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Boston Bruins right wing Michael Ryder (73)celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) during the first overtime period of game four NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey action Thursday, April 21, 2011 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Boston Bruins right wing Michael Ryder (73)celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) during the first overtime period of game four NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey action Thursday, April 21, 2011 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Bruins level series with Habs Add to ...

The shot was unquestionably a beauty, but there will be some debate about the celebration: a middle-finger salute to 21,273 members of Habs Nation that spoke volumes.

It was at the 9-minute, 59-second mark of the second period, and Boston Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference had just grabbed a loose puck in the Montreal zone before wiring an unstoppable clapper past Canadiens' goalie Carey Price's outstretched glove.

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He wheeled toward the glass, an impassive expression on his face, and extended his finger - no easy feat in a hockey glove.

The greater insult, however, came from former Hab Michael Ryder, who scored his second goal of the game at 1:59 of the first overtime to give Boston a precious 5-4 win.

Afterward, Ference pleaded his innocence, claiming that he pumped his fist and perhaps "my glove got caught up."

"It looks awful. That's not part of my repertoire," said Ference. "I completely apologize to how it looked.

"It looks really bad. All I can do is tell you the truth. I can totally agree it looks bad," he continued.

Ference said "the coach" showed him an image of the celebration - presumably he meant one of Boston coach Claude Julien's assistants, because Julien was a few feet away in an interview room saying he hadn't seen the incident and that "I'm surprised, because that's not Andrew at all."

Nor did the Canadiens' players or coaches venture into Digit-Gate.

"I didn't see it," said centre David Desharnais.

"Sorry, I didn't see it," said coach Jacques Martin.

It's not known if they spotted another infringement that will aggrieve Montreal fans: replays showed Boston's Chris Kelly was clearly off-side on the rush that immediately preceded the winning goal. And so the series returns to Boston knotted at two amid new intrigue, with both teams winning both games on the road - although this one has to be advantage Bruins given the way it came about.

This one will hurt for the Canadiens, who were 30 minutes away from taking a 3-1 series lead.

The Habs will now be left to fight off dark thoughts of 2006, when Montreal won two on the road against Carolina than lost four in succession to be bounced from the playoffs. The same thing happened to Montreal in 1996 at the hands of the New York Rangers.

As befits the occasion, this was a wild, see-saw affair that saw the Habs build a 3-1 second period lead, only to have Boston roar back with two unanswered to tie it 3-3 before the intermission.

The Canadiens, through rookie phenomenon P.K. Subban, took a 4-3 third period lead, but couldn't nurse it through to the end, with Boston finding an equalizer at 13:42 when Kelly, standing at the top of the crease, jammed a loose puck home (like Ryder, he would have a three-point night).

"We gave up the lead three times, with the team we have that shouldn't happen," said Montreal defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, who was left to his own devices on the three-on-one break that decided the game, courtesy of a bad line change (Subban had extended his shift).

Call it the lake effect - a two-day sojourn in Lake Placid, N.Y., clearly prepared the Bruins for a fight.

"We didn't get rattled tonight," said Julien, who called a timeout in the second after Michael Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn scored 55 seconds apart.

It would end up settling his team down.

"They had momentum I wanted to slow things down," said Julien, adding that he reminded his team there was still half a game left.

Though Boston can plausibly claim to have seized the initiative in this series, Julien scoffed when it was suggested the victory could be a turning point.

"No," he snorted, "it's just become a two out of three."

Having won the first two games on the road, the Habs will surely be keen to load up their gear for the trip to Boston.

None more than goaltender Carey Price, who for all his heroics in the regular season and in the early stages of this series, has now lost seven straight playoff games at the Bell Centre.

Spacek speculated that home ice may actually have complicated the Habs' life in a series with the high tension of this set between historical rivals: "Maybe if we have that much momentum going on [with a 2-0 series lead]you can make mistakes."

Fellow defenceman Hal Gill quipped that the Habs might benefit from "away-ice advantage" given that two of the next three will be played in Boston.

"We knew it was going to be a battle. We went there and played hard for two games in Boston and found a way to win, and we've got to make sure we get that and we've got to get it quick," Gill said.

Up until Ference's fickle finger of fate, the Canadiens had played the frustrating brand of hockey that had won the first two games of this closely-fought series, building a 3-1 lead before the midpoint of the second period.

The sequence that typified the Canadiens game plan came a littler earlier, on the game's first power play.

With Lars Eller in the box, pint-sized Montreal centre David Desharnais harried and chased mammoth Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara - the bane of the Bell Centre - all the way into his own end and behind the net, where he applied a check and won the puck.

Had their been a cloud of gnats in the building, the little insects would have looked on approvingly.

But the Ference goal, which brought Boston back to 3-2, seemed to rattle the Habs, and it couldn't have been a surprise when Patrice Bergeron, who had seconds earlier tormented Montreal's Scott Gomez (who was on the ice for Boston's last four goals, along with captain Brian Gionta) with a series of moves in the corner tapped home the equalizer.

That two defensive-minded teams combined for six goals and 52 shots by the second period was due to both sides pouring forward to finish the other, and, it has to be said, by some deficient goaltending.

Though Price and Thomas were among the league's elite goalies during the regular season, both have had their stumbles in the last two games.

Thomas fought the puck early and often in this one.

There was a straightforward slap shot from Gill that bounced off his chest, several juicy rebounds in the slot, and most comically, when Tomas Plekanec's innocent wrister nearly caused him to fall backward into the cage.

He also had his good moments, stifling Travis Moen with a leg save and foiling Michael Cammalleri, who had a goal and two assists this night, on a third-period breakaway.

In truth, the Habs could have put this one away in the first period, were it not for some profligate finishing and Thomas's white-knuckle approach.

Price was more assured at the other end, but still had his trials, particularly on Patrice Bergeron's 3-3 goal when the nifty Brad Marchand was able to slip the puck under his arm at the side of the net.

The puck deities may have been responsible for Price's unlikely glove stop on Johnny Boychuk in the third, with the puck squirting around like a wet bar of soap and at least four Canadiens flopping around in the crease.

Price, who by this point was on his stomach, contorted like a young Dominik Hasek, twisting his right leg up and over his back to try and cover as much net as possible.

The stop earned Price a rapturous ovation and pats on the mask from teammates Tom Pyatt, Eller and Roman Hamrlik, who played the sequence without his left glove.

With a file from Roy MacGregor

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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