MONTREAL — P.K. Subban has picked the right time of the year to go on an offensive tear.
The 2013 Norris Trophy winner had his third straight two-point game with a goal and an assist as the Montreal Canadiens held off the Boston Bruins for a 4-2 victory on Tuesday night to take the lead in their NHL Eastern Conference playoff series.
Montreal leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 slated for Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
“We’re playing well as a team,” said Subban, who has 11 points in seven post-season games. “I’m just the beneficiary of the guys playing well around me, supporting me.
“It starts in goal. Well, it actually starts with our coaching staff and making sure everybody is feeling confident. We’re doing it together. It starts with Pricey. From our defence to our forwards. We’re sticking together. When we had adversity, we’re sticking together doing the right things.
“It’s fun to play on teams where you know guys are going to support you.”
Lars Eller and fourth-line digger Dale Weise also had a goal and an assist each and Tomas Plekanec scored Montreal’s other goal.
Patrice Bergeron and Andrej Meszaros scored for the Bruins.
Subban became the third Canadiens defencemen to have three consecutive games of more than one point in the playoffs, after Larry Robinson in 1978 and 1987 and J.C. Tremblay in 1971. Robinson’s 1978 streak stretched to five games.
While Montreal has the lead in the series and has wrestled home-ice advantage from the Bruins, the series between the long-time rivals is hardly over. Boston outshot Montreal 28-26, had the Canadiens hemmed in their end for long stretches, and looked nothing like a team that is overmatched and demoralized.
But unlike the first two games, they were unable to erase a two-goal Montreal lead as their frantic third-period comeback fell short and Eller ended it with an empty-net goal with three seconds left on the clock.
“I don’t think we played badly, we just made stupid mistakes that ended up costing us the game,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. “We have to get rid of those, and keep playing like we’re playing.
“You’re three goals behind and it’s tough. You battle back, but time’s running out. We have to try to get that lead and play with the lead.”
For the third straight game in the series, the Canadiens held a 3-1 lead in the third period but, this time they didn’t let it slip away. In Game 2 on Saturday in Boston, the Bruins scored four goals in the final 10 minutes for a 5-3 comeback win.
This time, they got one back, but it wasn’t enough.
Rask was pulled with 2:20 left to play. Only four seconds later, Meszaros beat Price with a high shot through traffic off a feed from Milan Lucic.
Eller said the Canadiens may finally be getting a hang of retaining the lead.
“We learned a little bit from the last game and we didn’t panic,” said the Danish centre, who has eight points in seven post-season games after a disappointing regular season. “You know they are going to come hard when you’re down by two. They gave it all they’ve got and we were prepared for it and held strong.”
“We weren’t as good as them in the first period and that cost us,” countered Bruins forward Jarome Iginla. “After that, we were playing catch-up.
“We found a way to get ourselves back in it, but the first period was the biggest difference in the game. We weren’t as sharp as them early.”
Canadian anthem singer Ginette Reno had the 21,273 at the Bell Centre at maximum loudness to start the game, but after an early flurry, the Bruins took control of the puck through the first 10 minutes of play.
Then Michael Bournival made a gritty play to get the puck around the boards to Subban, who left it for Thomas Vanek for a diagonal pass that gave Plekanec a shot into an open side for his third of the playoffs at 10:57.
Subban was sent off for roughing after a high hit on Reilly Smith that also took out Vanek, sending the Austrian to the clinic with an apparent right leg problem. He returned for the second period.
“I spoke to him after and he said ”I’m fine, don’t worry about it,“ said Subban. ”I was pretty happy to see him back there skating. Obviously I don’t want to hurt my own teammates with a body check, but sometimes that happens.“
As Subban’s penalty ended, Rask neglected to alert his teammates by banging his stick on the ice. That left the defenceman open to collect Eller’s pass, go in on a breakaway, put a deke on Rask and score on a low forehand shot at 14:44.
Mike Weaver blocked a shot that went to Daniel Briere, who sent Weise in on a breakaway with a pass up the middle. The fourth-line winger beat Rask between the pads for a three-goal lead at 13:52 of the second.
But Bergeron won a face-off from Plekanec in the Montreal zone and reached across himself to deflect Torey Krug’s point shot past Price with 2:12 left in the middle period.
That put the Bruins in comeback mode. But despite pushing hard, they managed only seven third-period shots.
“We were very solid playing with the lead,” said Montreal coach Michel Therrien, who caused a surprise by tweaking his lines, moving Vanek to the second unit with Plekanec and putting Brendan Gallagher on the top line.
“We wanted energy on each line,” he said. “Gallagher brings energy to any line he plays on. And Vanek made a heck of a play on the first goal, so I was pleased with the players.”