The Vancouver Canucks ensured at least one Canadian team will be playing in the second round of the NHL playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens ensured they have a chance to make it two.
Alex Burrows scored his second goal of the night in overtime as the Canucks avoided an embarrassing meltdown with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of their NHL playoff series on Tuesday.
Vancouver, which won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team, almost blew a 3-0 series lead against Chicago, which backed into the playoffs on the final day of the season.
“It’s a big win,” Canucks forward Ryan Kesler said. “For us we are going to relish this one, celebrate this tonight and move on tomorrow.”
The Canadiens had their backs against the wall too, but lived to fight another day with a 2-1 victory over the rival Boston Bruins.
Montreal forced Game 7 in the series, which wraps Wednesday night in Boston.
“It’s Game 7, everything’s thrown out the window,” said Habs captain Brian Gionta. “It doesn’t matter what has happened in the series so far.
Elsewhere, Philadelphia eliminated Buffalo in seven games with a 5-2 win over the Sabres.
At Vancouver, Burrows scored the series winner when intercepted a pass from Chicago defenceman Chris Campoli and blasted a shot past Blackhawk goaltender Corey Crawford. He was then mobbed by his teammates.
As thrilled as Burrows was over scoring the winning goal, he was even happier with his teammates for killing a holding penalty he took 24 seconds into the overtime.
“It’s a great finish,” he said. “I just want to thank the guys for killing that penalty. It’s the worst spot to be in the penalty box.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves. We felt good for 58 minutes. That tying goal we blew coverage a little bit and they got a bounce. We stuck with it. We still believed going into OT we could get it done. IT feels even better getting it done this way.”
The Blackhawks forced overtime when captain Jonathan Toews scored short handed with just under two minutes left in the game.
Burrows scored the game’s first goal at 2:43 of the first period.
Vancouver looked to have the game sealed when Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith was called for hooking at 16:43 of the third.
A Burrows turnover resulted Toews splitting the Vancouver defence, then dishing off a pass to Marian Hossa. Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo stopped Hossa’s shot, but Toews got the rebound and beat Luongo for his first goal of the playoffs.
The nail-baiting game was a fitting ending to a tense Western Conference quarter-final series that saw Vancouver take a 3-0 lead only to see the Blackhawks fight off elimination three times.
A sellout crowd of 18,860 sent up a deafening roar after the overtime goal. It was the most emotion felt at Rogers Arena since Canada won the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Mixed in with the cheers were huge sighs of relief, as the Canucks had courted disaster after the best regular season in the team’s 40-year history.
“It sucks. It’s not fun,” said Blackahwks defenceman Brian Campbell. “We battled. We didn’t put ourselves in a good position to start the series. We went after it but came up a little bit short.”
It’s still a long road to the Stanley Cup final, but beating the Blackhawks was a monumental first step for the Canucks.
The victory not only advanced Vancouver into the second round of the playoffs against Nashville, it also saved the Canucks from the most embarrassing meltdown in franchise history. Losing in the first round, especially blowing a 3-0 lead, would have been devastating to the players and a body-blow to the fans.
Defeating the Blackhawks also exorcised some demons from past playoff failures. Chicago had ended Vancouver’s season the last two years. That raised questions about the Canucks mental toughness and courage.
“For us, it was something we needed to do,” Kesler said of beating the Blackhawks. “We needed to get over this hump. For us it was pretty sweet beating them.”
At Montreal, Gionta and Michael Cammalleri scored during two separate two-man advantages and Carey Price had perhaps his best game of the post-season, making 31 saves.
“As soon as we got into the room there was zero talk about this game,” said Cammalleri. “It was ‘Let’s get some rest and roll into the next game—roll it over like its the same game.’
“We’ll get as much rest as we can and get our gear on again.”
Dennis Seidenberg scored for Boston, which played more than half the game without Milan Lucic, who was ejected in the second period for a hit on Montreal’s Jaroslav Spacek.
The Bruins still outshot the Canadiens 32-27.
“It’s whoever prepares best. You’ve got to enjoy the win now but also figure out why you got the win and channel that.”
The pressure has shifted squarely to the Bruins, who hope to erase the bad taste of last year’s playoffs when they became only the third team in NHL history to lose after leading a series 3-0.
They are up against a Montreal team that came back to win two Game 7s in last year’s post-season before falling to Philadelphia in the conference final.
“Two goals 5-on-3—that’s all there was on their side,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien, whose job may hang on winning the series. “I thought we did a great job 5-on-5 and that was the difference.
“It’s been a great series. It’s up to us to stay away from (the penalties) we got ourselves into tonight and stay confident.”
At Philadelphia, Brian Boucher stopped 25 shots and Philadelphia won Game 7 of its first-round series to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The defending conference champions, who raced to a 4-0 lead and chased Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller in the third, must wait to learn their next opponent: Boston, Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay.