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Bob Ryan

Only supporting cast in the loss, but give players props

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / April 22, 2008

MONTREAL - The Bruins were props.

Their assigned role in this production last night was to play the part of the overwhelmed opposition. They were not to interfere with the plot line, which called for Montreal to reassert the superiority of a No. 1 seed against a No. 8. And your Bruins followed the script magnificently, right down to allowing a cherry-on-the-sundae goal with eight seconds remaining in a 5-0 celebration of Canadiens hockey.

The Bruins threatened to mess with the plot in the first period, when they had the preponderance of the legitimate scoring chances. But neither Marc Savard nor Phil Kessel nor Glen Murray - who missed an open-net opportunity you know he would have buried three years ago - could convert. They came out of the first period trailing, 1-0, and that was it. There were 40 minutes to go, but the season was over.

No, this night belonged to the Habs, and to their fans, who are always stoked before any game here at the Bell Centre by the extraordinarily powerful 10-minute laser show that showcases the great Canadiens heritage, and who were rewarded by an overwhelming home club performance that began with the superb goaltending of 20-year-old Carey Price.

Price had descended to the ranks of the mortal with a mediocre showing in Game 5, and he was not able to reach back for that little extra je ne sais quoi in Game 6, when an A-level performance would have prevented a Game 7. But this is a kid with a rare pedigree, a young man who led his team to the AHL championship a year ago. In his first Game 7, Price stood tall.

The Canadiens gave the chanting, singing, white towel-waving crowd of 21,273 plenty of chances to exult, whether it was Mark Streit taking a nice Maxim Lapierre drop-off and turning it into a virtuoso display of stickhandling before slipping it past Tim Thomas (to make it 2-0), or Andrei Kostitsyn scoring the first of his two goals by stuffing one just as Zdeno Chara was exiting the penalty box (3-0), or Kostitsyn firing one past Thomas at 17:58 of the third period (4-0), or, finally, brother Sergei Kostitsyn finishing the assault with that goal eight seconds before the horn sounded.

Let the record show that by scoring the final three goals the Brothers Kostitsyn finished this series the way they started it when they scored a quick pair to jump-start a 4-1 Canadiens triumph in Game 1.

So this series ended the way the book said it was supposed to, with the No. 1 seed defeating No. 8. But no one who witnessed it possibly could frame it that way.

"It was a really close series," said Chara. "Really, really close. It could have gone either way."

The Canadiens advance, and they will not give the Bruins another thought. Oh, coach Guy Carbonneau will. You can be sure he gained some valuable coaching ammunition to hurl back at his club as the Stanley Cup playoffs move forward. The players, however, will not be looking back.

The story in our town is what this series did for the Bruins. They didn't merely fly under the proverbial local sports fan radar this year. It was as if they never left the runway.

They came into this series a distant fourth in the minds and hearts of all but the shrinking core of hockey krishnas left in Boston and its immediate environs. But starting with Game 2, when they took the Canadiens into overtime, they began to make people pay attention, and things came to a head last Saturday night when they defeated the Habs by a 5-4 score in a game that long will live in memory. The third period of Game 6 reminded one and all just how great hockey can be.

There were lots of eyeballs tuned to local TV sets for that one, and now the hope is that people whose interest in hockey may have been rekindled by what they saw in Games 2-6 will cut them some slack for not being able to finish the job against a better team.

"We hope so," said Savard. "We've been on the back burner all year, with the success the other teams have had. We've gone about our business quietly. But people started showing us respect, the last game, especially. It made us feel good."

This loss won't weigh too heavily on their minds. Losing a Game 7 in this place is no disgrace. Creating a Game 7 after being down, three games to one, was another matter. Only four of the previous 19 Bruins teams that had found themselves in that predicament even had managed to force a Game 6, let alone a Game 7.

"We're upset we lost, but we've got something to build on here," Savard declared. "We're excited for next year."

Yes, next year. Next year the Bruins will regain the services of Patrice Bergeron, who, the Hockey God willing, will reestablish himself as one of the bright young stars in the game. "It will be like getting a big signing," said Savard. "He will take the pressure off guys in so many ways."

The events of the past 10 days or so suggest that hockey, once the King of Boston sports, once again has a pulse. The Bruins have young players you really want to see play, such as Milan Lucic and Kessel, whose benching by coach Claude Julien seemed to have inspired him to become a better all-around player. And they will have Bergeron. Perhaps he will be La Difference.

"We've taken a big step forward in this organization," said Thomas. "This team has accomplished a lot this year."

But it's over in Boston. For the Canadiens, the "Oles" and the "Go Habs Go" and the "Na-Na-Hey-Hey-Kiss-Him-Goodbyes" and the waving white towels are just beginning their playoff run. The Habs were the 1 and the Bruins were the 8.

You're allowed to improvise a little, you see, but in the end you must follow the script.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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