BOSTON – The Montreal Canadiens got the point they needed to make the playoffs in a season filled with adversity and disappointment.
Minutes after Montreal clinched a playoff spot by forcing overtime, Mark Recchi scored his second goal of the game to give the Boston Bruins a 5-4 victory over the Canadiens on Thursday night.
“We’ve had an up and down season but we kept it together tonight and stayed in the game,” Canadiens coach Bob Gainey said. “Our major objective was to get into the playoffs.”
Montreal, now fighting the New York Rangers for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, will finish the regular season Saturday night against Pittsburgh.
The Rangers, tied with Montreal with 93 points, will finish Sunday at Philadelphia.
“We had some tough times throughout the season and it hasn’t been the easiest one,” Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said. “But the way we’ve been playing, the way we’ve been handling everything that’s gone on off the ice, what’s happened the last month, I’m really proud of our team.”
Boston has secured the top seed in the East, and will face the Canadiens or Rangers in the first round. The Bruins finished first in 2001-02, but were eliminated in six games by eighth-seeded Montreal.
In one of the more entertaining games of the season, the Bruins and Canadiens combined for 76 penalty minutes as they geared up for a potential first round clash.
Boston’s Zdeno Chara tied it at 4 when he backhanded a shot past Carey Price 5:27 into the third, and Recchi – who also had two assists – won it at 2:42 of overtime.
“From my perspective, it was one of the longest games ever and it didn’t even seem like there was much action in my end,” Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said.
Recchi and Patrice Bergeron, who had a goal and two assists for Boston, combined for the winning goal. Recchi tipped the puck past Price after Bergeron stole the puck from Maxim Lapierre at Montreal’s blue line.
The Canadiens were the top seed last season and beat Boston in seven games before being eliminated by Philadelphia.
“I think they thought we were going to back away a bit but we came back out there and kept fighting,” Canadiens wing Matt D’Agostini said. “That shows the character that we’ve got in this room and hopefully we can bring that in the next game and in the playoffs.”
After falling behind 3-1 at the 5:30 mark of the second period, Montreal stormed back when D’Agostini scored twice and Mathieu Schneider added a goal to make it 4-3 with 3:07 left in the second period.
The Canadiens scored three consecutive power-play goals as a result of drawing penalties against Boston for retaliation or roughing.
“When we do lose our cool and let our emotions get the best of us, we let them get those goals and grab the lead,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. Lucic led all players with 18 penalty minutes.
Bergeron scored the lone first-period goal when he converted a pass from Matt Hunwick at 17:58 for a 1-0 Boston lead.
As the first period ended, Chara got in a skirmish with Mike Komisarek and his extra roughing penalty led to Alex Kovalev’s tying goal 1:25 into the second period to make it 1-1.
Boston quickly responded with a pair of goals from Phil Kessel and Recchi in a span of 2:18 for a 3-1 lead. Kessel scored his team-leading 33rd goal, which is the most by a Bruin since the 2002-03 season.
Montreal, celebrating its 100th season, avoided missing the playoffs for the second time in three years.
Boston is 8-0-1 at home after losing its previous three and have won the last five matchups with the Canadiens this season after dropping the first game in a shootout.
Notes: Boston gave up four goals in a period for the fifth time this season. … Montreal finished with a 10-11-3 division record. … Boston’s Claude Julien coached his 400th NHL game. … Boston’s 29 home wins is second-best in franchise history. The Bruins twice notched 33 home victories in a season, most recently in 1973-74. … Schneider returned to Montreal’s lineup after missing two games. He was originally expected to miss the remainder of the season.