What seemed improbable is suddenly possible as the Boston Bruins have forced the heavily favoured Montreal Canadiens to a seventh and deciding game on Monday night (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).
Marco Sturm broke a 4-4 stalemate with 2:37 remaining to vault the Bruins over the visiting Canadiens 5-4 in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday.
Sturm picked up his own rebound and, striding to his left, flipped the puck over a flopping Carey Price for what proved to be the winning goal, his second of the series.
"We worked so hard, just to try to grind it out in the end, and it worked really well," Sturm said.
Boston erased four one-goal deficits in the triumph, and scored four times in the third period.
"We have battled and battled and battled and got ourselves back in this position," Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas said. "We still have more work to do."
"We knew we had 20 minutes to make a difference out there," Bruins forward Milan Lucic told CBC Sports. "And we knew we did not want to have any regrets."
Phil Kessel tallied two goals, and rookie Vladimir Sobotka and Lucic netted singles for the eighth-ranked Bruins, who were 0-8 versus Montreal in the regular season.
Kessel, for one, looks to be playing with a purpose since he was benched three games over defensive lapses.
"The way he has played the last two games has been unreal," Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. "If he wants to prove me wrong, I can take it."
David Krejci and Marc Savard provided two assists apiece.
The Bruins totalled five goals through the first four games of the series, but they have scored five goals in each of the past two games — both series-saving wins.
"People are going to pull out every stat that is insignificant," Bruins defenceman Aaron Ward said. "It is what we talked about going into the playoffs.
"We have no pressure on us right now. We were not expected to be in this situation."
Christopher Higgins scored twice, Tomas Plekanec had a breakaway goal, and Francis Bouillon rounded out the scoring for the stumbling Canadiens, who clinched the No. 1 ranking in the conference with 104 points.
"We obviously should have won that game," Higgins said, "But we need to come with a little more focus on defensive details in the next game."
"I said before the playoffs started that I was planning to play 28 [post-season] games," Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said. "That has not changed.
"That is why you play 82 [regular-season] games, to have a chance to play that seventh game at home. We're going to look forward to it."
Price was peppered with 36 shots, one more than Tim Thomas.
"They were just hungrier," Price said. "They bore down on every chance they had."
Rookie Sergei Kostitsyn had two assists, as did Canadiens captain Saku Koivu in his series debut.
Koivu had been shelved since March 28 with a broken bone in his left foot.
"He used his experience and he was excellent tonight," Carbonneau said. "He will be even better in Game 7."
Also reinserted into the lineup were Bouillon and Mark Streit, replacing healthy scratches Guillaume Latendresse and Michael Ryder.
"It is going to be up to us to play the type of hockey we have played all year long," Bouillon said. "And play better defensively."
Physical tone set early
Both combatants set a physical tone at the outset, with Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek smacking Krejci hard into the end boards and Bruins captain Zdeno Chara knocking Andrei Kostitsyn off his skates behind the net.
A hot topic heading into Saturday's showdown was how Price would respond after giving up five goals in Game 5.
But he proved his mettle eight minutes into the contest when the puck skipped over Streit's stick at the Boston blue-line.
P.J. Axelsson pounced on the loose puck and challenged Price on a short-handed breakaway, but the unflappable rookie refused to bite on his backhand deke.
"He has been playing well for them," Lucic said. "But we have been able to create a lot of chances."
Less than a minute later, Koivu won a faceoff to Higgins, who, in one motion, dipped inside of defenceman Dennis Wideman and slipped the puck past Thomas for his first goal of the series.
Kessel tied it 1-1 on a slick rush 1:54 into the second period, turning Bouillon inside out and snapping the puck past Price to the stick side for his second goal.
Plekanec restored Montreal's lead at 7:43 as he stepped out of the penalty box, spinning to stay onside as he collected Steve Begin's pass and beating Thomas with a forehand deke.
"I heard the call from Carey Price, so I just put it [the pass] up there," Begin told CBC Sports. "It was a bad pass."
Boston nearly scored the equalizer when Marc Savard slid a backhand pass into the slot to spring Axelsson, but Price denied him with an alert right-pad save.
Moments later, Krejci picked up a loose puck in the slot and fired a quick shot off the left post.
The Bruins were finally rewarded on a 3-on-2 break 3:13 into the third period as Peter Schaefer's pass banked off a skate directly to Sobotka, who beat Price between the pads with a backhand shot for his second goal.
Bouillon put Montreal ahead at 10:04 on a sharp-angled shot that banked in off the stick of Bruins defenceman Shane Hnidy.
But Lucic tipped Savard's shot over Price's right shoulder to knot it 3-3 at the 12:13 mark.
Sturm then outraced everyone to the puck in the corner and swept it in front to Kessel, who, left unchecked by Koivu, flicked it under the crossbar for a 4-3 lead with 4:15 remaining.
But the lead proved shortlived as Koivu, determined to make amends, outmuscled Hnidy behind the net to free up the puck for Kostitsyn, who set up Higgins for the tying goal 11 seconds after Kessel scored.
"It just kind of happened," Thomas said. "They made a good play."