The hockey version of Red Sox-Yankees is in the books, and it was one for the ages. The Boston Bruins blew two leads at the TD Garden to the resilient Montreal Canadiens, but ultimately got the goaltending when they needed it and a huge overtime blast by Nathan Horton to advance in the 2011 NHL playoffs.
As has been the case for some time now, the B's tested their fans' faith along the way.
After dropping both home games to start the series, the Bruins won the next three to take the lead, but couldn't solve Carey Price in Montreal during Game 6, leading to the Boston showdown last night for all the marbles.
Here are a couple of quick thoughts:
1. Until last night, the Bruins were 0-26 lifetime when losing the first two games of any playoff series. Streaks are meant to be broken. Just as the B's had never lost a playoff series when up 3-1 to Montreal back in 2004 (and they set an even more ignominious mark when they blew the 3-0 series lead to Philly a year ago), all things must eventually end. We knew the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would eventually return a kick for a TD (though it took them more than 30 years to do it), and so it was time for the Bruins to get the monkey off their backs. Largely thanks to Nathan Horton's two sudden death winners, they got it done.
2. Say what you will about Claude Julien, but the guys play for him. When he was coach of the Canadiens in 2004, his club overcame a 3-1 series deficit, and last night, he returned the favor.
3. Nathan Horton has just 7 career playoff games under his belt, but he's already moved to the top of Boston's active leaders in playoff OT goals with two (tied with Michael Ryder). This puts him ahead of stalwarts Mark Recchi (and his more than 170 career playoff games) and Patrice Bergeron to name a few. Horton didn't have a monster series- he was invisible for long stretches- but he came through huge when his team needed him. This is why the Bruins traded for him last June, and why we expect that Horton will continue to smile in Boston. The playoff beard looks good on him.
4. Tim Thomas is not for the faint of heart. Dennis Seidenberg nearly added another inglorious chapter to the Boston-Montreal rivalry when a live rebound in OT came off Thomas's right pad, hit Seidenberg's skate and was on the way into the open right side of the cage before the two combined to steer it away. Had the puck gone in, fans would have blamed Thomas and the "he can't win a big game" screeches would have reached a fever pitch. With 14 career playoff wins and counting, Thomas is now in the top-five all-time for the Bruins. You have to give Boston a decided edge over Philadelphia in the second round for the head-to-head goaltending matchup. Now is the time for Thomas to lay the critics and doubts to rest.
5. Bruins went 0-for-21 on the power play. That's got to change if they even want a sniff of getting past the Flyers. Tomas Kaberle has been a huge disappointment, but there's time for him to get untracked.
6. The 2011 first round was one of the best single rounds of playoff hockey in NHL history. Tough act to follow, but we'll see it get underway Friday and Saturday when the second round kicks in. Bruins are in Philly to try to make amends for 2010.
Let the games begin.