MONTREAL — Half a lifetime ago, as an early teen back in the Czech Republic, David Pastrnak knew nothing of the historic Canadiens-Bruins rivalry.
“You know, the time difference and everything, games not on TV,” he recalled late Tuesday night after the Bruins packed up following their 4-2 win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. “I was maybe 14 when I first even heard about the NHL.”
Now 26, Pastrnak is an NHL All-Star and goal-scoring headliner, adding to his weighty bona fides with a goal (No. 37) and three assists in a win — their six straight — the Bruins were forced to grind their way through over a stingier-than-expected Habs squad.
Pastrnak had his name on all four goals, the first by Taylor Hall, the next by fellow Czech David Krejci, then the winner by Patrice Bergeron with 2:55 to go in regulation, and finally his own, into an empty net, with 49 seconds on the clock.
The win added to the league-leading heap of points (80) the Bruins have piled up over 47 games and added to their success in recent years over the Canadiens. The storied Les Glorieux franchise once held a patent on how to filet the Bruins in 1,001 excruciating ways.
That old emotional tug of war is long gone. The Habs of today are a mere shadow of their once proud, dominating, intimidating selves. But the thread of that history remains woven in the threads of those Black and Gold uniforms, which means a win here is never just another win for the Bruins.
“Every time you are going to play Montreal, and I am sure it’s pretty much the same for Montreal when they play us, it’s a special game,” mused Pastrnak. “It’s fun. No matter which building you play in, either here or home, a lot of history. You will always get motivated to play and it’s always going to be a tight game. It does have a special feeling and you know it’s a lot of fun.”
The Bruins, who had battled back from a 1-0 deficit, moved out in front at 9:45 of the third period, 2-1, on Krejci’s 12th strike of the season. Pastrnak sailed in a wrister from the blue line, and Krejci, not traditionally a net-front operative, provided a working man’s tip. It had the feel of a playoff strike and looked as if it would hold up to be the winner.
“We talked and said we need a guy in front, keep throwing the puck in there,” noted Krejci, who recently cracked the 1,000-game plateau. “I don’t mind playing [that spot]. You get lots of goals in front, you know, something hits you, so I don’t mind being there.”
“I mean, he spun off his check twice to be able to get his stick on that,” added coach Jim Montgomery, noting Krejci’s jousting down low with Habs defenseman Justin Barron (who are these guys?). “I mean, the intestinal fortitude on those two top centers [Krejci and Bergeron]. It’s why the Bruins have been great for so long.”
The Habs were back with the 2-2 equalizer in less than two minutes (11:31) when Kirby Dach scored his second of the night.
Jeremy Swayman, relatively new to the rivalry, turned back 20 shots for the win. He is now 12-3-3.
The setting, and the history, were not lost on Swayman.
“I got a little emotional,” said Swayman. “That song [by Cold Play] when the [Canadiens] come out on the ice, it’s just something special. They’ve played it for a while. Literally, tears almost came to my eyes. That’s what I love about this game, and being part of an Original Six rivalry. It’s more than just the game itself.”
Bergeron broke the 2-2 tie with his winner at 17:05. He won a faceoff, then moved into the middle to position for the forehander that beat Sam Montembeault.
“We had a setup play, worked out well,” said Bergeron. “The puck went to Pasta for that shot. I was trying to beat my coverage, and the puck trickled through. I got lucky on that one.”
“It’s always a special place to play,” added the Bruins captain, “and a special team to play against. For the whole group. I think we all recognize the tradition and the rivalry on both sides, it’s always a lot of fun. Brings out the best in everyone. You can tell, too. Montreal wanted it and played a great game against us.”
The sides swapped goals across the opening 40 minutes, leaving it squared, 1-1, headed into the third period.
The Canadiens, owners of the worst power play in the league (this is not an hallucination), opened the scoring with … a power-play goal by Dach at 9:11 of the second period.
Hall’s goal, ending a drought dating five weeks (Dec. 17), also came on a power play, with Mike Hoffman off for slashing.
Working the net-front position, Hall scored with a doorstep forehand bunt, the puck having died just short of the goal line off a Pastrnak attempt.
Montgomery, displeased with what he saw from his forwards, began to shake up his trios in the first period and did it again late in the second, hoping that it would prove to be the spark to generate more skate and shoot.
In the first, he reconvened the Brad Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line and put Hall up at No. 2 left wing with Krejci and Pavel Zacha (switched to right side). Trent Frederic shifted to left wing on the Charlie Coyle line, with Craig Smith riding right wing.
“I was just trying to create a spark,” Montgomery said. “I thought we were a little flat in the first.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.