BOSTON -- It had started with some promise, at least. Twenty-four seconds into their second adventure at the FleetCenter, Joe Thornton was caught tripping Sheldon Souray behind Jose Theodore's place of business -- which is as good as it gets. Score -- and it's catchup hockey time for the Bruins, which is not the way any team wants to play. Pencil in only one shot for the Canadiens.
Six minutes and 13 seconds later, it was Nick Boynton's turn to reflect in the box following a tripping penalty. One shot.
Fast-forward to the 12:25 mark of the first period. Brian Rolston hooked Michael Ryder to the ice on his way out of the Canadiens' zone, providing the Canadiens with a third consecutive power play. Zero shots.
And add another shot on their fourth opportunity 6:09 into the second period.
It was, in every way, a recipe for the disaster that occurred 1:26 into overtime, when Patrice Bergeron's soft shot caught Theodore's glove, then slipped behind him.
Now you know the major reason why the Canadiens entered Game 3 of the first-round series down, 2-0.
There are so many reasons why the Canadiens found themselves with at least one foot in a shallow grave.
Defense wins -- and the Canadiens had it in Game 2 until the softie that turned a Good Friday into a nightmare.
Defense was by far the biggest part of the Canadiens' game. The Bruins -- a team that had 23 shots in the first period of their 3-0 Game 1 victory -- were held to a mere nine for the first two periods of Game 2. However, Montreal's offense wasn't nearly as effective.
The Canadiens, for example, needed a two-man advantage in the second period to get their tying goal from Patrice Brisebois -- after Michael Nylander had provided his colleagues with a 1-0 lead on the fifth of the seven shots the Bruins had in the first period.
Goals are the measure of teams, and Montreal hadn't measured up well. Jan Bulis stood alone in front of Boston goaltender Andrew Raycroft, testing him twice from the lip of the crease, and being denied twice, late in regulation. Ryder, with a minute left in regulation and in a position to win the game, was also unable to beat Raycroft. The only thing more frustrating than missing those chances, particularly Bulis's, was the Bergeron shot that beat Theodore.
What was Montreal coach Claude Julien thinking about, you wonder, watching his people miss scoring opportunities early and late in the game? What went through his mind on a night when the Canadiens were the better team as he watched rookie Bergeron's shot bring the game to a stunning stop?
"You seldom see nice goals in overtime," Julien said. "This one hit his glove. It didn't look like a dangerous shot.
"You need the breaks in this game," he added with a heavy sigh. "Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't. What we have to do now is go home, win one -- and we're right back in it."
What the Canadiens needed were goals. One goal in two games didn't do it. That meant the pressure was on Alexei Kovalev, and Special K finally lived up to his moniker with two first-period goals last night in Montreal's 3-2 victory.
Kovalev was hailed as the ace in the hole when general manager Bob Gainey reached out for him at the trading deadline. Instead, he'd been the joker in the pack -- although he had the secondary assist on Brisebois's goal. In the dozen regular-season games he played for Montreal, Special K delivered only two assists and an empty-net goal. In the mere 11:25 he logged in Game 1, he had zero shots. For this, he was elevated to the No. 1 line alongside Saku Koivu and Richard Zednik, while Yanic Perreault, the only Canadien to see less ice time than Kovalev in Game 1 (9:52), was given a seat in the press box.
Kovalev's capture for roughly $1.5 million and the loss of prospect Jozef Balej in a deal with the Rangers told Montreal fans that the organization was prepared to skate the last mile so that the Canadiens could go into playoffs a stronger and better team. It was a gamble worth taking -- although the returns had been paper-thin before Game 3.
History tells us that in order to win, a team's best player has to play his best. It hadn't happened before Game 3, and Kovalev knew it. It's why he attracted a scrum after the morning skate prior to Game 2.
"It's not only me," he said before his two-shot, one-point performance in Game 2. "It's not one man. It's the team. It's all of us being patient. It's about working together. It's about not making mistakes."
But Gainey didn't acquire Kovalev to be another spoke in the wheel. He was supposed to be the guy who lifted this bunch to another level, the difference between going out in the first round and going onward and upward.
Is that too much to ask of a guy whose income is such that he's now flying his own plane? I don't think so.
"I'll go back to what I've been saying," he said. "It's not only me. It's the team."
Through two games, Kovalev and his team weren't getting the job done. Last night, they did.