Big and Bad. Maybe it's overrated. On a night when there were zero signs of life from the Canadiens, the Bruins opted to display a different 'B' Thursday: Better.
The B's beat the Habs in all areas at the Garden in their final regular-season meeting with their archrivals, taking a 7-0 victory (recap), and chasing Montreal goaltender Carey Price in the third period. They were able to out-everything the Habs — the same Habs that have used speed, head games and a hint of diving to leave previous meetings with a cool two points. It wasn't Big and Bad, but it was convincing.
Maybe some wanted Big and Bad. Some of the more entertaining games this season, such as the Feb. 3 fight night against the Stars and the 182-penalty-minute meeting with the Habs on Feb. 9, have been Big and Bad. Those contests featured the Shawn Thornton punches, the flying Gregory Campbell elbow pad, the failed Tim Thomas left hook and the maniacal Adam McQuaid facial expressions. Big and Bad. And wins, to boot.
But here's a secret about Big and Bad: It loses its flavor sometime around mid-April. If the Bruins came out and wiped out the Habs, we would still be asking the million-dollar question with nine games to play: Can the Bruins actually beat the Montreal Canadiens? You know, beat. As in out-skate, out-score and out-smart. Until Thursday night, it remained an unknown.
We knew, based on that 8-6 win last month, that they could beat the Canadiens up. But beating a team up does the B's no good once the playoffs roll around. The Bruins needed to show more than just observers that they could beat the Canadiens in all facets of the game: They needed to show themselves.
Pause for a moment while you think of how corny that last line was, but it's true. There was little to that 8-6 win that suggested the Bruins, who ended the season series at 2-3-1, could handle the Canadiens in the playoffs. With a 3-6 matchup in the first round between the Bruins and Habs a big possibility, they needed the assurance that when it comes down to simply playing hockey, they can hang with the boys who call the Bell Centre their home.
"In the playoffs, that stuff doesn't matter," Campbell said Thursday of the way they won on Feb. 9. "It's a physical, hard game, and there's no fights -- sometimes there is, but rarely ever -- and they play hard. You can say what you want, and that they're a small, skilled team, but they play hard. They're hard in battles, and it was important for us to use what makes us successful -- our size, and the way we compete and battle.
"We obviously haven't fared as well as we would have liked against them this year, and with them being a probable opponent, it was nice for us."
Of course, many wondered if the Bruins would resort to beating the Habs with fisticuffs. Given how ugly their March 8 loss was, and all that surrounded Zdeno Chara's hit on Max Pacioretty, there was a chance the teams could have tried duking it out.
"We knew they were going to come in and play and try to win a hockey game," Mark Recchi said. "And they were going to play, but we had to do our things to make ourselves successful. We’ve won two out of the last three on them now, which is important. At the same time, we never know in playoffs, things are always different. I think we want to keep our momentum right now and it’s very important we kept it."
The Bruins didn't send a message by pounding any Habs, and the one fight that did take place -- one between Campbell and Belmont native Paul Mara in the second period -- was a snoozer. Instead, they sent a message right to the guy they want shaken up if the two teams meet next month: Carey Price. The Habs goaltender is just the type that could get hot in the playoffs and be the backbone of a successful run, but he has got to want no part of the Garden any time soon. In his last two games at the Garden, he has allowed a total of 13 goals in two losses, one of which he didn't get to see all the way through.
So while there weren't many punches thrown, the messages that the Bruins needed to convey were conveyed. They can beat their rivals the right way.
"Obviously we know that it’s a possible match up in the playoffs, but we tried to play our game and be really focused on our game," Claude Julien said after the game. "Right now we want to finish strong, and that’s our focus, to finish strong the regular season."
Big and Bad worked last month. Next month, they'll need more of what they got Thursday night.