BOSTON – Claude Julien doesn’t mind being proven wrong by Phil Kessel, especially since the young forward has been instrumental in the Boston Bruins’ battle from the brink of elimination to the cusp of the second round.
Marco Sturm scored the winner with only 2:37 left in regulation to cap a wild third period as the Bruins handed the Canadiens a 5-4 loss Saturday to comeback from 3-1 down in the series and force Game 7 on Monday night in Montreal.
Though Sturm played the hero with the dramatic winner, it was Kessel who’s been able to bounce back from being scratched in Games 3 and 4. Kessel scored twice Saturday, giving him three goals in the last two games.
“The way he’s played the last two games has been unbelievable,” Julien said. “If he wants to keep proving me wrong, I can take it.”
Kessel’s first goal was a beautiful individual effort. He picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, moved into the Canadiens zone with speed and deked around Bouillon before beating Carey Price with a quick wrist shot to the far side at 1:54 of the second.
Julien said the Bruins have to play with the same intensity to win Game 7.
“The biggest mistake we could make is to change,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We have our identity. We are what we are, and what we are is what got us here. To change now would be playing with fire.”
The Bruins have lost all 20 previous best-of-seven series in which they trailed 3-1, and this is the first time the’ve forced a Game 7 in that situation. meanwhile, the Canadiens have never lost the 26 previous times they’ve enjoyed 3-1 series leads.
Vladimir Sobotka and Milan Lucic also scored for the Bruins.
There were five goals scored and three leads taken in the final 10 minutes of regulation as the two teams combined for an offensive outburst that fell one goal short of the number scored in the last three games combined.
Christopher Higgins scored twice, while Tomas Plekanec also scored and Francis Bouillon added a goal in his first game back from injury for the Canadiens, who must hope the usual sellout Bell Centre crowd can help shift the momentum and push them to victory in the deciding game.
“I said before the playoffs started that I was planning to play 28 games, so that hasn’t changed,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. “That’s why you play 82 games (in the regular season), to have a chance to play that seventh game at home, and we’re going to look forward to it.”
Price allowed five goals for a second straight game and registered a second straight loss for the first time since his Feb. 4 recall from the minors.
“We can’t get too panicky,” Price said. “They’re playing well, but we have to work harder. They were just the hungrier team tonight.”
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas made 32 saves and came out the winner for a second straight night in a game that was not fun for the goaltenders.
The Canadiens were inspired before the game by the return of captain Saku Koivu from a broken foot that cost him three weeks, and his impact was immediate with two assists.
“He used his experience and he was excellent tonight,” Carbonneau said. “He’ll be even better in Game 7.”
Carbonneau, however, did not appear to quite as happy with some of his veteran players. Alex Kovalev was the only Canadiens player who was on the ice for each of Boston’s final three goals.
“We had veteran guys on the ice every time, and we just didn’t react well,” Carbonneau said. “Our best players have to be our best players.”
With the game tied 2-2 in the third, the Canadiens took their third and final lead of the game at 10:04 when Bouillon’s soft wrister from the point was tipped past Thomas by Bruins defenceman Shane Hnidy, but the Bruins answered right back just over two minutes later.
Savard beat Plekanec on a draw in the Montreal end and got the puck back to Aaron Ward, whose shot from the point was deflected in front by Lucic at 12:13 of the third. It was the 19-year-old rookie’s second goal of the playoffs.
“We had to do something if we wanted to live another day,” Lucic said. “We’ve been fighting for our lives these last few days.”
Kessel then converted a perfect feed from Sturm in the corner for his second of the game at 15:45 of the third, but Higgins answered only 11 seconds later just as the Kessel goal was still being announced. Higgins one-timed a pass from Sergei Kostitsyn at 15:56 past Thomas for his second of the game to make it 4-4.
“I think we were ready for it, but it just kind of happened,” Thomas said. “They made a good play.”
Sturm settled it when he beat Canadiens defenceman Roman Hamrlik in a battle for the puck and took a shot on Price from the circle. The rebound sat in the slot, where Sturm was able to grab the puck, wheel across the net and out-wait Price before putting in his second of the playoffs at 17:23 to make it 5-4.
“I knew I had a lot of time, that was the key to the goal,” Sturm said. “As I came around they had two guys on (David) Krejci, so when the puck came back to me I saw no one around me.”
Sturm’s goal sent the sellout crowd of 17,565 at the TD Banknorth Garden into a state of delirium, creating for the first time in the series an atmosphere similar to the volume of the Bell Centre.
“The crowd was phenomenal,” Ward said. “That’s endearing to the crowd. As much as Montreal fans have given them a boost, tonight there was a euphoric feeling in the building.”
The Canadiens took the lead 1-0 at 9:44 of the first, and Koivu’s faceoff abilities were a direct cause.
Koivu won a draw in the defensive zone to allow Montreal to move the puck up ice and force Thomas into freezing the puck. Koivu then beat Marc Savard on the next draw, which allowed Higgins to pick up the loose puck, dance around Dennis Wideman and slip a shot through Thomas’ legs for his first of the playoffs.
The Bruins tied it early in the second on a beautiful individual effort from Kessel, who picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, moved into the Canadiens zone with speed and deked around Bouillon before beating Price with a quick wrist shot to the far side at 1:54 of the second.
Plekanec re-established Montreal’s lead at 7:43 of the second when he stepped out of the box to take a breakaway pass from Steve Begin and beat Thomas on a nice deke to the forehand, looking up to the sky and pumping his fists as he celebrated his first career playoff goal.
Sobotka tied it 2-2 for the Bruins early in the third with a goal on the rush at 3:13. Peter Schaefer’s pass to Sobotka was blocked by Josh Gorges, but the puck stayed in front of the Montreal goal. Sobotka cut across the front of the net and caught Price moving the wrong way to score his second in two games.
Notes: Canadiens D Ryan O’Byrne and wingers Guillaume Latendresse, Michael Ryder and Gregory Stewart were healthy scratchesThe Bruins sat out D Andrew Alberts and winger Jeremy Reich, while C Chuck Kobasew remains out with a leg injury and Patrice Bergeron is out with a concussion.