MONTREAL - Two of the primary reasons the Boston Bruins lost all eight of their regular season encounters with the Montreal Canadiens this season was the dominance of Alex Kovalev and some porous penalty killing.
In Game 1 of their first round series with the Canadiens on Thursday, the Bruins turned Kovalev into a non-factor and shut out the Habs' top-ranked power-play unit.
Yet Boston still lost 4-1.
"It wasn't about Kovalev, it wasn't about (Tomas) Plekanec, it wasn't about those guys," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. "Their third and fourth lines did a great job tonight and outplayed us.
"The thing that sticks out in my mind the most was that they won most of the puck battles tonight, and when you don't win puck battles you don't play with it much. When you give them a chance to play with the puck, they're a pretty dangerous team."
Both the Bruins and Canadiens had four off days to hear all the talk of how Montreal has won the last 11 games between these two teams dating back two seasons, and it didn't take long for the Habs to make it clear they were going to make it 12.
The Canadiens were ahead 2-0 on goals by brothers Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn before the Bruins had even registered their first shot on goal in these playoffs.
"We looked nervous at the beginning," Julien said. "When you're nervous, you make mistakes."
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who has played extremely well against every other team he's faced this season but has had a world of trouble against Montreal, said he didn't feel the nervousness his coach referred to.
"I didn't feel an uptight mood, I didn't feel we were flustered, it was more that they just executed," Thomas said. "They're a fast team, but I don't know if it's the speed of their feet as much as the fast plays that they make. It makes them seem even faster."
The positives for the Bruins are that two of the team's major defensive missions were accomplished, even though Julien pointed the finger at his team's poor defensive play to explain the loss.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was matched up all night against Kovalev - who scored seven goals and added four assists in eight regular-season games against Boston this season. Kovalev wasn't much of a threat, and the lone scoring opportunity he had came during a rare shift when Chara wasn't on the ice with him.
Chara, however, was not in a mood to celebrate.
"It's only 1-0 and we know it's a seven-game series, so we know we can come back," Chara said before cutting his media scrum short and walking off.
The other defensive mission was to stop a Montreal power play that had scored 10 times in 34 chances against Boston this season, a success rate of 29.4 per cent. Montreal was shut out in three chances Thursday night, and were held to one shot on a two-minute 5-on-3 advantage late in the third period.
"They've got a great power play and we were able to shut them down, the guys did a great job there," said Bruins centre Marc Savard, who returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a back injury. "We've bounced back from a lot this year, and hopefully we can do the same here."