In a game played with playoff intensity, with an atmosphere to match, Sergei Samsonov provided the winning goal with 27.6 seconds left in overtime as the Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, at the FleetCenter last night.
With the team's leading scorer, Joe Thornton, banished to the dressing room with a game misconduct after picking up a major penalty for checking an opponent from behind in the third period, Samsonov (2 goals, 1 assist) stepped confidently into the starring role, converting a feed from Jiri Slegr to push the Bruins a point ahead of Philadelphia and into second place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins' NHL-record 29th overtime game included a goal by Jason Ward of the Canadiens on a penalty shot just 26 seconds into the game.
The fans had barely settled into their seats when Ward skated in toward the Bruins goal. Sean O'Donnell seemed to catch up to him, and whacked him a couple of times with his stick. Ward took a shot that Bruins netminder Andrew Raycroft saved with his pad, but veteran referee Kerry Fraser called for a penalty shot.
Ward, who had but three goals all season, did a reasonable imitation of Rocket Richard on the penalty shot, switching to his backhand and flipping the puck over Raycroft's leg. "It's a good feeling to have won this game," said Bruins coach Mike Sullivan. "When you start off with a penalty shot, and you're down a goal right away, you could be in trouble, but we responded well against a good hockey team. This was a really good effort. We've answered the challenge to the critical game, the big game all year. It was a typical game against Montreal, lots of emotions on both sides.
The Canadiens, who clinched a playoff berth with the point, grabbed a 2-0 lead when defenseman Stephane Quintal scored his third of the year at 2:57 of the second session on a nifty cross-ice pass from center Mike Ribeiro. Quintal beat Raycroft to the glove side.
The Bruins needed the next goal to stay in the game, and they got it. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar drilled home a slapper on the power play for his 11th of the season. The shot appeared to hit the glove of goaltender Jose Theodore, who was strong as usual against Boston (36 saves).
Samsonov tied the game at 1:41 of the third, converting a rebound of a shot by Nick Boynton. It was a beautiful goal, as he faked a backhand, switched to his forehand, and flipped it home.
The Bruins were on a power play when Thornton was called for checking center Steve Begin from behind at 9:13 while Begin was attempting to play the puck along the boards in the Montreal end. Begin limped off the ice but soon returned to action. Meanwhile, the Bruins killed off 3:18 of penalty time.
"I had no idea on that call," said Thornton. "I looked at the replay, and it didn't look that bad. I thought they might call a charge, maybe. I don't understand it. I was just trying to rub him off the boards.
"It was just a good game. It must have been a nice game to watch. The fans really got into the game and helped us out. It was exciting and the fans were in it for the whole 64 minutes. It was real intense, Razor [Raycroft, 20 saves] stayed in there and played a great game. We're going to get tested each and every game from now on."
Samsonov's OT strike gave the Bruins a satisfying victory.
"It was tough to lose our best player for the rest of the game, but our penalty kill did a great job," said Sullivan. "We played some of the best clubs in the whole league this week, and we did real well."