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Montreal kept up pressure

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / April 28, 2011

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They were resilient to the end.

They were criticized for being too small, for being too soft, for not being talented enough to play with the top squads in the Eastern Conference. But throughout their first-round series with the Bruins, the Canadiens proved they wouldn’t go quietly into the offseason.

The Habs were faced with elimination in Game 6 at the Bell Centre Tuesday night and delivered a terrific performance to even the series at three, forcing last night’s Game 7 at TD Garden. They fell behind, 2-0, early in the opening period but battled back to tie it on a shorthanded goal by Tomas Plekanec at 5:50 of the second.

Chris Kelly gave Boston back the lead, 3-2, at 9:44 of the third, and with time running out, it looked like the Canadiens might finally be done. But with 18:03 gone in the third, defenseman P.K. Subban — a.k.a. the Hab Boston fans most love to hate — rode to the rescue and tied it on the power play with a bullet from the top of the left circle, forcing overtime for the third time in the series.

The Canadiens ran out of comebacks at 5:43 of the extra session when Nathan Horton’s shot hit something in front of Montreal goalie Carey Price and found its way into the back of the net.

“We gave her all we got,’’ said Price, who was gracious in defeat. “We can be proud of our effort, we can be proud of the way we played. The guys in front of me played excellent tonight. I thought we deserved better. We lost three overtime games and we were just a hair away from winning. It’s frustrating, but at the same time I guess we can hold our heads high. I’d say we gave it everything we had.’’

Price, who had 31 saves, didn’t have a chance on Horton’s winner.

“It was a pass across [by Milan Lucic] and [Horton] got a shot and it hit something and bounced in the net,’’ Price said. “That’s it. The name sudden-death overtime is pretty much all you’ve got to say. Our guys were battling the whole time. A lot of our players had a considerable size disadvantage and they found a way to battle through that and wear them down. [The Bruins] were tired at the end, you could see it. I thought it was just misfortune that we didn’t win that one. I feel like if we would’ve played any team but Boston we’d be advancing. [Bruins goalie Tim Thomas] played great. He should win the Vezina Trophy, in my opinion. He battled the entire series and we were just a hair short.’’

Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said it was tough to stomach given how close the series was.

“Any time [you’re eliminated] it hurts,’’ he said. “But especially when you battle that hard and you know you have a team that could’ve won the series, that definitely hurts.’’

As disappointed as he was, Gionta said the Canadiens will build on what they’ve learned in this series.

“You see the maturity of the team, it’s going in the right direction,’’ said Gionta. “Although we didn’t get the result we wanted this year, you look at some guys and the way they played, they really made great strides for this organization. So hopefully we can continue that and grow off of that. I thought we played hard and we showed a lot. We had the lead in the series, we lost it, but we had a great Game 6, then again tonight, we were down, 2-0, and came back and showed character. Again at the end, we tied it up. We definitely never quit.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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