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Bruins dream continues after downing Habs in OT

Boston Bruins centre Chris Kelly, right, pumps his fist as he is congratulated by teammates Michael Ryder, left, and Rich Peverley after scoring a goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the third period in Game 7 of a first-round NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoff series in Boston, Wednesday, April 27, 2011.

Charles Krupa

They are the little team that could, but on this occasion they couldn't.

After a 4-3 game seven overtime loss to their old enemy the Boston Bruins - their third extra-time setback of the series - the Canadiens were understandably disappointed and stung.

The time for perspective for this plucky outfit will come, but it isn't now.

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"There's not much to say about that one," said winger Michael Cammalleri. "The puck goes in and that's all she wrote."

"We're proud of the effort we put in, but there's no satisfaction," added Habs defenceman P.K. Subban, who scored on a late third period power-play to tie the game and push the game to extra time.

Of the goal, Subban said "sure, it felt good . . . it doesn't matter now."

There are, of course, several rationalizations at their disposal.

Injuries that rob a team of its top two defencemen and an influential first line winger necessarily have an impact on the end result in the playoffs - the Habs scored exactly zero goals five-on-five in the last two games of the series.

But the Montreal Canadiens weren't especially interested in going down that road on Wednesday night.

Asked if he was proud of what the team accomplished without the services of long-term injury victims Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty, team captain Brian Gionta said "for sure, we showed a lot, we never gave up until the end."

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But Gionta wasn't willing to say things would have been different had the team not been short-handed - centre David Desharnais missed the last two games through injury, and players like James Wisniewski, Mathieu Darche, Lars Eller and Jeff Halpern were carrying significant injuries.

All that can sound like making excuses, but Subban preferred to emphasize the role that young players like himself, Eller, Desharnais and Ryan White played.

"It seemed like every time we got rolling this season we'd get a significant injury . . . but the young guys got their opportunities, and they stepped up," he said.

One of said youngsters, goaltender Carey Price, was sparkling this season, and in the final stages of this series.

Price made several miraculous saves to keep it close, including a glove stop and a sprawling stick save, both against Boston's Mark Recchi.

The 43-year-old former Hab had an eventful evening, scoring Boston's second goal in a two-minute first period stretch - Johnny Boychuk had opened the scoring 3:31 into the game - and finding himself at the centre of a neutral-zone bungle that led to Tomas Plekeanec's short-handed equalizer in the second (Yannick Weber had made the game 2-1 on a first-period man-advantage.) Nathan Horton decided the game in overtime with his second extra-time winner of the series, whacking a puck that took a deflection off a defender on its way past Price.

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"That's lunchbag let-down right there," the 23-year-old goalie said. "I think we deserved better."

Price was complimentary of opposite number Tim Thomas, and declared "he's the best goalie in the NHL and that team over there has a good chance of winning (the Stanley Cup)."

After the game the atmosphere in the Boston dressing room was only marginally less subdued than in Montreal's - the Bruins know they were fortunate to escape.

They'll now face the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round.

As they did all series, penalties had an incidence on the result - Montreal scored a pair of power-play markers this night to rally from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits.

The Boston Bruins hadn't won a seven-game series in which they'd trailed 0-2 in games in 26 tries in franchise history, they hadn't beaten the Canadiens in a game seven contest in 17 years, and had won a meagre eight of the 32 meetings between the teams in the post-season.

But as Bruins' defenceman Andrew Ference said before the game, prophetically as it turns out, "I'm not big on history."

Afterward, Ference acknowledged that the comeback victory will spur his team on.

With Boston's sports radio airwaves in a tizzy after a narrow Bruins loss in game six, the men in black and gold are to be commended for shrugging off the weight of history and eliminating their long-time foes in a thriller that had plot twists aplenty.

Asked if the series win gets the monkey off Boston's back, Ference smiled and said "a claw or two maybe."

There was also another entry in the NHL's ever-expanding head shot archive.

As Montreal's Jeff Halpern wheeled in the offensive zone to catch up with the play, he collided with Ference, who braced himself and ended up crunching Halpern's head - Ference wasn't penalized on the play, he would later set up Boston's go-ahead goal.

After the game, Ference said of Halpern lying on the ice for several moments "I don't know if he was trying to get a good penalty or what."

