the secret to their success?
"It's so weird, I didn't even think about our struggles, our scoring struggles or our winning struggles," Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens captain, told Dan Rosen of NHL.com. "It really felt like a new year and we turned the chapter on last month. We don't want to think about December. We want to think about 2016. We started off on the right foot and we've got to keep going that same way."
A 5-1 victory is something the Canadiens hadn't seen in a while. On the other hand, the Bruins hadn't played that poorly for a while either. The rivalry didn't look so contentious as it has in the past on this night, so there's hope that these two teams will turn up the heat in this rivalry as the standings wind down.
Only one can finish on top. Both are within striking distance. Only the Florida Panthers and each other stand in the way of a good, ol' Bruins-Canadiens fight for supremacy.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!