MONTREAL – Rookie goaltending phenom Carey Price found his top form when the Montreal Canadiens needed it most.
The 20-year-old made 25 saves and brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn combined for three goals as the Canadiens routed the Boston Bruins 5-0 in Game 7 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final series on Monday night.
Montreal advanced to the second round against either the Philadephia Flyers, who have a Game 7 Tuesday night against Washington, or the New York Rangers.
Price posted his second shutout of the series after allowing five goals in each of the last two games – including four goals in the third period of each game – as the Bruins made a spirited comeback to tie the best-of-seven series and force a do-or-die Game 7.
”It’s the playoffs – games can go either way,” said Price. ”You can’t get too high or low. I know that’s an old cliche, but that’s how it is.
”We all felt we had to play better and we did.”
Andrei Kostitsyn scored two goals and Sergei had one to give the brothers three goals apiece in the series. Veterans Mike Komisarek and Mark Streit also scored for the Canadiens, who improved their record against the rival Bruins all-time in playoff series to 24-7. Montreal is now 5-2 in playoff Game 7s against Boston and 11-8 overall.
Stymied by Boston checking since opening the series with a 4-1 win at home, Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau made a small adjustment, moving veteran winger Alex Kovalev onto a line with captain Saku Koivu and winger Christopher Higgins. It paid off, as the new-look line produced the first goal of the game.
After a tight first period in which Price excelled, the Canadiens rediscovered the high-tempo game that earned them first place in the conference, and a perfect 8-0 record against Boston, in the regular season.
”Some time in the second or third game we got away from our style,” said Kovalev, who had a pair of assists. ”They played hard against us and we tried to do the same back to them – maybe to try to show who’s stronger.
”That’s not our game. And then it takes a while to get your game back and I think that’s why we lost the last two games. But we got it back. Fast-paced hockey for 60 minutes. That’s our game.”
The win ended Boston hopes that coach Claude Julien would do to Montreal what he did to the Bruins when he was coach of the Canadiens in 2004 – come back from a 1-3 deficit to beat a heavily favoured opponent.
Instead, Price played brilliantly and the Canadiens remained unbeaten at 27-0 when leading a series by 3-1.
”At one point we were trying to play a run-and-gun game and we haven’t won a game like that all season,” said Julien, adding that his team ”lost our composure” after Montreal made it 2-0 in the second period.
”But I’m proud of our team. We never gave up and our hard work never let up.”
The Canadiens opened the scoring at 3:31 of the first period. Kovalev dragged the puck a moment before feeding to Komisarek on the left point for a shot that changed direction after hitting Petteri Nokelainen’s stick in the slot, leaving Tim Thomas no chance for the save.
The rest of the hard-hitting first frame was all Boston, but Price made a smart stop on Marc Savard from point blank among a handful of good saves.
Streit came off the bench to take the puck, put it through big defenceman Zdeno Chara’s legs, collect it on the other side and deke Thomas between the pads 10:45 into the second frame.
”I just tried something and it worked,” said Streit.
Moments later, Price made his best save as he moved across the crease to thwart Marco Sturm on a 2-on-1 with Phil Kessel. From then on, the Bruins looked out of fuel and the Canadiens played with more and more confidence.
A Chara holding penalty had just ended when Andrei Kostitsyn took a pass from Sergei in the slot and got a difficult shot off with the puck at his feet that beat Thomas to the glove side at 15:13.
The noise from the 21,273 singing, screaming, towel-twirling fans was deafening as the Canadiens killed off three penalties early in the third and their first trip to the second round since 2004 became apparent.
”I felt it behind the bench,” said Carbonnneau, now 3-0 while wearing his lucky psychedelic tie. ”It was incredible support. It’s why you work hard for 82 games. Other wise it would make no sense.”
Andrei Kostitsyn added his second of the night on a power play with 2:02 left to play – only the third goal with the man advantage by Montreal in 33 chances in the series. Sergei Kostitsyn got another goal with eight seconds left in the game
Koivu had an assist and now has three points in two games since returning from a fractured foot.
Carbonneau said he moved Kovalev onto Koivu’s line to relieve some of the pressure on his top winger, who went head-to-head with the hulking Chara for most of the series. It also gave the Kostitsyns a chance to play together on the second line with Tomas Plekanec.
The coach said he never doubted his team would bounce back after dropping two in a row to let Boston back in the series.
”Every time this season we had a challenge and we lost a game or two, we always came back with our best,” he said. ”That’s why we didn’t lose more than three in a row all season.
”There was no reason not to feel confident. It’s the same with Carey.”
Kovalev is now 6-0 in career Game 7s. Boston’s Game 7 record dropped to 9-8, including 0-4 on the road.
Notes – Boston veteran Glen Murray left the game in the first period with what the team called a mid-torso injury after he was run into the boards by Roman Hamrlik. . . Julien said reports during the series that Chara had a rib injury were false. . . Neither team made changes, so Ryan O’Byrne, Michael Ryder and Guillaume Latendresse sat out for Montreal and Andrew Alberts and Jeremy Reich didn’t dress for Boston.