An instant after Montreal defenseman Patrice Brisebois put the hammer down on the game-winning power-play goal last night, P.J. Axelsson, with a two-handed chop, smashed his stick on the crossbar of the Boston net - the ultimate expression of disappointment over the penalty, the score, and what comes next.
"We're in for a big challenge," Axelsson acknowledged.
After last night's 1-0 loss in Game 4 of their first-round series, what the Bruins face is this: They need to win three straight games, including two in enemy territory, if they don't want their 2007-08 season to expire.
"It's pretty simple," said coach Claude Julien. "We have to go to Montreal and play one game. You've got to think about winning the next game if you want to get back in the series. It's as simple as that. You don't look at the fact that you have to win three, because it's too big a picture."
That's the situation the Bruins fell into last night before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden, where they winged 27 shots on Montreal goalie Carey Price, many of the high-percentage variety, and came away with nothing for their efforts.
On the other end, a second-period pileup in front of the Boston net led to Andrew Ference getting the gate for tripping. Brisebois, who rattled an end-of-regulation slapper off the post in Game 2, fired with truer aim this time to beat Tim Thomas with 42 ticks remaining in the second.
Ference was sent off for tripping winger Alex Kovalev, although he wasn't sure how he sent him tumbling. The Bruins, who had killed 19 of the 20 previous Montreal power plays, burned off more than a minute of Ference's infraction. But the penalty kill buckled when forward Andrei Kostitsyn found a seam on the left-side wall and gained clean entry into the offensive zone.
"Nice breakout by them," Axelsson noted.
Kostitsyn raced around the net and threw a backhander into traffic that bounced off a body and skittered out to Brisebois at the point. Glen Metropolit, who had come down to the slot to help defend Kostitsyn's rush, tried to untangle himself from the pile to get in front. But Metropolit couldn't pry his stick loose, which gave Brisebois an interstate-wide shooting lane.
Brisebois didn't miss.
"Unfortunately, one goal decided the result," Zdeno Chara said. "I thought we created good enough chances to score. But we couldn't put the puck behind the line. Just unfortunate."
Despite Brisebois's late-period score, the Bruins weren't entirely deflated. As time went out in the second, forward Steve Begin tripped an onrushing Milan Lucic, giving the Bruins their third power play of the night. But for the third time, the Bruins put little pressure on Price, who saw only three total shots during the Boston man-advantages.
The Bruins are 1 for 17 on the power play over the four games.
"Our power play, again, wasn't at its best tonight," Julien said.
It was yet another black-and-blue game for both clubs, the third straight sparkler after a Game 1 dud. Yet again, Lucic and Mike Komisarek clashed repeatedly, with the Montreal defenseman turning away from what appeared to be a drop-the-gloves invite from the rookie in the first period. Lucic and the rejuvenated Peter Schaefer each threw five hits to lead the Bruins, while Begin landed a game-high seven thumps.
"I've been in the playoffs a lot," said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau. "This is the type of game you like to play in. Every time the puck is along the boards, you have to fight for it. If you go to the net, you're going to get hit. Ice bags and bruises, but it's worth it."
Thomas (also 27 saves) was outdueled by Price, who made his biggest play in the second period when Glen Murray threatened to score the game's first goal. Schaefer, behind the net, won a puck battle against defenseman Ryan O'Byrne. Schaefer then flipped a backhand pass to Marc Savard, who spotted Murray in the slot, ready to fire.
Savard fed Murray and the right wing snapped a wrist shot that looked destined for the back of the net. But Price, already down in the butterfly when Savard had the puck on his stick, calmly slid to his left and stuck his chest in front of Murray's wrister at 10:55 of the second period.
"Oh yeah, wrist shot in the slot like that," answered Murray (two shots in 15:09 of ice time) when asked if he got the chance he wanted. "I don't think he saw it. I hit him and I just didn't get it upstairs.
"Got to put that in. Big time of the game."
Murray's attempt wasn't the Bruins' only Grade-A opportunity. In the first period, with Price out of the net, Marco Sturm put a puck wide of the cage when pressured by the netminder.
In the second period, during Ference's game-changing penalty, Sturm and David Krejci both had shorthanded chances on Price.
Late in regulation, with Thomas pulled, the Bruins put the pressure on, opening a shooting lane for Sturm on the right wing. But Sturm's shot was blocked by the skate of defenseman Josh Gorges.
"We knew we played our hearts out," said Chara. "It ain't over. We've got to focus on the next game."