MONTREAL -- A season is not won or lost at the NHL’s trade deadline.
It’s a general manager’s job to improve his team, especially if that team is a Stanley Cup contender. The Boston Bruins have become a perennial Cup contender, so when GM Peter Chiarelli added depth to the team’s blue line by adding two veteran defensemen at the deadline on March 5 -- Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter -- it was a simple move that would keep the team’s core intact and wouldn’t disrupt its chemistry.
Boston’s division rival, the Montreal Canadiens, made a significant acquisition by adding veteran forward Thomas Vanek, who is considered a Bruins killer based on his repeated success against the black and gold.
Even before he was asked a question during his trade deadline day press conference, Chiarelli acknowledged the fact that the Canadiens improved their team. He said it would be a challenge to play them and that he looked forward to it.
The Bruins entered Wednesday’s game at Montreal with an 0-4-1 record in their last five games against the Canadiens, but Boston ended its skid with a 4-1 win at Bell Centre. The Bruins received contributions from every line, each defensive pairing and goaltender Tuukka Rask, who made 35 saves in the victory.
It was the type of game Bruins coach Claude Julien was hoping he’d see.
Entering this game, the Bruins were riding a five-game winning streak and Julien wanted his players to downplay the fact they were playing their storied rivals. He also wanted to downplay the fact they were playing in hostile territory. As much of a challenge as that would be for the Bruins, they successfully accomplished their goal.
More importantly, the Bruins gained some confidence, knowing if they play their style of hockey, they can beat anyone in the league. Currently, Boston is atop the Atlantic Division with 91 points and only one point behind the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins. The conference standings are tight, so there is a possibility the Bruins will face Montreal in the playoffs.
On Jan. 30, the Canadiens humiliated the Bruins at TD Garden in a 4-1 win. It was one of the worst games for Boston this season, so that memory was still fresh entering Wednesday’s game. Boston has one more regular-season game remaining against the Habs on March 24 at TD Garden, and Wednesday’s win sent a message to their opponent.
“It is a nice way to answer, especially after what happened last game against them when they embarrassed us in our building,” Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said. “I thought we responded really well and we stayed poised in that first period, even though it wasn’t our best start. We battled through it and we got it going.”
Even though the Bruins attempted to downplay the situation, there was definitely a sense of relief after the win.
“It was real important,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who scored his 20th goal of the season. “We talked about our mindset going into this game, and it was just about focusing on what we’ve done well to this point, especially on this road trip.
“We just wanted to play to our strengths. Obviously you don’t forget when you lose a game the way you did last time against whether it’s the Habs or anyone else, you don’t forget how you played the last game against them and that gave us some motivation as well heading into this game. It’s nice to finally get a result against these guys.”
It didn't start out that way. The Bruins couldn’t create any sustained pressure in the first period and had trouble getting the puck deep into the Montreal zone. Turnovers were a problem too. Fortunately for the Bruins, Rask finished the first period with 13 saves.
“Early in the game, they got some early power plays, so we had to kill those and Tuukka stood tall in that situation, but I thought everyone overall played well,” Julien said. “You need your goaltender to be good and that’s what he’s paid to do and that’s what he did tonight. The rest of the team did the same thing.”
Rask finished with 35 saves to improve his career record to 3-10-2 against Montreal. Even though statistically he hasn’t been on the receiving end of many wins, Rask joked after the game that he’ll take full credit for Wednesday’s victory.
“I don’t care,” he said of his numbers. “I felt good against them [in the past] but I still have the losing record, so I’ve got to win some more games.”
At the start of the second period, the Bruins played their style of game. They created a fierce forecheck and took advantage of Montreal’s miscues. It was an important game for Boston, and with a six-game winning streak in hand, the Bruins are satisfied with the way they’re playing with only 17 games remaining in the regular season.
“Despite the start, I thought we played a pretty solid game,” Rask said. “We took most of their opportunities away and capitalized on ours in the second period. It’s a good road win, especially with the little cushion [in the standings] and we’re happy where our game is headed right now.”
Teams or winning streaks are not built at the trade deadline. The simple fact is the Bruins are a solid team, and Wednesday’s win against the Canadiens is just another example of how good the defending Eastern Conference champions can be.
Said Bruins forward Carl Soderberg: “We didn’t play well at all at home against them and we wanted to get a win here, so if we’re going to play against them in the playoffs we know we can beat them.”
The Bruins made that statement loud and clear.