Speed and skill prevail as Habs claim Winter Classic win

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The little guys delivered on the biggest of stages.

David Desharnais, Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher, who average a little taller than 5-foot-7, scored four of Montreal's goals as the Canadiens rolled to a 5-1 crushing of the rival Boston Bruins in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

After all, it has been the same script over and over for four years now, as the smaller Habs used their speed and skill to frustrate the bigger Bruins. Montreal has now won 13 of the past 16 regular-season games between the teams, including, of course, taking the seven-game playoff series in 2014.

"We're not a team built on intimidating the other team. We're not a big, physical team. We're a fast team. We get pucks on net, and we just use our speed to beat the other team," said Byron, the waiver-wire pickup who scored twice Friday. "I thought we did a great job of that in the first period. We really dominated in their zone, had a lot of shots, and it just carried on for the rest of the game."

Did it ever. This was no contest.

By the end, it was another familiar script, as the Bruins tried to engage the Canadiens in some rough stuff. That included Jimmy Hayes goading Lars Eller into a semi-fight while tough guy Zac Rinaldo went after Torrey Mitchell.

One wonders when the Bruins will realize that their attempts to bully a team that has beaten them every which way for four years just won't work.

"We love that," said captain Max Pacioretty, the only player taller than 6 feet who scored for the Canadiens on this memorable day. "That's this rivalry, and that's our game. I love seeing that. [Matt] Beleskey was skating off the ice once and chopped me. I think it's funny. We're worried about the two points. We're not worried about getting caught up in that stuff. We don't have a team based around guys trying to do that stuff. We got a team that wants to play between the whistles on the ice. That's the only way we have success. We've been coached the right way. If we get caught up in that extra stuff, that's when you run into trouble."

For the Canadiens, the Winter Classic rout was perhaps a season-altering moment, a potential springboard to better things, after a woeful month of December saw them win only three games out of 15. That month made some people wonder whether the Canadiens were still veritable Cup contenders.

"It's big," said Habs star blueliner P.K. Subban, who was outstanding in this game. "For us, maybe this game means a little more because of the way things have gone over December, but a win is a win. The thing is, now that it's over, you gotta get ready for the next game now. This is not a Stanley Cup championship game -- this is a Winter Classic -- but obviously, it's a big stage, and a lot of people are watching, and it definitely feels good to win this one today."

Added Pacioretty: "We knew that we have to get out of this, but being able to do so on a big stage could jumpstart our team success for the new year."

Before the game, the players talked as a team about how important this moment was.

"We talked about enjoying the moment," Gallagher said. "But we also talked about [how] at the end of the game, we didn't want to just be participants. We wanted to come away with a win. We did that. Everyone showed up. Everyone competed. And it wasn't hard to find energy, it wasn't hard to find the motivation for us to come out and play. And we just played the way we've played all year, and we had success. We used our speed. We made their defense work, go back and get pucks. And as the game went on, we were able to create turnovers and put the puck in the net when we needed to."

Gallagher's return to the lineup after a five-week absence because of two broken fingers certainly added a big-time spark to a Montreal lineup that's so different without him.

Gallagher showed his skill on his batted-in goal and his saucer pass to Pacioretty for another goal. He showed his heart and determination by recouping his normal office space in front of the enemy net and taking a pounding all the while.

"Smiling with his bloody gums," was how Pacioretty described Gallagher's normal pose. On Friday, that included getting his head nearly ripped off by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.

"I was anticipating that would happen," Gallagher said with a smile. "It was nice to be back."

What a way to return, indeed.

"I mean, the way the night went, couldn't really ask for anything more," Gallagher said. "I just think it was a great team effort. We all had so much fun."

The team still dearly misses superstar goalie Carey Price, though backup Mike Condon shined brightly in front of family and friends Friday, and perhaps this performance in the biggest game of his life can help Condon keep up until Price returns.

Either way, this Habs team left Gillette Stadium having rediscovered the positive vibes that saw it jump out of the gates earlier this season. This game also allowed the players to look back on this event with smiles on their faces.

"It's Gillette Stadium, the stadium Tom Brady built," Subban said. "It's a pretty cool experience. It's one of those things you remember for the rest of your life. I think it's not so much where the game was but against who it was. There will be a ton more Winter Classic games, but Montreal-Boston, I don't think it gets any bigger than that. I'm very happy to know that I played in it."

For the Bruins, who have surprised this season by competing for a playoff spot, one wonders how deflating this loss can be. With David Krejci injured and Brad Marchand suspended, you saw the team's lack of depth. There's not enough talent in the retooling organization to make up for those losses.

"I think we just had a tough night," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who has done a marvelous job cobbling together the pieces on this roster this season. "The unfortunate part is that I think we played one of our probably worst games at the worst time."

What the Bruins can't afford is for this to snowball.

"Well, you don't have a choice. I always say the same thing: You don't have a choice. You've got to put these aside," Julien said. "Things aren't going to get any easier right now. I don't know if we anticipate having anybody back for the next game yet or not.

"So we have to move with what we have, and when you have a lineup, you just have to tell yourself you need to be better, and we have to be better as a group. And we're challenged right now, but that's where team comes into play. And you have to play for each other, probably a little bit harder and probably a little bit more determined."