This story has been told before, eight times in fact.
The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins have played each other on 33 occasions in the playoffs over the past 90 years, on Wednesday they will play a seventh and deciding game for the ninth time.
Boston won the last one, in 2011, but the Canadiens have five of the eight game-seven meetings between the storied rivals.
“It’s going to be great. I can’t wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building. I can’t wait to take that all away from them,” said Habs defenceman P.K. Subban, the man Boston fans wake up at night to hate.
Subban was part of the Habs edition of 2011, and asked what he remembered about the 4-3 overtime defeat, he said “I remember losing.”
"This is going to be the biggest game of the year for us, for some guys the biggest game of their career so far. It’s fun, you’ve got to enjoy it. This is where legends are made,” he added.
It’s natural to think the top-seeded Bruins won’t fumble their second shot at eliminating the Canadiens, but Montreal has pluck – as they showed in a 4-0 victory on Monday – and may well be in the ascendancy.
“Anything can happen in game seven,” said Habs coach Michel Therrien, “that’s the beauty of it.”
Asked how his team can rekindle the level of emotion and – cliché alert – desperation they demonstrated in game six, Therrien said something interesting.
“I’ve always had a philosophy like a gambler’s. When you play roulette, some people are going to say if the ball falls 10 times on black, then it’s due to fall on red. But that’s not the reality. Every event is a new moment, the game we’re going to be playing is a new moment,” he said.
That the conservative, detail-oriented Therrien would paint himself as a gambler sounds counter-intuitive, but he’s all about playing odds when they’re in his favour.
Therrien deserves credit for taking a risk that was out of character for him: inserting rookie defenceman Nathan Beaulieu into the lineup.
The 21-year-old speedster provided some badly-needed speed on the bottom defensive pairing, he played the power-play, he chipped in an assist; it was one of several choices that came up aces for Therrien.
To flog the gambling metaphor further, the Bruins responded by laying out a few markers ahead of game seven.
With Boston on a power-play in the final minute, Andrei Markov upended mammoth Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara with a trip and gave him a can-opener with his stick when he got up.
Chara didn’t take kindly to the penalty, and gave Montreal’s Mike Weaver a straight right to the chin (“he has a good right. That’s Boston for you,” Weaver said), then Jarome Iginla tried to get at Markov along the far boards, Bruins winger Milan Lucic came in next, a few feet away, Torey Krug punched Habs captain Brian Gionta.
A quartet of Bruins were led to the dressing room – and a couple of Habs – fans pelted them with napkins and other detritus as they skated off.
Afterward, Boston coach Claude Julien laid the blame at Markov’s feet.
“We’re perceived as the bad guys and they’re the good guys. When Markov trips Chara and then puts his stick between his legs and nothing's going to be called, eventually somebody's going to react. Whether it's right or wrong. Zdeno reacted and then everything else started,” he said. “There was a slew foot before, Desharnais on Marchand. A slew foot. . . . it’s a rivalry and there’s some things going on both sides I'm not portraying ourselves as innocent here. I'm just saying it takes two teams to tangle and that's what happened.”
As to what he expects from game seven?
“I expect us to win,” he said.
To do that, the Bruins will have to deal more effectively with the resurgent Habs’ top line.
Max Pacioretty scored his first even-strength goal in 12 games and added an assist on Thomas Vanek’s empty-netter – which made it 4-0 – and centre David Desharnais contributed an assist and a key defensive play to rob Lucic of a goal in the third period.
On the latter play, goalie Carey Price saved a shot that bounced above and behind him, Desharnais dove in to sweep the puck off the goal line – he managed to do it without covering it and giving Boston a penalty shot.
“I didn’t see anything but his numbers. I had no idea where the puck went. It popped up in the air and he made a great play on that,” said Price. “He said it wasn’t goal and I think he had the best view of anybody. It made me feel a little bit better.”
Later, on the bench, Price thanked the pint-sized centre, and winked at him (is it too soon to evoke parallels with Patrick Roy’s legendary wink in the 1993 Stanley Cup run? Check this space after Wednesday’s game).
It was one of many pivotal sequences in the game, another night on which very little went right for the Bruins.
Lucic shanked a fairly simple shot on a two-on-one in the opening 90 seconds, Loui Eriksson hit the crossbar a few minutes later, Dougie Hamilton shot through the crease with a decent view of the open side.
Nothing typified the Bruins’ evening better than a single shift in the second period.
With Subban off for holding Carl Soderberg’s stick, the Habs were penned in their own end with the Bruins buzzing.
By the time he left the box and re-joined play, nothing had changed – Boston was still buzzing.
In all, the Bruins controlled play for nearly three minutes – that was the official shift length that Weaver and Josh Gorges played – and the teams played over 5:11 without a whistle.
Lucic missed a wide open net in the second as Gorges lunged to challenge the shot (“it hit me in the armpit,” Price said), eventually Price was able to freeze the puck for a whistle.
“That’s a leg burner. But I thought our compete level was great tonight. Even when we were running around a little bit tonight I thought we were doing a great job of getting in shooting lanes and doing whatever it took to keep the puck out of the net,” Price said.
Therrien’s lasting memory of that shift?
“I remember that P.K. is a bad left-winger,” he said with a laugh.
Subban, for what it’s worth, mostly agreed with his coach.
“It was a tough shift. I think the toughest thing for me is I wasn’t used to being in that situation. I think probably if I was in that situation again I would have tried to stay more patient. I had nothing left in the tank,” he said.
Lars Eller opened the scoring, gobbling up a Kevan Miller turnover and sliding a puck into the far corner that Rask came agonizingly close to stopping with his goalie stick (he would adjust his sights and rob Brendan Gallagher of one moments later).
Montreal cracked this one open with two goals in the space of 2:15 in the back half of the second period.
First, Pacioretty sprinted past longtime bugaboo Zdeno Chara to collect a loose puck Beaulieu had whipped up the centre of the ice (it took a small deflection as Loui Eriksson tried to catch it).
From there, Pacioretty was able to hold off Chara and gather the rolling puck with an extended stick and poke it Rask’s legs.
“This was the best I’ve seen our team play ever, since I put on this uniform. Everybody was skating, we were building off the momentum of the crowd. Everyone was backtracking. When you play the right way like that and we use our speed, it’s so frustrating for a team to play against us. We’re playing between the whistles. If we can find a way to do that again in Game 7, it’s going to be a great game.”
Just under two minutes after Pacioretty scored, the Bruins’ Gregory Campbell was whistled for getting his stick up on Markov, the Habs’ power-play (which has produced the second-most goals in the playoffs) went to work.
Markov’s shot bounced around in front of Rask, Pacioretty was able to use his feet to keep the puck alive, and Vanek glided in to slot it home with a surgical backhand at 17:39.
The Canadiens had found their legs, which will metaphorically carry them all the way back to Boston.