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Pressure brought out their best

Bruins’ stars were up to the challenge

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 25, 2011

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In the first minute of Game 5 Saturday night, after Tim Thomas coolly battled through traffic and turned back the Canadiens’ P.K. Subban and Travis Moen, it was clear the Bruins goalie had his best Vezina-style stuff. Thomas was quite composed, and not as squirrelly as he had been earlier in the series.

Thomas’s boss didn’t need to wait until the game to see the difference. Saturday morning, coach Claude Julien recognized a composure around his goalie that he might have been without before.

“Even in the morning, he just looked very calm, very poised,’’ said Julien. “An element of confidence in his demeanor. And maybe not just confidence, but determination. As soon as the game started, you could tell he wasn’t overly busy. He seemed pretty confident. He made the big saves when he had to. If anything, I thought he got better as the game went on.’’

Thomas, indeed, saved his best for last. In double overtime, he ditched his white-and-gray lid for a ski mask, robbing Brian Gionta with a left-pad kickout.

Thomas made that game-saving stop and totaled 44 in the game. No. 1 right wing Nathan Horton scored the double-OT winner. Milan Lucic, scoreless through four games, landed a game-best eight shots and busted through with an assist on Horton’s strike. Patrice Bergeron, the team’s most complete player, submitted his standard sublime performance: one assist, four shots, team-leading six hits, 23 wins on 35 drops. Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara, Julien’s top defensive pairing, led the Bruins in ice time.

The Bruins’ best players were their best players in the 2-1 win at TD Garden, giving them a 3-2 series lead. And they’ll need to continue serving as lead dogs if the Bruins want to finish the Canadiens off tomorrow in Game 6.

“It’s definitely addictive,’’ Horton said of the feeling of winning in double OT. “You definitely know the job’s not done, knowing what happened around here before and what happens in the playoffs. It’s never done until it’s done.’’

Yesterday, the Bruins’ stars and pluggers enjoyed a well-earned rest day. They report back to the Garden this morning for what they hope will be their final practice of the first round.

Last season, the Bruins took four swings at booting the Flyers from the postseason. They missed four times. So far, it appears that their second-round meltdown did not take place in vain.

“We learned from that last year,’’ defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “You can’t count a team out when you’re up or down in a series. We’ve learned from that. Hopefully we can finish it off next game.’’

This year, the Bruins shrugged off an 0-2 hole, the kind that 26 previous Black-and-Gold postseason rosters failed to overcome. This year, they’ve won three straight. They’re aiming for a fourth tomorrow. They have no intentions of using a one-game mulligan to set up a winner-take-all showdown at the Garden on Wednesday.

“I think we have to turn the page here and understand there is another full game to be played,’’ Julien said. “When you win three in a row, you should feel confident. Again, there’s a lot of work to be done. We know this next game is going to be the toughest one. You have a team playing for their lives, and they’re playing in their home building. So it represents a pretty big challenge for us. We’re going to have to be at our best.’’

While Boston’s stars have emerged, Montreal’s go-to gunners have shot too many blanks. Gionta, Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, and Andrei Kostitsyn checked in with 0-0—0 lines in Game 5. Cammalleri, Plekanec, and Kostitsyn were on the ice for both Boston goals. Arguably the Canadiens’ most dangerous unit was the third line of Mathieu Darche, Lars Eller, and Jeff Halpern.

“No one feels it more than the guys in this room,’’ Gionta said after the loss. “We want to win and we have the confidence that we are a better team. We have two more games to do that.’’

In Game 5, the Bruins’ depth players played major supporting roles. Andrew Ference’s point shot created the rebound that Horton tapped in. Boychuk played 32:35.

None was more important than Michael Ryder, the hero of Game 4. Ryder scored two goals Thursday, including the overtime winner, to tie the series at 2. But it was Ryder’s effort at the other end that had the Bruins still buzzing yesterday about his game.

In the first period of Game 5, Ryder swung his right glove skyward to bat out Plekanec’s point-blank bid. Late in the third, after Halpern had tied the game at 1, Ference pinched too far down the left-side wall. Gionta countered with a blazing rush the other way. But Ryder chased Gionta down and made a stick-on-stick backcheck to bust up the chance.

Saturday night’s Bruins-Canadiens summary, C9

“To win some games in the playoffs, you need different guys to contribute,’’ Julien said. “We’ve had that in the last three games. It’s really helped our hockey club, and it has taken pressure off some other guys, too.’’

If there is an area in which Julien’s go-to players have repeatedly failed, it’s the power play. Like all coaches, Julien stacks his PP units with his best performers. For the last two games, the Bruins have overloaded the first unit. Chara and Tomas Kaberle man the point. Bergeron works the left-side half-boards. Lucic and David Krejci hunt for chances down low.

The Bruins could have buried the Canadiens in the first overtime, after Brent Sopel was sent off for tripping Bergeron. The power play misfired once more.

“Obviously it’s in the backs of our minds,’’ Kaberle said. “You’d like to get something going on the PP. You just can’t get frustrated too much. Just maintain focus on it and we’ll see what happens.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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