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Bruins 4, Canadiens 3

Overjoyed

Bruins finally finish Canadiens when Horton connects in OT

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By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 28, 2011

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If there was anyone who deserved a better fate than watching a tying goal from the penalty box, it was Patrice Bergeron.

Last night, the Bruins were less than three minutes away from claiming a 3-2 win over the Canadiens in Game 7. But with 1:57 remaining in regulation, Bergeron, the Bruins’ sharpest all-around player (team-leading seven points in the series), was in the box with a great view of P.K. Subban’s power-play slingshot.

But hockey is about trust. You know that your goalie will bail you out. You have faith that your moneymakers will score the goals that count. You go instinctively, like Adam McQuaid did in overtime when he charged low, believing one of his forwards would cycle back to cover the point.

All those things combined to make one magical night for 17,565 at TD Garden.

With one slap shot that hit off traffic and sailed past Carey Price, Nathan Horton catapulted the Bruins to a 4-3 win and a first-round victory over the Canadiens. The Bruins’ nemesis from last year, the hated Flyers, await them Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

“I’ve got a feeling it’s in here,’’ coach Claude Julien told his players after regulation. “We’ve just got to go out and do it.’’

Game 7, like the entire series, was a breathless affair that had more swings than a playground. The Bruins struck rapidly in the first with goals from Johnny Boychuk and Mark Recchi, prompting Montreal coach Jacques Martin to call an early timeout.

The Canadiens counterpunched with a Yannick Weber power-play goal and a Tomas Plekanec shorthanded strike to make it a 2-2 game. But after Chris Kelly’s go-ahead goal at 9:44 of the third, the Bruins believed they finally had a Game 7 — they had dropped three straight to Philadelphia, Carolina, and Montreal in the three previous seasons — in the bag.

But with one ill-timed backhanded swipe, Bergeron put his team down a man. After the win, Bergeron still wasn’t sure if he had gotten a piece of James Wisniewski’s head. Bergeron had chased the puck-carrying defenseman behind the Montreal net. Then Bergeron clipped Wisniewski with enough force to jerk his head back, even if stick never struck face.

“I don’t know, to be honest with you,’’ Bergeron said. “I didn’t feel anything. But there’s not much I can do. You can’t take that penalty there.’’

Naturally, the Canadiens buried the Bruins for the mistake. Plekanec, who outdueled fellow Czech David Krejci throughout the series, backed up in the right corner. Plekanec spotted Subban’s raised stick at the other side of the ice.

Once Plekanec’s pass landed on Subban’s blade, Tim Thomas anticipated what would come next — a howitzer either low blocker or five-hole. So Thomas pushed from left to right, squared himself to Subban’s shot, and dropped into his butterfly.

“That’s where I’ve seen him beat a lot of people,’’ said Thomas (34 saves). “He’s tried me there before. I was trying to get over to the far side to cover those two. That’s why I was already on my way down. Then I saw [Gregory Campbell] lying down, too late for me to realize [Subban] could only go high. I had to go down. As it’s going by Soupy, the thought’s crossing my mind of whether it’s going to hit off his butt.’’

By that final thought, Subban’s shot had already rocketed over Thomas. At 18:03, Montreal’s greatest villain — Bruins fans booed the rookie throughout the round — had pulled his team out of the grave.

Last year, it was a too-many-men call that wiped out the Bruins. This time, it was a high-sticking penalty.

But after regulation, the Bruins were calm in the dressing room. Prior to the series-ending goal, they acted naturally, executing what the coaching staff had sketched out. McQuaid was on the ice with Zdeno Chara. Once McQuaid saw a loose puck down low, he pinched hard and quick, knowing that a winger would cycle back toward the blue line.

“I had to trust that someone would do it,’’ McQuaid said. “It’s all part of it.’’

McQuaid went low and kept the cycle going. Horton covered the right point. Milan Lucic emerged from a scrum with the puck, then spotted Horton open in the high slot. Because McQuaid had pinched, the Canadiens were caught scurrying.

“Whenever you do that, you create some confusion in your inner coverage,’’ Julien said. “This is something we’d talked about before the game, keeping a high man. A lot of times, they even have their D drawing almost up to the blue line. It leaves only one D down low. We talked about that before the game. Our guys executed it well. It was a good switch and it created a little bit of confusion.’’

Before Horton wound up, the right wing hadn’t landed a single shot on Price all game. But Horton, who scored the double-overtime winner in Game 5, picked the perfect time to record his first shot.

But that’s sports. Zeros become heroes. Lows swing violently toward highs. An 0-2 hole, like the one the Bruins found themselves in for the 27th time, turned into a 4-3 series win. The Bruins are now 1 for 27 in such occurrences.

“That was the tightest series I’ve ever been a part of,’’ said Thomas. “Watching some games on TV, that’s got to be one of the tightest series statistically I could think of. It was back and forth. Both teams showed a ton of character and a ton of heart. It definitely is nice to be the one that came out on top.’’

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

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