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Dan Shaughnessy

Game 7 joy for Bruins

Boston eliminates Canadiens, breaks a jinx

The Bruins had much to celebrate at the end of overtime last night at TD Garden. Coverage, C1. The Bruins had much to celebrate at the end of overtime last night at TD Garden. Coverage, C1. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 28, 2011

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They hadn’t won a Game 7 of any kind since 1994, when they played in the Old Garden and Boston had a new mayor named Tom Menino.

They were eliminated in heartbreaking Game 7s each of the last three seasons, and there were questions about their hearts and souls when they took the ice last night for the final game of their 33d playoff series against the hated Montreal Canadiens.

For one night, the Bruins made all the pain go away. No more agita on ice. Nathan Horton’s booming slap shot in the sixth minute of overtime beat the Canadiens, 4-3, in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series last night at TD Garden.

Game 7. Bruins-Canadiens. Overtime. How much better does it get?

Round 2 starts this weekend on Broad Street in Philadelphia against the Flyers. For sure, there are plenty of Philadelphia stories to be told, but let the Bruins and their fans enjoy last night for a few more hours. Had the Bruins lost to the Canadiens, it could have been a franchise-altering defeat, with dire consequences for coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli.

But this time the Bruins did not choke it away. Sure, they blew a 3-2 lead in the final two minutes of regulation, and they failed to convert on a single power play for another night (0 for 21 for the series), but who cares when you win it in OT? These Bruins become the first team in franchise history (in 28 tries) to win a series after falling behind, two games to zero.

Game 7s have not been the Bruins’ friends in recent years. The Pesky-Dent-Buckner-Boone torch has been passed to Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Andrew Ference. Julien has been in the Hub of Hockey for four years. His first three seasons ended in Game 7 defeats, the last two at home. Finally, he gets some relief and vindication.

Nothing could top the abject failure of the 2010 Bruins, who had a 3-0 series lead in the second round against the Flyers, saw the dominance fizzle as the Flyers won three straight, then came home to Causeway Street and lost, 4-3, after leading, 3-0.

A 3-0 lead at home in a Game 7 is a lock . . . unless you are the Bruins. Those Bruins coughed up four consecutive goals and went home for a summer of speculation about their mental toughness.

This was a lot of luggage to carry into the Jeremy Jacobs barn last night. The Garden rocked when the Bruins scored twice in the first seven minutes (a Johnny Boychuk slapper from just inside the blue line and a Mark Recchi wrist shot from the slot). What to think?

I don’t know about you, but I was somewhat relieved that the Bruins weren’t ahead by a prohibitive, unlucky 3-0.

Midway through the first, with the Bruins shorthanded, Canadiens defenseman Yannick Weber potted a goal on a wrist shot from the right side after Daniel Paille lost his stick — effectively making this another five-on-three goal for the Habs.

The Bruins failed to score on their 20th power play of the series at the end of the first. It had reached a point when the one-man-advantage for Boston was a decided disadvantage. You could almost see the Habs drooling at their prospects any time the Bruins went on the power play.

In the sixth minute of the second period, with the Bruins on the dreaded power play again, Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec stole the puck from Recchi and went in alone on Boston goalie Tim Thomas. He did not miss. It was 2-2 and the Garden felt like a Temple of Doom. The Black and Gold were outshot, 12-7, in the second period.

We wondered if there was more torture in store for Bruins fans when Recchi fanned on an open net in the third. Then the Bruins struck. While Canadiens defenseman Roman Hamrlik lay on the ice, trying to sell a penalty after he was hit by Chris Kelly, the Bruins kept playing.

Andrew Ference fired a wrist shot that was blocked by Montreal goalie Carey Price, but Kelly was there for the nifty backhand rebound and a 3-2 lead with 10:16 left in the third.

The joy lasted until the final two minutes of regulation when Patrice Bergeron went off for high-sticking and Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban blasted a one-timer past Thomas for the 3-3 tie. Overtime.

Horton’s slapper put the hockey universe back in order.

Neither one of these teams looked particularly Cup-worthy in this first round. The Bruins became the first team in NHL history to win a seven-game series without scoring on a power play. They will take plenty of baggage to Philadelphia.

But we don’t care about any of those things today. The Bruins played a Game 7 and did not choke. They sent the other guys home for the summer. Hockey lives in Boston in the spring of 2011.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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