BOSTON -- After flirting with heartache yet again, the Boston Bruins finally found the formula to win a Game 7 at TD Garden.
Nathan Horton unleashed a nasty seeing-eye shot from the point at 5:43 of overtime that eluded several bodies in front of Carey Price before finding the far corner and leaving the Montreal goalie sitting despondently on the ice as Boston exorcised its Game 7 demons Wednesday night with a 4-3 win against its most bitter rival in the final game of an epic seven-game series.
"It was pretty nice," Horton said. "I mean, it felt pretty good. I don't remember too much. I remember (Milan Lucic) coming up with the puck and I just tried to get open, and I tried putting the puck towards the net. Luckily it got deflected off someone and it went straight in. That's all I remember. It was pretty special, again, it doesn't get any better.
The Bruins advance to the second round for a rematch with the Philadelphia Flyers -- and a whole new set of demons.
It was just 12 months ago when the Flyers erased a 3-0 series deficit and an 3-0 deficit on the scoreboard in Game 7 to win the game and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Certainly, that was the most bitter of Boston's running string of Game 7 losses, a string that threatened to reach five before Horton's heroics.
The Eastern Conference Semifinal series between Boston and Philadelphia starts Saturday. That should give Boston just enough time to process the gamut of emotions it had to fight through Wednesday night in an unforgettable end to an unforgettable series that saw the separation between these teams to be miniscule. After seven games – three of which went into overtime and all three of which were won by the Bruins – only two goals separated these teams, who were separated by just six points in the regular season.
"It's exactly how the series was," forward Chris Kelly said minutes after Boston pulled out the win – its first in a Game 7 in five tries since 1994, with three of the losses coming at home. "Battles every game and up and down. It was a roller coaster, but a lot of fun at the same time. I know no better way than to win Game 7 than in OT. That summed up this great series."
Boston certainly did not make victory easy on this night.
Yes, the Bruins took a 2-0 lead just 5:33 into the game on goals by Johnny Boychuk and Mark Recchi, but they could not hold it. By the six-minute mark of the second, Montreal had tied the game on a power-play goal by Yannick Weber and a shorthanded goal by Tomas Plekanec.
Plekanec's goal actually gave Montreal more points on the Boston power play than the Boston power play. Boston went 0-for-the-series, a futile run of 21 attempts across the seven games. Boston is the first team in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to win a seven-game series without the benefit of a power-play goal.
Boston retook the lead in dramatic fashion when Kelly scored on a rebound with 10:16 left in regulation, tucking a backhand shot under Price, who made 30 saves, for a 3-2 lead.
All Boston had to do was hold on for the final 10-plus minutes, but Patrice Bergeron took a high-sticking penalty with Boston just 2:37 from winning in regulation.
Boston took four penalties on the night, and all came in either the offensive zone or behind the play. Montreal scored on two of the four power plays.
Of course, Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban – the man they love to hate in Boston – made the Bruins pay for their indiscretion, firing a laser beam that beat Boston goalie Tim Thomas (34 saves) to the far corner for an improbable tying goal with just 117 ticks left in regulation.
At that point, the ice seemed to be tilted heavily in favor of the Canadiens, who had won 24 of the previous 32 playoff meetings between these bitter Original Six rivals. Suddenly, all the demons of playoffs past were coming home to roost in the Garden rafters. The Canadiens took it to Boston early in the extra period and forced Thomas to make five saves before Horton scored.
"We did have the momentum," Subban said. "It was pretty clear. We were chipping pucks in and we were getting opportunities but you know like I said, just opportunities at this point. "You hate to look back at the game and talk about certain situations in the game. Obviously we had opportunities to win it and so did they and in the end they capitalized.
"That being said, we're proud of the effort the guys put forward in this game, and, like I said, we got a lot of guys, this is their first Game 7 and they gained a lot of experience playing in this game. So we got a lot of positives things to look forward to. Obviously we wanted to continue in the playoffs, but it's not going to happen this year."
It's not going to happen because Horton continues to pay huge dividends on the off-season trade that brought him and Gregory Campbell to Boston from Florida. Horton had three goals in the series and two of them were OT game-winners. It's not going to happen because Boston finally found the character and wherewithal to conquer its Game 7 demons.
"I think we showed a lot of character," Bergeron said. "Like I said, we had to put ourselves in a little bubble, and don't think about the pressure and what people were saying around us. I think we did a great job with that. We stayed resilient all game and all series -- and found a way."