MONTREAL -- The Boston Bruins had the impression they were playing against a stacked deck at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night, which made their shootout win over the arch rival Montreal Canadiens that much sweeter.
The Bruins blew a two-goal lead in the third period, but Tyler Seguin's goal and Tim Thomas' three saves in the shootout allowed them to salvage a 4-3 victory over the Canadiens.
"I think we had to overcome a lot of things tonight, and I think people can understand what I'm talking about. We found a way to win, but it wasn't easy," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "There are a bunch of guys in there stitched up and banged up, but to get out of a tough situation sometimes that's what it takes."
Andrew Ference, Benoit Pouliot and Patrice Bergeron scored in regulation while Thomas made 26 saves for the Bruins (35-18-2), who won for the third time in five games.
One of the guys who was stitched up was Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who took a puck in the chin off the stick of Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec in the first period.
Chara, who is always booed at the Bell Centre, fell to the ice in pain with blood dripping from the cut as Plekanec went over to make sure he was all right.
However, the Bell Centre fans began to cheer his misfortune, something that didn't sit well with Chara or his Bruins teammates.
"It's part of hockey, you get hit with sticks and pucks and you get stitched up," Chara said. "But I was disappointed by the reaction. It's nothing to do with sports, even with what happened previously with the two teams. But that's something I can't control."
Mathieu Darche scored shorthanded while Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole tied the game with third-period goals for the Canadiens (23-25-10), who have dropped two in a row after a four-game winning streak.
Still, defenseman Josh Gorges was able to see the positive of a hard-earned point against a difficult opponent.
"It's a much-needed point," said Gorges, who blocked four shots and played 8:13 on the penalty kill for Montreal. "Would we have liked two? Absolutely -- no question. But at this point in time, you play the game, afterwards you reflect on it and the next day you drop it and go on to the next one. There's a lot of positives we'll build on from this game, but there's a few other things we'll need to address and clean up."
The Bruins were in danger of suffering their first loss of the season when leading after two periods, but improved to 23-0-0 in that situation, albeit just barely.
Seguin scored on a low shot against Carey Price in the shootout while Thomas made great stops on Rene Bourque, Pacioretty and Lars Eller to seal it for Boston.
In spite of the huge disparity between the two teams in the standings, the game had all the flavor of the Habs-Bruins rivalry.
Ryan White, playing his first game of the season after hernia surgery, engaged Adam McQuaid in a spirited fight in the first period, P.K. Subban laid a big hit on Dennis Seidenberg that had the Bruins chasing after him, Brad Marchand was called for clipping on Alexei Emelin at the end of the second period and took another big hit from Subban in the third.
The game also featured four goaltender interference penalties – three against the Canadiens – and two of them were actually incidental penalties as Daniel Paille was called for running into Carey Price while there was a delayed penalty call on Louis Leblanc for doing the same to Thomas.
"It was a really physical, really tough game," Chara said. "Both teams battled really hard. But I'm just happy we found a way to win."
It was the second straight time that Julien opted to give Thomas the start on both ends of a back-to-back, and on both occasions Thomas was coming off a loss but won the second game.
After losing 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Feb. 4 he made 35 saves in a 4-1 win in Washington the next night. This time, Thomas was in goal Tuesday night in Boston for a 3-0 loss to the Rangers and bounced back for a win in Montreal.
But it wasn't easy.
With the Bruins ahead 3-1 after 40 minutes, the Canadiens got one back at 3:34 of the third period when Pacioretty one-timed a David Desharnais feed from the slot past Thomas for his 24th of the season and 12th in 15 games. It was also his 22th even-strength goal of the season, a total that trails only Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos (31), Toronto's Phil Kessel (24) and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (24).
Cole very nearly tied it a few minutes later, but his shot at a seemingly open net was stopped by the big body of Chara just after the six-minute mark.
But at 11:12 of the third, Chara uncharacteristically handed the puck to Cole deep in his own end and the Canadiens forward made no mistake, deking Thomas before flipping home a backhander for his 22nd of the season and a 3-3 tie.
"I missed it," Chara said. "I really don't know if I heeled it or it got stuck in the snow. It's something that doesn't happen. It happened at the wrong time."
Julien absolved his captain of blame because he said Chara should not have been in that position to begin with.
"He was so disappointed after that," Julien said. "But if people take time to look, that puck should have been going forward instead of back (to Chara). (Marchand) knows that, because when he came back to the bench he had all the ice in front of him, but he chose to go back. That's when you get yourself in trouble."
Plekanec, Montreal's top penalty-killer, was called for delay of game at 18:37 of the third but the Canadiens limited the Bruins to a single shot on goal on the ensuing power play, which included the first 23 seconds of overtime.
Price was forced to make a tremendous save on Bergeron on that one power-play shot; he also made a great glove save on Ference about a minute later and Marchand rang one off the post midway through as the Bruins outshot the Canadiens 7-3 in overtime after managing just two shots on goal in the third period.
"We played at even strength instead of having to kill (penalties)," Julien said to explain the disparity in the shot totals between the third period and overtime. "That helps."
The Bruins had to kill two penalties in the third period and had one power play.
The Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 17:09 of the first period when Ference's shot from well inside the right circle got through a crowd of three players untouched and beat a screened Carey Price high to the glove side for the defenseman's fifth of the season.
"Our starts to our games have to be better, especially against a team that played last night," Gorges said. "It's an opportunity for us to jump all over them, and we were just a little bit flat to start the game."
Montreal tied it early in the second while killing off the back end of a double minor to Eller for high sticking, scoring its seventh shorthanded goal of the season to move into a tie for third place in the NHL. Subban brought the puck up the right side and feathered a perfect pass in front for Darche, who only needed to tap it in for his fifth of the season and his second in three games at 1:39.
Pouliot burned his former teammates with a gorgeous goal to put the Bruins ahead 2-1, undressing Chris Campoli one-on-one before roofing a wrist shot past Price for his ninth of the season at 5:07.
Bergeron scored an equally highlight-worthy power-play goal at 14:33 -- the Bruins' second goal with the man advantage in three games after going four games without one. Bergeron skated along the goal line, and while he looked off Price to make him think he would pass it through the crease, he snapped one under the crossbar for his 17th of the season to make it 3-1.
The win may have been costly for the Bruins as forward Rich Peverley took a knee-on-knee hit from Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill in the second period and did not return. Julien had no update on his status after the game.