Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg is sandwiched between right wing Brandon Prust and centre Lars Eller during third period National Hockey League action Saturday, April 6, 2013 in Montreal
Photograph by: Ryan Remiorz, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Canadiens centreman Lars Eller did 28 National Hockey League teams a great service on Saturday night: he demonstrated how to get supersized Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara off his skates.
Eller showed it isn’t by taking broadside runs at Chara from 20 feet away. It’s not done by chopping at Big Zee’s ankles with your stick or by cross-checking him from behind or double-teaming him in the corner or hooking him or slipping your blade between his blade and boot and giving him the heave-ho — or even by hitting him in the sternum with a rocket-launched missile.
No, Eller showed that to topple Chara, you take his jersey, just below his No. 33, between your gloved thumb and forefinger, give it a gentle tug and boom! He’s down.
As easy as that.
“I must be really strong,” Eller joked after the Canadiens’ 2-1 Bell Centre victory over the Bruins.
And then, with mischief: “Or are we going to use the ‘e’ word?”
Canadiens-Bruins games of recent vintage have been all about charges of embellishment, mostly by Bruins players and their head coach, Claude Julien, their broadcast crew, and their fans who claim the Habs dive faster than a nuclear-powered submarine.
(If, say, Habs defenceman P.K. Subban had hit the deck à la Chara on a similar jersey-tug Saturday, Bruins fans would have spontaneously combusted.)
But the “e” word for the Canadiens on this night, the victory giving them a three-point lead on the Bruins in the Northeast Division, was “excellence.”
Eller’s penalty for holding, a weak call at best, gave the visitors a 6-on-4 power-play for the game’s final 56.4 seconds, goaltender Tuukka Rask pulled for an extra skater.
Boston made 21 passes with the two-man advantage yet didn’t get a single shot on goal, Bruins’ David Krejci blaming that on the Bell Centre’s “(expletive) ice.”
Presumably, the Canadiens’ ferocious, smothering penalty-kill unit of Tomas Plekanec, Travis Moen, Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov had nothing to do with it.
And the ice, apparently, was crappy only in the Habs’ end.
Krejci’s veteran teammate, Jaromir Jagr, had another idea about the Bruins’ final-minute failure: he said he himself lost track of the ticks remaining on the clock, making his team’s final pass instead of shooting as time expired.
Joking aside, Eller took responsibility for his penalty.
“It was probably fair enough,” he said of the call, made when Chara went down a split second after Eller had let go of the Size Gigantic jersey. “I shouldn’t have put myself in that position.
“I’ve never seen the clock go so slow,” Eller added of his time in the sin bin, the Bruins doing more cycling than the Tour de France before the siren sounded.
“The guys played unbelievable (on the penalty kill) so I’m really grateful for that. I was pretty relieved when it was over.”
Centring Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Prust on an unlikely line that was quite terrific, Eller was a time bomb all night, his two shots taken over 16:10 hardly indicative of his contribution.
Eller played a role setting up the industrious goal of Galchenyuk to open the scoring, though he didn’t earn an assist, and used his lockout-developed power to win many battles for the puck.
“We were creating a lot of chances tonight,” Eller said of his line. “We were in their end, cycling well, using each other. That’s how we need to play and we’ll score goals like we did tonight. And we could have scored a couple more. …
“Sometimes, it’s not the line combinations that you think of that are going to work. Sometimes, you just get that instant chemistry. When we’re put together, you don’t know if it’s going to be for one or two games or 20 or 30.
“You try to make the best of it. We’ve found some good connection in understanding each other and using each other to our strengths. We’ll keep doing that.”
The game marked the welcome return of Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec, back from one game nursing a groin injury. He played a forwards-high 20:29 and reported feeling 100 per cent.
Asked whether Eller had discovered an almost superhuman strength to flatten Chara, Plekanec paused, then said with a tight grin: “Maybe … uh … you know what? I don’t know. I won’t go there.”
Goaltender Carey Price turned in a strong 26-save performance and probably was as surprised as anyone that he didn’t touch a puck on the Bruins’ last-minute power-play.
This wasn’t the typical Canadiens-Bruins alley fight. Canadiens research manager Carl Lavigne dug back to Dec. 20, 2001, to find the last time these two clubs earned only eight combined penalty minutes, a 5-0 Bruins rout in Boston with the winners scoring three first-period goals in a 52-second span.
“It seems that it’s either/or when we play Boston — not too many penalties or line brawl after line brawl,” Eller said. “Today was one of the quiet ones. We’ll play either way, but we prefer to have our guys on the ice.”
One year ago Sunday, the Canadiens played their final game of 2011-12, long before eliminated from playoff contention. New management, headed by GM Marc Bergevin, the import of head coach Michel Therrien and new assistants, and a different attitude in the dressing room have produced a decidedly different scene this April 8.
“Michel definitely brought some accountability into the room, but I think it’s the players in this room. It’s their pride,” Eller said. “That’s the most important thing. You can change coaches and different things, but it has to come from within the room.
“Coaches hold (players) accountable, but it’s the pride of every player in here. … I don’t think we were as bad last year as the record showed, but I think we’re as good as we’re showing right now.
“It’s not a coincidence when you do it over 35 games, or a long stint,” Eller added. “We’ve had the foot on the gas from Game 1 or 2 and we’re as good as our record shows. We wanted to show that last season was not who we are, and I think we’re really showing that this year. There’s a lot to like about this team.”
Was it sweeter that Saturday’s victory was over the Bruins?
“It always is,” Eller said, smiling. “No doubt about it.”
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