He is a man who has found the target 31 times this season and 239 times in his career, so Brian Gionta is well acquainted with the magical feeling of a puck crossing the goal line.
And when the pint-sized sniper broke in two-on-one with teammate Travis Moen about eight minutes into the second overtime period on Saturday, the familiar feeling returned.
He positioned himself to Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas' left, stick on the ice, and when the pass came, Gionta was ready, snapping a forehand that he was convinced Except.
Thomas spread out with an almighty lunge, getting his left leg pad on the puck to make an astonishing save.
"He's a great goalie," a glum Gionta said afterward.
Down the hall, a sweat-drenched and smiling Thomas described the shot from his vantage point.
"I just got enough momentum to make the push," he said. "I thought 'I'm going to get there, but I've got to get my leg down'."
By now, you know the rest; shortly afterward the Bruins seized the puck and top-line forwards Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton, who have done precious little to this point in the series, manufactured a shot and rebound that Horton was able to swat past Carey Price for a 2-1 overtime winner.
"Price had been getting to everything all night . . . I wasn't sure if (Horton) had shot it into him or behind him," said Thomas, describing the view from the other end of the ice. "I wanted to make sure the crowd was right and not celebrating prematurely."
Horton's goal will of course be remembered in the hockey annals, but in the chicken-and-egg discussion that inevitably prefaces overtime winners, Thomas' save was just as vital.
"Without that save, we don't get a chance (to win it)," Lucic said matter-of-factly.
Horton said of his winner that "we knew it was going to be a greasy goal, and it sure was."
Thomas' heroics necessarily overshadow those of the man in the other net, and Price was simply brilliant on this evening, making 49 saves in a losing effort, including Though they have far different personalities and are separated by 15 years, Thomas and Price have developed a kinship of sorts - they exchanged winks as the teams skated off the ice for the second intermission.
But only one goalie can win, and with his 44-save performance Thomas - who was aided by a pair of improvised saves by teammates - broke the pattern that has characterized the series: the home team finally won a game.
Price has now lost nine of his last 12 playoff starts against Boston.
But the laconic 23-year-old isn't about to pack his tent.
"We haven't lost anything yet," he said. "We just have to get refocused and come out with the same effort."
And the effort put forward by both teams was something to behold. Habs rookie defenceman P.K. Subban played an exhausting 40:38 to lead all players, Boston's Dennis Seidenberg was on the ice for 38:15.
In truth, there was very little to separate the teams this night.
"This was a tremendous battle," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said.
Bruins rookie Brad Marchand said "we were getting very tired, guys were starting to cramp up."
Two overtimes, two wins, and now the going gets interesting for the Bruins, who have well and truly regained their balance after a wobbly start to the playoffs.
The Bruins now have perhaps their best opportunity to do something the franchise has never pulled off in more than eight decades of existence - coming back to win a series from an 0-2 deficit.
Game six goes on Tuesday in Montreal, and though the Habs showed their mettle in elimination games in last year's playoffs, the visitors must be considered the prohibitive favourites to advance.
History will record that Horton scored the goal that pushed the Canadiens to the brink at 9:03 of the second overtime, grabbing a rebound in front of the static Roman Hamrlik and sweeping it past Carey Price.
It was the second time in as many games that the Bruins have held their nerve in sudden-death.
Fans on both sides were treated to an enthralling encounter; Marchand potted his team's first goal at 4:33 of the third period to break open what was until that point a water-tight defensive contest.
But if the deafening masses in the TD Garden thought the Habs were done, they were mistaken.
Montreal's Mathieu Darche rang a quick shot off the post with just over eight minutes to play, which ignited a furious rally that saw Andrei Kostitsyn and Michael Cammalleri come close to finding a tying goal.
Moments later, Jeff Halpern stood in to take an offensive zone faceoff, which he won. Then the 34-year-old helped win a puck battle along the boards, allowing rookie Lars Eller, who played brilliantly in just his fifth NHL playoff game, to emerge with the puck. A quick pass behind the net to Darche, who held off a Boston defenceman to make a return feed to the slot, and Halpern was celebrating the tying goal as the Garden fell silent at 13:56.
Montreal fans love to boo the mammoth Chara every time he touches the puck, but they may soon bestow the honour on Marchand.
The feisty 22-year-old Marchand is exactly a foot shorter than his behemoth teammate, but has been no less influential in this first-round series - he is as skilled as he is lippy, perhaps even more so.
Early in the third, Marchand took the puck behind the net, eluding Tomas Plekanec and Hal Gill, and when his former World Junior teammate Subban scotched his attempted pass out to Patrice Bergeron in the slot, he was ready to grab the loose puck and stuff it in the open side past Price, who is now 3-9 against Boston in the playoffs.
Marchand celebrated the goal like it was the first playoff marker of his career, which it was.
Boston had carried the play to open the third period, although Gionta had a gilt-edged opportunity when he danced around Zdeno Chara early in the frame, Thomas stopped the shot but didn't know much about it, sliding out of his crease with the disc at his feet.
Boston's Michael Ryder also played his part, putting his stick in Gionta's path - a few moments earlier he had been stoned by Price, as had teammate Mark Recchi.
The teams had traded chances in the game's opening minutes, but the best stops early in the first period weren't even made by the goaltenders.
First Subban robbed Patrice Bergeron of a goal at the side of the Montreal goalmouth by stepping in front of him and taking the puck off the blade of his stick as the latter tried to release a shot.
Then, at the other end, former Canadien Ryder stoned Plekanec after Cammalleri astutely held the puck up after an odd-man rush to leave Thomas in no-man's land.
As Plekanec fired from point-blank range, Ryder, who was posted on the goal-line, stuck out his right glove, road-hockey style, to parry the shot.
The overtime hero from game four had made another vital contribution against his onetime team.
One wag later Tweeted that "everybody knows the book on Ryder is to go stick side."
As the teams traded power-plays - neither team's man-advantage is exactly a work of art at the moment - the game evolved into a chess match.
The caginess continued until Marchand struck and resumed after Halpern equalized.
But as overtime wore on, both teams started to press.
Both Price and Tim Thomas made game-saving stops in the extra frame, although Price also provided a heart-stopping moment.
After an innocent Boston shoot-in, Price fumbled the puck, which rested tantalizingly in his feet with Marchand lurking.
The 23-year-old fell over to smother it, his mask tumbling off in the process.
At the other end, Cammalleri had an open goal to shoot at after a beautiful move from Plekanec drew Thomas out of position, but his shot hit the inside of Chara's leg and caromed to safety.
Later, the Habs survived an overtime hooking penalty to Brent Sopel - a game-saver that prevented Patrice Bergeron from going in alone - to serve notice that they too can get things done in pressure situations.
Shortly after the penalty ended, Price stoned David Krejci as he came in alone, it was his 43rd save of the night.
With time winding down in the first overtime, Thomas made a tricky stop on Brian Gionta to bail his team out.
The goaltending reached a new plateau in the second overtime frame with Price denying Ryder and Thomas stopping Gionta.
That one can fairly be described as the save of the series.Report Typo/Error