- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Moments after the Bruins earned an 8-6 victory and a critical two points over the Canadiens in a most entertaining game at TD Garden, the Bruins' president stepped into the elevator on Level 9, turned around and was sporting a huge grin.
It was as though he'd just stepped off the ice, too.
This Northeast Division game featured everything a hockey fan, especially one rooting for the Black and Gold, could ask for from an Original Six matchup. Time and again, the ice was littered with gloves, sticks and helmets. Even the opposing goaltenders got into a fight.
All in all, there were a total of 182 minutes in penalties along with the 14 goals.
Sure, it had that typical old-school feel to it. No doubt the 17,565 in attendance were dazzled with the display of passion, toughness and offensive energy by both teams. More importantly, the Bruins finally proved that they can beat the Canadiens, and this victory could serve Boston well if these two teams happen to face one another again in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Even though there are two remaining regular-season games between the Bruins and Habs, Boston's victory proved crucial. Entering the game, Montreal had won eight of the past nine meetings, including the past five.
The Bruins are finally off the schneid.
"It was a good win for us," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "We needed that and we went out and got it. There is a rivalry that exists between these two teams, and it's still there. We came out and played our game."
While Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas allowed a season-high six goals, he was solid when he had to be and made a couple of timely saves to help his team earn the win.
"Winning a game like that had to be entertaining for the fans," said Thomas. "It was a weird one to be in. I didn't expect that. I don't think anyone saw that coming."
Five Bruins players registered multipoint games. Nathan Horton had a goal and four assists. David Krejci added three assists. Milan Lucic had two goals and an assist. Michael Ryder contributed two goals, and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg posted a goal and an assist for Boston.
When the Bruins weren't scoring goals, they were dropping the gloves and applying teeth-shattering body checks.
"It looked like back in the day of the '70s and '80s when it was those rivals," Lucic said. "We're just happy to get the win. They've been a tough opponent for us lately, and most of all we're just happy to get those two points."
The first all-out scrum occurred at 12:36 of the second period. When the ice chips settled,12 players from both teams were in the penalty boxes. It was so crammed on the Bruins' side, most of the six players had to stand.
"It was funny," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who initiated the battle when he checked a Canadiens player after an icing call. "Half of us couldn't even sit down because we had so many guys in there. When guys step up like we did for each other and everyone's getting in [the box], it's good. It's a good feeling."
It was during that scrum that the goaltenders went at it.
Thomas felt that Carey Price was jumping into the scrum, making it an odd-man situation that favored the Canadiens. When Thomas started down the ice, Price retreated back to his crease, so Thomas stopped at the blue line.
Once Price got involved again, Thomas sprinted the length of the ice and asked his counterpart to drop the mask and gloves. Price obliged.
Ironically, the two are friends and actually spent time at a hockey camp a few years ago. And both were All-Stars in Raleigh, N.C., last month. Either way, both knew they had to go.
"We're on friendly terms. It was business. But once business is done, it's done," said Thomas, who admitted it was his first professional fight.
It wasn't much of a fight, but Price was able to land a shot and pulled Thomas to the ice.
"I know Timmy pretty well," Price said. "I think we were just out there play-fighting more than anything. Neither one of us really wanted to get hurt, but we are out there doing whatever we had to do."
With the season Thomas (26-6-6) is having, the last thing the Bruins want to see is their No. 1 goaltender get hurt.
While Thomas was skating the length of the ice, the fact he could get hurt did enter his mind.
"The thought did cross my mind real quick that I don't want to be DiPietro," Thomas said. "I was watching for the first [punch] and my plan was to get him off balance a little bit and throw one."
Once Thomas fell to the ice, Price stopped, and when the two got to their feet, they gave each other a little pat on the backside.
Thomas is one of the main reasons why the Bruins are in first place in the division, so when he started down the ice, Julien and the rest of the team got a little nervous.
"It's not something you like to see," said the coach. "You never like to see your goaltenders get into those sort of things, but I'm not sitting here condemning him for doing that. It's in the heat of the game and they were both willing combatants, and you live with that."
The sides engaged in a second all-out scrum at 19:11 of the third period. This time both goaltenders remained in their nets.
The adrenaline could be felt throughout the Garden, especially in the Bruins' locker room after the game. It was the second time this season Boston has played this type of game. On Feb. 3, the Bruins hosted the Dallas Stars and there were three fights in the first four seconds of the game that Boston eventually won 6-3.
The Bruins didn't get pushed around that game, and they didn't get pushed around against the Canadiens.
"We're going to stand up for each other and we're going to stand up to anyone," Lucic said. "We want to be team-tough. We showed that against Dallas and that's what we showed tonight."
As Neely stepped off the elevator before heading to the Bruins' locker room, his smile was a clear sign he was happy with the effort his team produced. The only thing missing from his face was blood.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.