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Jose leaves Bruins in ruins

Theodore offers up brilliant goaltending effort at the perfect time

Posted: Tuesday April 20, 2004 12:21AM; Updated: Tuesday April 20, 2004 12:30AM
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Jose Theodore
Jose Theodore finished the series with a 1.87 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

BOSTON -- It is the nature of Game 7s: the finality of it all for one team, and a special satisfaction afforded the other that only comes to athletes who prevail when it matters most.

Magnifying those emotions was the 3-1 series lead that the Bruins failed to deliver on and the 1-3 series deficit the Canadiens overcame.

The Bruins banged bodies and tested Habs goaltender Jose Theodore in close to no avail. Theodore got stronger as the series wore on and he was at his best on Monday, giving an air of invincibility that buoyed his team.

The Canadiens survived the first period and pressed and outplayed the Bruins in the second, but Andrew Raycroft did his part, holding the Habs scoreless despite facing 15 shots on goal. The extra workload seemed to settle the rookie a bit, as his rebound control improved markedly over his effort in the first period.

The Bruins returned to a physical style in the third period that yielded more quality looks on Theodore. However, their scoring chances were met with exactly the same result -- no goals. Despite an even, well-played, back-and-forth affair, you sensed this game would turn on an innocuous occurrence. That moment happened midway throughout the third when defenseman Hal Gill failed to get to the red line on a neutral-zone pass play that went awry and resulted in an icing.

At that point, Canadiens head coach Claude Julien put his top line on the ice for the offensive zone faceoff, daring counterpart Mike Sullivan to respond with the Joe Thornton line -- a matchup Sullivan went to great lengths to avoid throughout the game.

Instead of going with the Travis Green trio, as he had for most of the game against the Saku Koivu combination, Sullivan let Thornton take the draw and face the opposing captain, who had dominated him in the series. It turned out to be a case of misplaced trust, as Koivu won the draw and got the puck to Alexei Kovalev in the corner, who bounced a pass out front as he circled the net where Richard Zednik pounced on the puck and lifted it over a down and deep Raycroft.

In a blink, a series and a season hung in the balance. The Bruins appeared visibly shaken, unable to mount much after that, especially after Martin Lapointe took an unnecessary boarding penalty with little more than three minutes remaining. Zednik closed it out officially with an empty-net goal, but this one was all about who broke through first. The Habs did and Theodore was adamant that the Bruins would never see the score sheet.

These types of situations -- magnified moments of competition -- sometimes define careers. That is true of Theodore's performance. He was magnificent, showing the form that made him the Hart and Vezina trophy winner two seasons ago.

For poignancy, add this anecdote to the mix: Theodore supposedly predicted that he would post a shutout in Game 7.

A thing of myth or legend? Either way, the blanking was real and impressive in its own right. And the Canadiens advance as a result.

Three Stars

1. Theodore: It is hard to imagine a more composed, confident display of goaltending in a pressure situation.

2. Sheldon Souray: Simply dominant. If you don't believe me, ask Thornton, who was again ineffective against Souray and Co.

3. Kovalev: In the second half of the game, he was the most dangerous offensive player on the ice on either side.

Darren Eliot, a former NHL goaltender, is a hockey analyst for SI.com.