Posted on April 20, 2008 12:15 AM | Permalink
BOSTON – And then there was one.
One game nobody believed would ever happen. One game where this extraordinary Boston Bruins hockey season orchestrated by head coach Claude Julien can maybe continue into the second round of the NHL playoffs.
One game where the Montreal Canadiens’ “dream season,” as it was described by coach Guy Carbonneau, can come to a crashing, devastating halt.
That game will come Monday night at the Bell Centre, as the Canadiens and Bruins will play an improbable Game 7 in this series that has featured just about anything anyone can want out of playoff hockey.
“It feels pretty good when you’re able to get it to a Game 7,” Julien said Saturday after his team pulled out a wild 5-4 win to extend its season by at least one more game. “When you’re down 3-1 the big picture can be pretty scary, but we broke it down game by game and now we’re in a position that two days ago we wanted to be in.”
Forget for a moment, if that’s possible, that the Bruins have taken two straight from a team that beat them 11 straight times coming into the series. It’s the way this team has gotten here which is most impressive, relying on raw rookies with zero playoff experience and castaway veterans who are proving all of their doubters wrong.
The cast of characters in this drama the Bruins are weaving is simply riveting.
Leading the way is Phil Kessel, an “enfant terrible” only last week who has taken the two-game purgatory imposed on him by Julien and used it to learn exactly what playoff hockey is all about, scoring twice Saturday and three times in his last two games.
“The way he’s played the last two games has been unbelievable,” Julien said. “If he wants to keep proving me wrong, I can take it.”
Then there’s Marco Sturm, a man who has the weight of knowing he is the last remaining player from the Joe Thornton trade, and who came through when it mattered most by setting Kessel up for Boston’s fourth goal with a brilliant pass from the corner, then showing the poise of a true veteran to patiently hold the puck and score the winner with 2:37 left to play.
Thomas chases away demons
Julien actually deserves some of the credit for Kessel’s second goal, because he took Kessel off the top line with Marc Savard and put him with Sturm and David Krejci early in the third period.
“We kept telling ourselves on the bench that we were going to get it,” Sturm said. “And we did.”
Also deserving marquee billing is goaltender Tim Thomas, the 34-year-old playoff freshman who exorcised his demons against the Canadiens to play brilliantly throughout the series, even in Game 1 when he was the only one on his team who decided to show up.
Then there’s Milan Lucic, the crowd favourite and rookie who was a longshot to make the team out of training camp, but is now probably the most difficult Bruins player for the Canadiens to play against because he exacts such a physical toll on his opponents.
Even Aaron Ward is a compelling character here, having recovered from a knee injury suffered in Game 4 to come back and set up Lucic’s second of the series that tied the game 3-3 sat 12:13.
Ward looks around him in the locker room and sees faces that should be, but aren’t, wide-eyed by the situation that faces them.
“The young guys have really tuned out all the distractions and maintained their focus,” Ward said. “This is the time of season young guys make a name for themselves. It’s great for us old guys to watch the young guys flourish.”
It’s entirely possible, even likely, that Boston will not be able to complete the comeback and win Game 7 on Monday night. But for a team that many people picked to finish near the basement of the Eastern Conference, the ride they have undertaken just getting to this point has been invaluable for a young team.
And it’s been wildly entertaining to watch.