YOU KNOW THE BRUINS-CANADIENS RIVALRY IS FIERCE WHEN, DURING the first round of the playoffs, the Boston Pizza franchises in Quebec changed their signs to read MONTREAL PIZZA. Meeting for the 33rd time in postseason play—most among playoff matchups in professional sports, with the Habs having won 24 times—the Bruins had to make some more history to subdue their ancient foe.
Boston dropped the first two at TD Garden, 2--0 and 3--1. In 26 previous postseason series in which the Bruins lost the first two games, they failed to advance. There were troubling signs: Netminder Tim Thomas shakily surrendered soft goals, and before Game 2 All-Star defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara was hospitalized for dizziness and dehydration.
As a franchise Boston has always prized character and resiliency, and this group displayed those qualities in abundance. Chara returned for Game 3, and coach Claude Julien made a significant adjustment, separating him from his usual back line partner, Johnny Boychuk, and pairing Chara with the better-skating Dennis Seidenberg. Montreal fans roundly booed Chara's first appearance at the Bell Centre since March 8, when he had knocked the Habs' Max Pacioretty out for the season, but the catcalls only seemed to energize the big man. Chara played more than 26 minutes and hit every red shirt in sight.
Early goals by David Krejci and Nathan Horton and Thomas's 34 saves keyed the Bruins' 4--2 win, but most of the accolades went to Chara. "He looked great to me," Thomas said. "Sometimes when you get an unexpected illness like that and you come back, you realize how happy you are just to be feeling well."
In Game 4 the B's fought back three times to tie the Habs, with left wing Chris Kelly knotting it up 4--4 with just more than six minutes left in regulation. Then right wing Michael Ryder scored his second goal of the game on a three-on-one Bruins rush early in overtime, and the series was suddenly a best of three.
Back in Boston a tense Game 5 went into double overtime tied 1--1. Early in that period, in a maneuver that will forever be known simply as the Save, Thomas slid across to deny Brian Gionta the game-winner on a two-on-one break. About five minutes later Horton shoveled a rebound past Carey Price to give Boston the win.
A 2--1 Montreal victory in Game 6, achieved with the help of two five-on-three goals, set the stage for an inevitably gripping Game 7 at the Garden. Two early goals gave Boston the lead, the Canadiens drew even, and then the teams traded third-period goals, with Montreal forcing OT in the final two minutes. Then, with just more than 5½ minutes gone in overtime, Milan Lucic grabbed the puck out of a scramble in the corner and passed high in the zone to Horton, who blasted a 48-foot slapper past Price.
"That was the tightest series I've ever been a part of," said Thomas. "Both teams showed a ton of character and a ton of heart. It definitely is nice to be the one that came out on top."