BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have played 164 postseason games against each other since the Original Six rivals first met in the postseason in 1929. It would be hard to find one, though, that had more drama than Saturday night's Game 5 at TD Garden.
The Boston Bruins emerged victorious at the end of a double-overtime thriller, 2-1, when Nathan Horton scored the second playoff goal of his career at the 9:03 mark of the second overtime.
"I saw the rebound, we had control of the puck, and I saw the rebound come out," Horton said "It was like it's in slow motion. It was just sitting there. I'll tell you, it felt good to put that in the net. Obviously winning the game, it was a pretty special moment."
Horton's goal, a rebound of a shot by Andrew Ference, gives Boston a third-straight victory – and second-consecutive overtime victory -- in this series and provides it with an opportunity to close out the best-of-7 affair in Tuesday's Game 6 at Bell Centre.
The fact that Boston can win the series in Game 6 was almost unthinkable a week ago when the Bruins traveled to Montreal in a 2-0 hole after dropping the opening two games here.
This game, like so many in the history of this series, was decided by two gifted goalies staring each other down from opposite ends of the ice. In the past, it was names like Ken Dryden and Patrick and Gerry Cheevers that staged desperate duels at opposite ends of the ice. Saturday night, it was veteran Tim Thomas for Boston and youngster Carey Price from the Montreal Canadiens going save for save before a sold-out Garden crowd.
"That was pretty impressive," said Montreal defenseman Hal Gill, a Massachusetts native that probably watched some classic games between these rivals during his childhood. "Both of them played lights out. That's good playoff hockey. It is fun to be a part of those games. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way."
Things didn't go Montreal’s way because Thomas refused to let them.
Less than four minutes before Horton scored the game-winning goal, Thomas made the save of the series, impossibly denying Brian Gionta's bid on a 2-on-1 to one-time the puck into the empty half of the net.
"With Tim Thomas, anything is possible," said Boston captain Zdeno Chara.
And that proved to be the case as Thomas went from post-to-post in the blink of an eye to somehow get his left pad on the shot from Gionta.
"As soon as it left my stick, I thought it was going in," Gionta said.
"If it's not for Tim Thomas, we're not standing here right now," said Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.
Once the puck skittered harmlessly away off Thomas' leg pad, Boston was suddenly re-energized. Despite having played 85 minutes of hockey, Boston found away to once again take the play to the Canadiens.
On the winning goal, first-line forward Milan Lucic, playing his most impactful game of the series, played a little pick and roll with Ference at the blue line. The Montreal defenseman followed Lucic, who was protecting the puck, and left Ference some room when Lucic dished it off. Ference fired a shot through traffic that Price got his pad on, but Horton pounced on the rebound before the Montreal defense could react.
"I just saw a shot," Price said. "It hit my pad and scrambled and they buried it."
It was one of the few mistakes Price made in this goaltending duel.
Yes, he allowed another rebound goal, by rookie Brad Marchand, in the third period to give Boston a 1-0 lead. But, a gritty Montreal team found a way to even the score and force overtime as Jeff Halpern wriggled free in the low shot and snapped off a wrister that eluded Thomas with just 6:04 remaining in the game.
Price would finish with 49 saves, five more than the final total of Thomas.
"Carey played a very good game, he made some really good saves," Thomas said. "My job, like I've said it before, I’m not really playing against Carey so to speak, but tonight I was in a way. Just because whenever he made saves, I had to make sure I made the saves because it was such a tight game."
Thomas also knows he got some help in this one. Michael Ryder, the Game 4 offensive hero with his OT marker, made perhaps the second-best save of the night, throwing his body in front of a Montreal shot destined for an empty net in the first period.
"That was awesome," Thomas said, calling it a street-hockey move. "I was actually turned around, I got to watch it pretty good. That was a huge save and, in this type of game, that's a game-breaker."
Later in the game, Chara stopped another Montreal shot from the point that appeared goal-bound.
It was those vagaries of fate that had the Canadiens shaking their head as they left the TD Garden dressing room and headed back to Montreal with their season now on the brink.
"You can say it is too bad because we played well and we didn't win," Montreal forward Mathieu Darche said. "But, then again, we know we had all those chances. Law of average, at one point, one will go in. And Timmy Thomas made some great saves. Carey made some great saves. It was the lower-scoring game of the series, but it is probably the game with the most chances, both sides."