Halpern was taken to the "quiet room" as per the NHL concussion protocol, but returned shortly thereafter and finished the game.

Though the Bruins will be relieved at squeaking past the Habs - two road victories sandwiching a team retreat in Lake Placid, N.Y. were a determining factor - there is much to sort out if they hope to overcome Philadelphia.

And if there was heavy symbolism to playing Montreal in the first round, the Flyers will surely stir memories of last year's playoff collapse, which saw Boston gag on a 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 game seven lead at home to lose.

The first order of business should be the power-play, which went 0-for-21 in the series, and is mired in a 7-for-82 slide since Tomas Kaberle was acquired at great expense from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trading deadline.

The second order is surely to light a fire under Milan Lucic, who scored no goals in the series after potting 30 in the regular season, and seemed out of sorts throughout, as did linemate David Krejci.

Still, there are positives.

Thomas won the first game seven of his career, and despite several high-wire moments was perhaps the central reason, along with rookie Brad Marchand, that the Bruins weren't swept off the map.

"Everyone knows Montreal is our biggest rivalry . . . and to be the team that came out on top it's pretty incredible to be part of," Thomas said. "If I would have said I knew we were going to win I'd be lying."

Boston captain Zdeno Chara, who found his game as the series progressed, had lost in all five of his previous game seven experiences, and the law of averages dictated that he wouldn't be on the losing side forever.

And like the Vancouver Canucks, who vanquished a perennial foe the previous night, the Bruins may well take flight after winning their first game seven against Montreal since 1994.

Although this ended up being a tight one.

Price, who pitched a shutout the last time he played a game seven against the Bruins, was especially brilliant in the third period, making a miraculous save at the side of the net on Recchi early on to keep the game tied.

As the Boston winger pounced on a rebound, Price sprawled to his right, getting his paddle and glove down to repel a shot that was destined for the back of the cage.

But his heroics wouldn't be enough.

At the midway point of the third, Chris Kelly bowled Montreal's Roman Hamrlik over in the neutral zone and the Czech defenceman, who will complain he was caught with a high-stick, lay sprawled on the ice as Kelly followed the puck to the front of the net, where he shovelled a rebound past a stranded Price.

An apprehensive city could finally exhale.

The pre-game advice Recchi, one of only three Bruins not to have lost more game sevens than they'd won, gave to his teammates was to have fun, just relax.

And Boston came out like a team that feels good about itself; though Montreal got an early scoring chance, it was the Bruins that drew first blood.

After some strong play behind the net from Marchand - the rookie has been omnipresent in this series - Johnny Boychuk fired a shot that wafted past a screened Price at 3:31 of the first.

With the TD Garden rocking and the Habs on the ropes, a pair of failed clearing attempts - one by Michael Cammalleri and another by Hal Gill - saw the puck carom to Recchi two minutes later as he stood alone in the slot.

The 43-year-old former Hab had all the time in the world to pick his spot - middle stick-side - and Price was powerless to stop his precise wrist shot.

Then came the reply.

Resiliency became the Canadiens' hallmark in their run to the conference final last season, and this is a club that is sturdy enough between the ears not to be cowed.

After coach Jacques Martin used his timeout, Montreal began exerting more pressure, and when another former Hab, Michael Ryder, took a foolish hooking penalty on Tomas Plekanec, it was all the opening the visitors needed.

Cammalleri, who leads the playoffs in scoring, spotted defenceman Yannick Weber cutting to the net on the power-play, and the Swiss accepted his pinpoint feed and neatly wired it high past Tim Thomas' glove.

Events like that have a way of prompting a very strong emotion in an arena that has seen as many recent game seven disappointments as the Garden, and its name is dread.

Can it have been a surprise, then, that the Boston power-play would do more harm than good early in the second period?

With Lars Eller in the box for cross-checking, Boston's Dennis Seidenberg made a wayward pass to Recchi at centre ice, which the latter tried to corral with his skates - instead Plekanec nipped in and went in alone on Tim Thomas. His finish was cool, low to the stick side, and the capacity crowd deflated like a wilted birthday balloon.

As the same power-play wore to its inexorable conclusion - another successful Montreal kill - scattered boos could be heard.

At least the arena d.j. has a sense of humour about such things: with the Habs turning the screw at 2-2, he played the Ramons' I Wanna Be Sedated during a break in action.

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