Habs all the way back

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:49 PM ET


 It doesn't get much more tense than that.

 Seventh game. Scoreless after almost 51 minutes. Then a one-goal game as the clock ticks down.

 But if you believe the Montreal Canadiens, all was under control.

 They were playing the game they wanted to play against the Boston Bruins and they were confident that they were going to win it.

 And win it they did. The final score was 2-0, thanks to Richard Zednik who scored on Montreal's first shot of the third period -- at 10:52 -- then stuffed another into the empty net with eight seconds remaining to give the Canadiens the series and a date in Tampa Bay against the Lightning beginning on Friday night.

 Want a few stats? It was the first time the Bruins had ever blown a 3-1 series lead. It was also the first time the Canadiens ever overcame a 3-1 series deficit.

 OVERCAME

 It kept alive Alex Kovalev's streak of never having lost in the first round. And for that matter, he's 5-0 in seventh games.

 But those are merely curiosities. All that really matters is that the Canadiens overcame misfortunes that would have stunned many a team into submission.

 Their world-class goalie started slowly. They lost the first two games. Kovalev's botch-up cost them a Game 4 and led to internal recriminations about who deserved the blame.

 But here they are now, basking in the glory of one of the prouder moments in the history of this storied team.

 "I wouldn't say we knew it," Kovalev said, "but we felt that if we put in the same effort, we were good enough to beat this team. We knew they were going to come out with everything they had and they did. We wanted to keep the score 0-0 and see what happened in the third period.

 "The ice was bad, so we had talked about throwing the puck at the net and getting a rebound and that's what we did."

 To be precise, Kovalev did the throwing; Zednik did the rebound-getting.

 "All series I've had chances and I couldn't bury them," Zednik said. "Finally in the seventh game, I got one. I'll take it.

 "I'm really proud of this team and the way we battled hard. We fell behind, but we kept going and kept going. We didn't want to quit."

 But there was another crucial element without which all these best-laid plans would have meant nothing. Goalie Jose Theodore rose to the occasion with his best game of the series and, for some prolonged stretches, the Canadiens desperately needed it.

 Theodore provided textbook goaltending, moving to the top of the crease to stop the deflections, kicking out a leg to stop the lower shots or darting out his glove to snare the higher ones.

 Like the others, he said he felt good going in. "I was pretty confident," he said. "I felt on top of my game. I started to feel better as the series went on, and especially in Game 5, I thought it was coming."

 Boston's Martin Lapointe, who played a strong physical game but couldn't crunch the Canadiens into submission, sought out Mike Ribeiro after the game to tell him that he still bore a grudge over Ribeiro's alleged fake injury in Game 3.

 But he didn't see that as a key to the Bruins' problems. "A lot of times in the series, we'd spend a lot of time in their zone," he said, "and then we were too tired to come back. They're fast and they'd counter well and we couldn't afford to do that."

 IMPROVED

 The Bruins did put forth a much improved effort last night. It just wasn't good enough.

 "They came out really strong in the first," Theodore said, "and in the second, we played well. But in the third, we got a big break when we scored on our first shot."

 That turned out to be the only break they'd need.


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