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(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

12? 13? They are really just numbers. But when paired with Bruins victories it means something to the people of the northeast, and the rest of the NHL. The Bruins are playing their best hockey at the most critical time of year. And this isn’t just “best hockey,” it’s the most lethal combination of skill, luck, and effort combined into one powerful bear: the Bruin.

“Well I think I have to give them – the players – a lot of credit because I haven’t had to do much,” said Bruins Coach Claude Julien after Monday’s morning skate.

“They’ve kind of, I guess they’ve gotten used to it. They know it works around here, they know what’s served us best in the past and we’re a team that goes game by game. I haven’t talked about it, they haven’t really talked about it, the streak is basically your guys’ job to talk about.”

The Montreal Canadiens didn’t quite play the role of David – considering their sustained success against the Bruins throughout their entire existence – but they had a tall task on hand at the Garden on Monday, looking to halt the Bruins’ win streak at 12 games.

Early in the first period things got physical.

After Alexei Emelin thumped Milan Lucic with a questionable open ice hit, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara took matters into his own hands by taking out Emelin, who predictably turtled. Chara was given two minutes for roughing.

A displeased Lucic referred to Emelin as a “chicken” post-game. (Can these teams please meet in the postseason again?)

The Habs failed to score on the ensuing power play, but were quickly awarded another man-advantage after Kevan Miller was whistled for crosschecking, just seconds before he pummeled Travis Moen in a fight.

Emelin again made his mark, this time scoring with a wrist shot from the point and giving Montreal a 1-0 lead.

The first period was the typical Boston-Montreal cat-and-mouse game we’ve grown accustomed to.

Montreal agitates the Bruins, baiting them into taking retaliatory penalties and capitalizing with their deadly power play units. Sometimes the Bruins can retaliate, dominate the physical play and win as well, but tonight – at least in the first period – Montreal got the better of them.

When asked about discipline post-game, Julien reiterated that his team must contain their emotions and respond better.

“The [Brad] Marchand penalty was frustration because he got tripped on the faceoff before — it wasn’t called. Those are things that are gonna happen in a game and you can’t retaliate by taking a bad penalty. [Johnny] Boychuk’s penalty was a bad one, either, so you know, there’s discipline, but they didn’t score on those, so that’s not why we lost. But I think we have to be better disciplined against them.”

So, how do you stop it?

“Simple — you don’t let it happen,” he said. “Just because they won tonight in a shootout doesn’t mean we’re going to go into the playoffs and have the same kind of situation here. If we happen to meet them in the playoffs, and that’s an if, then we’ll deal with it, but you can be sure that that’s not going to happen.”

The second period told a similar tale. The Bruins scoring chances improved dramatically, but the result stayed the same.

Things escalated late in the frame when Johnny Boychuk and P.K. Subban exchanged pleasantries behind the play, ending with Subban (who instigated) on the ice and Boychuk headed to the penalty box. This game looked much like the Bruins-Habs games of old, the cat-and-mouse play working wonders for Montreal who have mastered the art of eliminating composure.

The Habs failed to score on their two-man advantage and headed to third with a 1-0 lead; just 20 minutes away from slaying the bear and ending the streak on their biggest rival’s home ice.

Looking back, they probably should have capitalized on one of those power plays.

The third period was as raucous as the previous two. Scoring chances, hits, controversy, questionable calls – it was full-fledged Boston-Montreal madness; and Montreal let the NHL’s hottest team hang around far too long.

Fifteen minutes into the third, chance after chance after chance, and the Bruins finally cashed in on their fourth power play of the game.

Patrice Bergeron tipped home a Dougie Hamilton blast from the point, knotting the game at one with just five minutes to go in regulation. Great puck movement by Hamilton, Loui Eriksson and Bergeron created the chance, with the assistant captain netting the tally.

Although the cat-and-mouse game awarded Montreal with many power plays, it was their failure to convert which came back to bite them.

It was merely nibble though, as Alex Galchenyuk won it for the Habs in the shootout. A disappointing individual outcome, considering the magic that was the team-fought battle on the TD Garden ice, but it is what it is.

The streak is now over. And for Boston, it’s time to start seriously considering resting some of their top players for the best possible chance at another Cup – and not another Game 6 meltdown.

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