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STEPHEN BRUNT

Habs-Bruins game not exactly a classic Add to ...

In the book that records the great rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, this will be but a tiny chapter.

A strange one, though, and an eventful one, and a messy one played out by two not particularly inspiring incarnations of those ancient clubs, especially considering that this is the Stanley Cup playoffs.

What will be recorded is the result: a 2-1 Montreal victory, which sends the first-round series to a deciding seventh game in Boston Wednesday night. That's as it should be, given that there has been so little to choose between these teams in this series, and during this season.

What made it interesting was the getting there.

Where to start? With the referees, perhaps, because if an official's ideal night in a game that matters is to disappear into the woodwork, invisible but for the fine print in the box score, this wasn't quite that.

In the opening minute of the first period with the game scoreless, Scott Gomez stole the puck, skated to the Boston blueline, and let rip with a shot that Vézina candidate Tim Thomas figured to handle rather easily. That same assumption was made by referee Kevin Pollock, who looking on from a distance and seeing Thomas covering up, very quickly blew his whistle.

What followed must be the referee's nightmare, the kind of vision that manifests itself after a 3 a.m. meal of pizza-by-the-slice on Crescent Street, the zebra equivalent of the forgotten exam, or strolling naked into church. The puck was in fact loose, visible to just about all of the 21,000-odd fans in the Bell Centre and to a vast television audience, sitting all by itself in the crease, where Brian Gionta tipped it home - this in a series in which scoring the first goal had been absolutely definitive.

The crowd erupted, the referees waved it off, and the good, healthy Montreal-Boston hate already evident in the rink every time that villainous Zdeno Chara touched the puck took a sharp left turn in the direction of the Richard Riot. Souvenir towels, and a single rubber chicken, littered the ice.

The mob was placated soon after, though, when the Habs took the lead for real, Mike Cammalleri scoring on a 5-on-3 after he had cleverly played Boston into a too-many-men penalty.

Not that the goal was going to stand up on a night like this, when both teams were shoddy defensively in their own ends. Dennis Seidenberg tied it for Boston in first minute of the second period, on a shot from a tough angle that went right through Carey Price.

And then came the night's highest drama. With 15 minutes 23 seconds remaining in the period, Milan Lucic - a hated figure in the building to begin with, though he had been all but invisible in this series - suddenly rematerialized, and saw Jaroslav Spacek looking off in another direction after playing the puck in front of the penalty box. He crushed Spacek into the Bell Centre's unforgiving glass, leaving the Canadiens defenceman lying motionless on the ice in the fetal position. (Given the fact that the Habs were already perilously short of rearguards, any kind of injury to Spacek had serious consequences.) After conferring, the referees gave Lucic a five-minute major and game misconduct (and you have to wonder if the Solomonic wisdom of Colin Campbell will have him sitting out Game 7). A delay-of-game penalty for firing the puck over the glass quickly followed, making it rather simple for Brian Gionta to put Montreal ahead again during a 5-on-3.

Spacek did his time in the quiet room, and was back taking his regular turn before the period ended.

The final 20 minutes were tense, and messy, and Price had to be at times both very good and very lucky, given the lack of support. A high-sticking penalty to the Bruins' Chris Kelly with a little over three minutes left should have put things to rest, but wouldn't you know it, the Bruins almost tied the game while shorthanded.

That was the last gasp though, and had this been a game played in November, the local cognoscenti would have judged a stinker, albeit with the right team coming out on top.

It's the playoffs, though, and they're all supposed to be at least minor classics this time of year. So let's call it the oddball prelude, the eccentric setup for the one that really matters.

 

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