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Bruins top Canadiens 4-2 in opener

by Shawn P. Roarke

Shawn P. Roarke | Managing Editor

-- The Boston Bruins could feel Thursday night's series-opening game against the Montreal Canadiens slipping away from their grasp as they sputtered through the second period at TD Banknorth Garden.

Already, their two-goal lead had evaporated and they found themselves in a tense standoff with an eighth-seeded team playing with house money. Montreal goalie Carey Price was getting stronger by the minute after a shaky start and Alex Kovalev -- who had already waved his magic stick in scoring the tying goal -- was lurking as a difference-maker.

But Boston captain Zdeno Chara made sure the Bruins did not succumb to a horrible ending, a fate that has bedeviled his franchise far too often in the storied history of this playoff rivalry between two Original Six combatants.

Chara used his explosive slapper to score a power-play goal at the 11:15 mark of the third period to put Boston ahead for good in a 4-2 victory that was salted away by Phil Kessel's empty-net goal, his second tally of the game.

"He's our heart and soul," said Claude Julien, the Boston coach. "He's done a great job in all areas, so I can't say enough about him. I liked the way he led our team tonight, it was quite appropriate that he scored the winner."

Chara played a team-high 24:55, finished a plus-1 and took six shots. And it was a vintage Chara slapper that proved to be the difference as he took a pass from Marc Savard and just blasted one of his hardest-shot competition specials past a late-reacting Carey Price.

"Sometimes it's not about how hard you shoot it, as long as it goes in," Chara said. "Those are big goals and it doesn't matter, as long as they come."

For the Canadiens, Chara's goal was a heartbreaker, undoing all the good work accomplished in clawing back from a 2-0 deficit by the time the game was just 15 minutes old.

Montreal coach Bob Gainey, however, suggested his team got what it deserved when Chara sent the Garden faithful into spasms of joy.

Boston was on the power play because defenseman Josh Gorges took an unnecessary penalty behind the play, cross-checking Boston forward P.J. Axelsson to the ice after Axelsson had turned in some good, abrasive work in the offensive zone.

Boston's power play had fizzled to that point. It was 0-for-3 and had managed just five shots. At times, it look discombobulated as the team seemed to be looking for that extra pass instead of firing away at Price, who has struggled down the stretch.

So Julien decided to switch things up, putting Chara in a spot usually occupied by the speedier, more offensive Matt Hunwick.

"We switched things up a little there," Julien said. "Sometimes, you try to find a little bit of a spark and I thought our power play wasn't what we know it can be, so we kind of just fine-tuned it and did a few things and it worked out in our favor."

Gainey says that the Bruins were successful on power-play No. 4 because they were able to possess the puck more than in the previous opportunities.

"He had an open shot, which results from an extended period of time where they controlled the puck in our zone," Gainey said. "Every time there is a goal scored, there is a way to find that you could have stopped the goal."

Whatever the mistake, the Bruins were pleased it fell in their favor. Falling behind 1-0 in this series to a Montreal team that stumbled badly to the finish line would have been a bad omen. Coughing up a 2-0 lead after 15 minutes -- fashioned on goals by Kessel and David Krejci -- would have made it even worse.

Instead, the Bruins found a way to survive Montreal's spirited comeback that saw Chris Higgins and Kovalev score. Kovalev's tying goal -- a sizzling one timer that beat Tim Thomas to the short-side top corner -- was the prettiest goal of the night, by far. But Thomas rebounded to stop final eight shots Montreal managed in the game and finished with a total of 26 saves. Price, meanwhile, had 36 saves.

Despite his two-goal performance Kessel was just the third star.

"I just want to know how he got two open-net goals in a row," said Aaron Ward, Chara's defensive partner. "I was razzing him that if all you have to do is score open-net goals to get a star, that's pretty easy."

If the goals had been harder, Kessel still didn't have a chance to be the first star in Thursday's Game 1. That honor rightfully belonged to Chara.

In order to get Georges Laraque on the first line, the red-hot Alex Tanguay was demoted to the fourth line, but he did not pout. With 3:51 left in the first, he almost scored on a one-timer from Glen Metropolit and then shoveled the rebound to Chris Higgins for Montreal's first goal.

P.J. Axelsson. It was Axelsson's agitating ways that drew the power-play -- a cross checking penalty to Josh Gorges -- that set up Zdeno Chara's game-winning goal. He also blocked a Patrice Brisebois shot with 6 minutes left and laid a couple of punishing hits.

Each team scored a goal seven seconds after a power play expired. Phil Kessel scored Boston's game-opening goal, at 13:11 of the first period, just seven seconds after Roman Hamrlik's penalty for tripping expired. Montreal's Alex Kovalev returned the favor at the 17:37 mark of the second, clicking seven seconds after Stephane Yelle finished serving his goalie interference penalty.

After all of Georges Laraque's talk about setting a physical tone, he was credited with just one hit in 13:12 of ice time, which was the most action he has seen in a game this year. In fact, he had only topped 10 minutes five times during the regular season.

The Bruins are 28-2-5 this season when David Krejci registers a point. He assisted on the first goal in Game 1 and scored the second.
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