Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor
MONTREAL -- With Monday's 4-2 loss to Boston in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, the Montreal Canadiens know they are officially on life support.
"You can't quit at this point," said Montreal captain Saku Koivu.
But, in making that statement, Koivu acknowledges the daunting odds that face his club in this series. Only two teams in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders -- have ever come back from a three games-to-none deficit.
Plus, Montreal threw its best punch of the series in Monday night's first period, but couldn't buckle the top-seeded Bruins, who are playing like a team that has designs on playing for the Stanley Cup.
Boston has shown no signs of weakness like some of the other top teams in the tournament. Washington, the No. 2 seed in the East, and San Jose, the top seed in the West and the Presidents' Trophy holder, each lost their first two games at home in this season's playoffs to fall into panic mode.
For Boston, however, there have been no such hiccups. Not even Monday night when a perfect Canadiens hockey storm was brewing, threatening to wreak havoc with Boston's smooth ride through the postseason.
Feeding off a raucous crowd at the Bell Centre, the revamped Canadiens -- both top defenseman Mathieu Schneider and top forward Alex Tanguay were scratched because of injuries -- played their best 20 minutes of the series in the first period.
Montreal threw 21 hits in that period and struck for the first goal -- a Chris Higgins tally at the 11:32 mark -- to take the first lead in the series. It looked like the visitors were wobbling a bit; that is, until a fluky goal by Phil Kessel with 1:25 remaining in the period forged a tie at the intermission.
A 1-1 tie was the perfect result for Boston at that point. It was something else entirely for Montreal.
"If we could have left that period with an advantage, it would have been better," Montreal coach Bob Gainey said. "It did (feel) like a punch to the midsection."
One from which the Canadiens never recovered. Shawn Thornton opened the scoring in the second for a 2-1 lead and suddenly Boston had control again -- just as it did during the first two games in Boston. Not even a seeing-eye goal by rookie Yannick Weber to knot things at 2-all could shake the confidence of the East's top seed.
"We were trying to weather their storm," said goalie Tim Thomas, who made 23 saves. "We didn't go into the period just trying to weather their storm, we went into the period, you know, 'Let's take it to them, let's not have the crowd affect the game.' But, having said that, you got into the game and they put on a big press. Going toward five minutes left, I was thinking, 'Wow, it's 1-0; that's a pretty good job and if we can make it through this period we'll be OK.'
"Then, I think when Phil scored, it kind of changed the attitude and changed the momentum of the game. We weren't thinking let's just withstand this; we were thinking, 'Ok, let's take this over, let's get the lead."
And, that is exactly what Boston did. Less than four minutes into the second period, Boston's fourth line silenced the crowd and put doubt into the minds of the Montreal players. Shawn Thornton fired home a one-timer from the high slot after a pretty feed from Byron Bitz -- in for the suspended Milan Lucic -- and Boston was rolling again.
Michael Ryder, who fell out of favor in Montreal last season and was a healthy scratch during the 2008 Playoffs, reprised the role of a villain by scoring the game-winner with 2:39 left in the second period, banging home a rebound caused by a point shot from Dennis Wideman.
"I just want to help this team win and we're doing a lot of good things right now," Ryder said.
In fact, the Bruins played a perfect third period, something about which the players and the coach were most proud. Boston shut Montreal down completely in the third, limiting the Canadiens to just five shots despite the desperation of the home team, and then added an empty-net goal from Chuck Kobasew to move one game closer to moving on to the second round.
Yet, Boston knows business is not completed yet with Wednesday's Game 4 here already looming on the horizon.
"(Game 3) is already behind us," said Julien. "Our heads are already on Game 4."
It wasn't a shift in the truest sense of the word because goalie Tim Thomas doesn't get a break, but his three-save performance in the second period against Montreal's top line on the shift after Boston scored its second goal was spectacular. First, he made a glove save on Andrei Kostitsyn. Then, he stopped the always dangerous Alex Kovalev as he tried to thread a slow roller through traffic. Seven seconds later, he kicked aside a slapper from a pinching Mathieu Dandenault.
Nobody expected much from Byron Bitz when he was pressed into service after the suspension of Milan Lucic. He only had seven points in 35 regular-season games and wasn't expected to contribute offensively in this game, but he did. He made a great play on Shawn Thornton's goal to open the second period. First, he won a puck battle behind the Montreal goal and then he shielded the puck from the attempts of Yannick Weber to get it back. Finally, he made a Marc Savard-ian pass into the high slot for Thornton to bang home his one-timer for a 2-1 lead.
Montreal scored its second goal when Glen Metropolit won an offensive-zone faceoff cleanly and drew the puck back to Yannick Weber for a one-timer through the 5-hole of Tim Thomas. Statistically speaking, Metropolit had little hope of winning that draw. Marc Savard, his opposing centerman, won 28 of 44 draws in the first two games and is Boston's best faceoff man. Metropolit, meanwhile, had gone just 11-20 in the first two games for an unappealing 35.5 winning percentage.
Montreal tried to set the tone physically at the start of the game, throwing 21 checks in a punishing first period. But the Canadiens lost steam after that, managing just 12 hits during the final two periods.
As the home coach, Montreal's Bob Gainey had the luxury of the last change; yet he still found it almost impossible to get his top scoring threat, Alex Kovalev, away from hulking defenseman Zdeno Chara. The Bruins just changed on the fly to keep Chara and Aaron Ward against the Kovalev line. Julien wasn't as concerned with matching a forward unit against the top line because he believes any of his lines are good enough in the defensive zone to handle that duty.