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On Hockey

Stirring up feelings

Almost done in by dynamic contest

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
April 24, 2011

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The game summary forever will read “Game 5’’ over the top, but the Bruins’ 2-1 double-overtime win last night over the Canadiens, delivered by Nathan Horton’s goal at 9:03, should prove to be the two-handed stick swing through the Habs’ psyche that propels the Bruins into Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s not over for the Habs, not officially, but Les Glorieux are on the run. The Bruins find themselves in the rare position of not having to win in Montreal when Game 6 is played there Tuesday night. That’s a luxury Boston has rarely known in its lifelong battle with the storied Quebec franchise. Last night’s win provided them that critical spacer, that itsy bit of elbow room against a team that so often — especially in Montreal — has the Bruins gasping for air from the moment they land in La Belle Provence.

“But we know by no means is it over,’’ said Bruins winger Brad Marchand, the growing little dynamo who potted his team’s only goal in regulation. “By no means is it easy to go up there and win in their barn.’’

It wasn’t easy on Causeway Street, either, Horton finally putting in the winner on a short easy pop into an open right side after Andrew Ference, the Bird Man of the Bell Centre, shoveled off a wrister from the left side that deflected across the crease. Shot, goal, win, Horton depositing the biggest goal of his career, which he spent in Floridian anonymity until he was spirited out of Sunrise via his trade to the Bruins last summer.

“That’s a huge goal for Horty,’’ said a smiling Tim Thomas, Boston’s Vezina candidate who looked far more himself after four mediocre performances. “Well deserved. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. I mean, huge for him and huge for the team.’’

The Bruins now have a 3-2 chokehold in a series that they opened with inexplicable back-to-back losses on Garden ice. For only the second time in their history, they have won three straight playoff games after going down in a series 0-2. In 1952, after losing a pair in Montreal, they likewise swept Games 3, 4, 5, only to lose the first-round series in seven games. If they win this series, it will be the first time in club history that they’ve advanced after beginning 0-2, and it will come less than a year after they so spectacularly blew a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers in Round 2.

Thomas, who finished with 44 saves, made his save of the night — and perhaps his NHL career — with 5:35 gone in the second OT. With only Zdeno Chara back against a Travis Moen-Brian Gionta rush, Thomas flashed his left pad when Gionta snapped off what looked like the winning shot at the back end of Moen’s darting pass. A bang-bang play that coulda won it, shoulda won it, came so close that it all but sucked the air out of most of the sold-out crowd of 17,565.

In the end, it hit nothing but pad.

“Save of the game,’’ noted Chara, the towering Trencin defenseman who logged 37 minutes 6 seconds of ice time, only a week after having to skip Game 2 because of a virus and dehydration. “Hell of a save . . . plain and simple.’’

Initially, said Thomas, he anticipated a clean breakaway by Moen on Thomas’s right, so he pushed forward on his skates in hopes of giving Moen less open acreage to shoot. But when Thomas read the play shifting to a 2-on-1, he had to shift his weight and momentum back toward the crease, making it even harder for him to cover the open side that Gionta labeled for his one-time redirect.

“I needed that backward momentum for a pass and shot,’’ said Thomas.

It was by far the best the two teams have played in the series, although that must have been little consolation to the Bruins at the end of 60 minutes. They came within 6:04 of salting away a 1-0 win until Jeff Halpern found himself alone in front of Thomas for an easy 10-foot forehand lift to the top left corner.

Admirable work on the 1-1 equalizer by the Habs, who outworked the Bruins in the muscle game along the right wing wall, forced the puck behind the net, and ultimately dished out to the sure handed Halpern, stickside on Thomas.

Up until then, Thomas had been a perfect 25 for 25 against Habs shooters, finally looking comfortable and better anticipating Montreal shots. Gone were the big, fat, juicy rebounds that he littered the ice all too often in the first four games. When the puck kicked out free to Halpern, there was little Thomas could do but suffer the consequences of having been left without a defenseman in front to prevent the shot.

Over the course of nearly four hours, Thomas and Carey Price were locked in a duel.

“I’ve said before that I never think of myself playing against the other goalie, so to speak,’’ said Thomas. “But this was kind of like that. He made saves and I had to make saves to match.’’

Marchand, meanwhile is fast evolving into that lovable agitator that has long captivated the Garden crowd. Johnny “Pie’’ McKenzie was that guy in the Big, Bad Bruins era. Ken “‘The Rat’’ Linseman was that guy for a chunk of the ’80s. Marchand is different than both, but he has the snarl that Black-and-Gold fans find so enticing.

Marchand is Boston’s Little Ball of Hate, the nickname that stuck for years for Pat Verbeek. The 5-foot-9-inch Verbeek played for years, mostly with the Devils and Whalers, finishing with 1,063 points. A lot of hate to love. Marchand, a matching 5-9, resembles Verbeek in both face and game.

Prior to scoring Boston’s one goal in regulation, Marchand got into a dust-up in Price’s crease with 53 seconds remaining in the second period. The fracas began when ex-Bruin Hal Gill pushed Patrice Bergeron near the net. Seconds later, Marchand began punching away at a helmetless Tomas Plekanec. It was settled pretty quickly, but not before Mark Recchi skated up to Gill and gave the much taller Gill a push to the chest. It was reminiscent of Round 2 last spring when Recchi skated up to Flyers tough guy Chris Pronger and smacked him in the chest.

It’s not over yet, and it may not be over when the Bruins are over in Montreal. But if Game 5 ever felt like a Game 7 clincher, then so it was last night at 11:03 p.m.

For the first time in 59 years, the Bruins strung together three W’s after going 0-2. Still plenty of hockey to go, but last night made Round 1 feel done.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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