Sometimes it takes an outside eye to see in.
Asked in Vancouver how it could be that there was such nervousness with his Canucks up three games to one in their series with the Chicago Blackhawks, Swedish assistant captain Daniel Sedin nailed it when he answered: “It’s playing in a Canadian city – that’s what happens.”
And happens nowhere with more emotion than in Montreal, where spring playoffs take on such import that shifts are measured in blood pressure, not time, and where living gods – Jean Beliveau in Game 3, Henri Richard Thursday night – are sent down to ice level to bless the opening faceoff.
After these two outings, however, the Montreal Canadiens may have to look to different deities for inspiration.
The Bruins seemed down innumerable times this night in Montreal, yet scraped their way back to force overtime and won 5-4 when Michael Ryder scored less than two minutes into the extra period on what was the first good scoring chance of overtime.
“I can’t describe what it feels like,” he said. He didn’t need to – not to those who watched, many in disbelief.
The Bruins, having won two straight in Montreal, now return to Boston for Saturday’s Game 5 with the momentum, and certainly the home crowd, behind them.
All playoff games are important, but this one had taken on pivotal significance because of what a victory to either side would mean psychologically as much as anything. “A huge game,” Boston rookie Brad Marchand called this fourth match. “We can turn the series around. It’s either 3-1 or 2-2. Huge difference.”
“Having a series at 2-2 or 3-1 sound like very different stories,” conceded Montreal forward Mike Cammalleri before the match, “but worrying about what those implications are does us no good. We just need to stay focused on the present. No one can predict what’s going to happen – that’s why we’re fans of sport, because you really can’t call the outcome and every game is different.”
This game certainly was, with the Canadiens storming both ends at once in the opening minutes, slamming bodies into boards in their own zone while bombarding Boston goaltender Tim Thomas and his defence at the other. At one point, the shots were 15-4 in favour of the Canadiens, yet the domination had given them only a 1-0 lead.
That goal came when Cammalleri got the puck back to defenceman Brent Sopel on the point, Sopel paused on his downswing like a golfer having second thoughts, and then, as the defence spread, fired a hard shot that Thomas could not reach.
Despite Cammalleri’s caution on predictions, Sopel had rather accurately described the course of the game earlier in the day. “They’re going to come out with a lot of energy and try to build on their [Tuesday] win,” Sopel had said. “And we have to make that hard for them by starting off as well as we possibly can.” The Canadiens had done exactly that.
“What we want tonight,” he added, “is to make sure that we stay even and focused and not have our emotions get too high or too low.”
It was a theme continued by head coach Jacques Martin when he suggested, “Certain players have to bring their temperatures down – others have to raise it.”
The Canadiens seemed on fire – perhaps thanks to the video “flame” the torch Henri Richard carried to the ice had ignited – for much of the first half. Goaltender Carey Price made save after save – Mark Recchi point blank, Patrice Bergeron from in close, Zdeno Chara from the slot – to preserve Sopel’s opener.
“They really took it to us,” said Thomas.
When Boston tied matters early in the second period on a slapshot by former Hab Ryder – sent in by a long pass from Tomas Kaberle – it merely seemed to incite the Canadiens to more. Cammalleri scored by sweeping in a Brian Gionta pass from the side of the crease, then Andrei Kostitsyn jammed a puck into the Boston net to put Montreal ahead 3-1.
And then, much to Jacques Martin’s consternation, his team seemed to cool off. The game moved to 3-2 off a broken play when Boston defenceman Andrew Ference was able to get a shot away from the slot, and they tied the game at 3-3 when Marchand slipped a pass out from behind the net and Bergeron was able to poke it in back of Price.
Cammalleri had called for “a game where we limit our mistakes,” but that only covered the first half of this game. They mounted regularly in the second half.
Hockey is a game of breaks, however, and Montreal caught one early in the third when Boston’s Bergeron was penalized for hooking. On the subsequent power play, P.K. Subban lifted a wrist shot past Thomas from the left circle to give Montreal a 4-3 lead.
But, again, they could not hold it. Late in the third period, Chris Kelly tied the game at four goals apiece when he was able to get a second swing at the puck in a goalmouth scramble.
It seemed that destiny would have to go Boston’s way when they successfully fended off a Montreal power play in the final two minutes of regulation.
“We did a good job of killing off that penalty,” said Kelly, who had a strong match.
Only 1:59 into the first overtime, Ryder put an end to matters when he fired home a puck from close range, giving Boston their treasured split in the series at two games apiece.
“We just kept plugging away,” said Thomas. “We really needed this game.”
Thomas said it was too soon after the victory for him to think about what it might mean in terms of momentum heading back to Boston.
“It would have been really tough for us to win this series if we didn’t win tonight,” he said.
“It will still be tough.”
The Boston win also means that there will assuredly be a Game 6 in this series, Tuesday night back in Montreal.
As Daniel Sedin so accurately noted, a game where spring and playoffs and location will come together to produce hockey that, rightly or wrongly, makes a federal election seem about as exciting as the ice going out in an isolated lake.