MONTREAL -- What, you were expecting a sweep?
The Bruins fell back to earth last night and landed with a thud in Game 3 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, losing to the Canadiens, 3-2, at the Bell Centre. Boston leads the series two games to one.
The three goals they gave up were two more than what they'd allowed in the first two games combined but they couldn't blame rookie goaltender Andrew Raycroft, who kept them in it for as long as he could.
The Bruins entered Game 3 with health issues. Captain Joe Thornton had been hindered by an upper-body injury, believed to be to his ribs, and wasn't performing up to par in the series.
Then came word yesterday morning that Boston would be without its No. 2 pivotman, because Michael Nylander was suffering from flu-like symptoms. That created a huge void, considering it was Nylander's line, with left wing Sergei Samsonov and right wing Patrice Bergeron, that had been carrying the offensive load in the series.
But it was poor defense that led to this loss. The Habs were desperate, the Bruins were not.
"They played real well tonight," said Bruins right wing Marty Lapointe. "They put a lot of pressure on our [defense] and they did what we did to them in Boston. Obviously when you're up 2-0, you're in a great spot, but the series is not over and nobody said it was going to be an easy series. So they're back in it and we'll have to focus on Tuesday."
It didn't take the Canadiens long to get a lead. Just 2:16 in, right wing Alexei Kovalev, acquired from the Rangers at the trade deadline but struggling mightily for his new team, potted his first of two goals. Center Saku Koivu, who along with linemates Richard Zednik and Kovalev had a banner night, started the play when he tried to beat a path through Boston's defense pair of Jiri Slegr and Dan McGillis. He didn't succeed and the play was broken up, but he got the puck back. He dished it to Kovalev, who beat Raycroft to make it 1-0 on Montreal's first shot of the game.
Forward Andy Hilbert, making his postseason debut, pulled Boston even at 6:34. Hilbert, recalled April 6 from Providence, wristed the puck from the right circle, beating goalie Jose Theodore to the short side.
Defensively, the Bruins weren't nearly as effective as they'd been in the first two games. Montreal generated several odd-man rushes, putting the heat on the blue line corps and Raycroft.
"We were trying so hard to score, we threw caution to the wind out there instead of trying to play defense first," said coach Mike Sullivan. "I don't think we played with enough urgency out there and I don't think we played with enough purpose."
The Canadiens retook the lead at 15:24 on Kovalev's second tally. Kovalev chipped the puck past defenseman Hal Gill and took off up the ice on a two-on-one break with Zednik. With only defenseman Nick Boynton back, Kovalev fired a shot from the right circle that beat Raycroft to the glove side. Theodore picked up an assist, his second of the game.
Boston got into an even deeper hole at 13:32 of the second when, with the teams skating four aside, defenseman Andrei Markov popped in a rebound to make it a two-goal lead.
With Raycroft called for slashing and Steve Begin called for roughing after the two sparred in the Boston crease, Zednik took the initial shot from the right circle that Raycroft stopped but Markov was there to bury it.
After two periods, the Canadiens were outshooting the Bruins by a 25-16 margin and the visitors were lucky to still be in it.
"I thought Razor was terrific," said Sullivan of his rookie netminder. "He made some timely saves for us in the first two periods that kept the game close and gave us a chance to win."
Center Brian Rolston closed the gap to one, 3-2, when he beat Theodore with a slapper from the left circle at 3:35 of the third, easily Boston's best period. The Bruins had some good flurries after that but couldn't get closer despite pulling Raycroft with a minute left, which led to strong bids by defenseman Sergei Gonchar and right wing Glen Murray in the final 20 seconds. It was too little, too late.
"Obviously, they came out real hard and were really able to take it to us in the first two periods," said Raycroft, who faced 32 shots total and 25 in the first 40 minutes. "They got enough of a lead to win the game. We just didn't come out with the urgency we needed tonight. Obviously, they did. They were a lot more desperate than we were. We'll learn from it and come out hard in the next game."