Canadiens bounce Bruins in Game 7
The Montreal Canadiens needed their keynote players, Alex Kovalev and rookie Carey Price, to outperform Boston's best, Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas, in Game 7. Both Kovalev and Price were brilliant and helped send the Bruins packing.
Kovalev chalked up two assists and Price kicked out 25 shots as the Canadiens skated to a 5-0 victory over the visiting Bruins in front of 21,273 fans at the Bell Centre on Monday night.
"We all needed to play better tonight and we did," Price told CBC Sports.
"We needed to play well tonight. He [Canadiens goaltending coach Roland Melanson] said, 'Give me five per cent better and we will win.'"
With the win, the top-seeded Canadiens halted a two-game losing skid and clinched the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final 4-3.
"In the second or third game, we got away from our style," Kovalev said. "They played hard [physical] against us and we tried to do the same back to them, to maybe try to show who is stronger, and that is not our game.
"Then, it takes a while to get your game back and I think that is why we lost the last two games. But we got it back — fast-paced hockey for 60 minutes, that is our game."
Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau raised a few eyebrows by pairing the enigmatic Kovalev with Saku Koivu, the team's captain and a relentless forechecker.
"It forces a guy as talented as Kovalev to work that much harder," Hockey Night In Canada analyst P.J. Stock said. "I thought Saku worked very hard."
Kovalev, one of the NHL's most gifted playmakers, put the puck on a string in setting up the opening goal 3:31 into the contest.
Stickhandling to the left of the Boston net, Kovalev eluded Chara with several dazzling moves, twice spinning away from the hulking defenceman before passing to the point for Mike Komisarek, who scored on a shot that struck Bruins defenceman Petteri Nokelainen en route to the back of the net.
"Every time that Alex was on the ice, they tried to put Chara on," Carbonneau told CBC Sports.
It was Komisarek's first goal of the series and it stood until Mark Streit scored 15:13 into the second period on slick rush started by Kovalev.
Kovalev threaded a gorgeous pass through the neutral zone to Maxim Lapierre and he tapped it back to a streaking Streit, who deked Chara between the legs and beat Thomas with a backhand shot for his first goal.
"I just tried something and it worked," Streit said.
"My mouth was wide open seeing that goal," Komisarek said. "The patience and poise that he had with the puck and to bury it was pretty special."
Moments later, Price slid across the crease to foil Marco Sturm on a 2-on-1 break with Phil Kessel.
Andrei Kostitsyn put Montreal ahead 3-0 with 4:47 left in the period, and upped it to 4-0 with a power-play goal with 2:02 remaining in the third period.
He then set up sibling Sergei Kostitsyn to complete the scoring with eight seconds remaining.
Thomas faces 35 shots
Thomas faced 35 shots in defeat for the Bruins, who, for the first time in franchise history, rallied from 3-1 deficit to force a decisive seventh game.
"The character of this team cannot be overemphasized, I don't think, for what we battled through all year and even in this seven-game series," he said.
Boston hasn't won a playoff series since 1999, but it wasn't the least bit intimidated by Montreal, which went 13-0-0 versus the Bruins before losing Game 3.
However, history favoured Montreal by an overwhelming margin as the Canadiens entered Monday's showdown with a 26-0 record in playoff series they led 3-1.
The Bruins, by comparison, were 0-20 in series they trailed 3-1.
"You have got to give them credit," Kovalev said. "They battled back and, even down 3-1 and coming back to our building, they were able to regroup and get a couple of wins.
"But the mistakes we made, we did not compete like we did today. If we had played the way we played tonight, we could have done it [clinched] earlier."
NHL teams have faced 3-1 deficits 224 times in modern playoff history, but only 20 have come back to clinch the series.
In fact, Bruins head coach Claude Julien was Montreal's bench boss in 2004, when the Canadiens erased a 3-1 deficit and bounced Boston with a 2-0 win in Game 7.
"I'm proud of our team," Julien said. "We never gave up and our hard work never let up."
Bergeron not cleared
Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron wasn't in the lineup, despite rumblings that he might be cleared to play by team physicians.
Bergeron hasn't played since Oct. 27, when he suffered a concussion on a head-first check into the end boards from Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Randy Jones in a 2-1 Bruins loss.
As reported by Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports, the only change for Montreal was Carbonneau switching to his lucky tie.
"Every time this season we had a challenge and we lost a game or two, we always came back with our best," said Carbonneau, now 3-0 wearing the charmed accessory.
"That is why we did not lose more than three in a row all season. There was no reason not to feel confident."
The Canadiens have dominated the Bruins head-to-head, winning 24 of 31 series over their Original Six rivals, including the last three (2002, 2004, 2008).
With files from the Canadian Press