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Winning a Game 7 was a long time coming

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 28, 2011

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Nathan Horton’s shot, hard and low and right on the money, last night shook the Garden to its foundation, made the city shake, and propelled the Bruins into Round 2 of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

But for those who have been watching and waiting and angsting, even dying inside a little for these last 40 years, it did more. At least for one night, one series, it did a lot more.

“That was a nice reward for our fans,’’ said coach Claude Julien, “because they’ve been punished enough.’’

Black-and-Gold Nation, this one was for you, the Bruins’ first victory in a Game 7 since 1994. More to the point, it ended an ugly string of Game 7 losses over Julien’s tour behind the bench, which included KOs at the hands of Montreal (2008), Carolina (2009), and Philadelphia (2010).

All of that came to an end at 5:43 of the first overtime. Fresh-faced blue liner Adam McQuaid cashed in on a slight gamble, successfully containing the puck in the offensive zone, and then a Milan Lucic diagonal feed set up Horton to rip home the winning slapper from above the left circle.

“He’s been saving it for seven years, right?’’ said Julien, noting the years Horton spent in Sunrise, Fla., without the Panthers making the playoffs. “So he’s got a lot of game-winning goals in him.’’

“I could get used to it,’’ added Horton.

The Bruins also joined the history books, but it’s not a chapter they would care to own. They again went without a power-play goal (0 for 2) and finished 0 for 21 in the series. Never before in Stanley Cup annals had a team won a series in seven games and not once connected on the man-advantage.

It was, in many ways, a series the Bruins survived as much as they triumphed. They lost the first two games on home ice. They survived what became an X-rated man-advantage. It became so bad last night that the Habs clearly began to view Boston power plays as just another way to attack the net. And with 5:50 gone in the second, with the Bruins on their second and last advantage of the night, Tomas Plekanec took a puck away from Mark Recchi at center ice and broke in alone to pot the 2-2 equalizer.

“Yeah, I didn’t pick it up,’’ said Recchi, referring to how the play was bollixed at mid-ice, “and it was a breakaway.’’

Their confidence lacking throughout the series, even in wins in Games 3, 4, and 5, the Bruins finally started to play with some pluck ‘n’ strut last night when they jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening six minutes.

All of a sudden, it was the Canadiens in the search of some much-needed mojo. Obviously sensing it from behind the bench, coach Jacques Martin called a timeout when Recchi’s goal at 5:33 provided the two-goal lead. The sellout Garden crowd reveled in seeing Les Glorieux in retreat. “Car-ee! Car-ee! Car-ee!’’ came the chant, the crowd mocking Habs goalie Carey Price, beaten on two of Boston’s first seven shots.

As so often is the case, the little bit of strut and surliness ended up costing the Bruins when a revved-up Michael Ryder raced into the offensive zone and upended Plekanec as the two of them piled into the left-wing corner. Ryder went off for hooking at 8:22, and only 1:27 later Yannick Weber riveted a short-range wrister to the top right corner, a power-play goal that cut Boston’s lead in half.

Though futile and frustrating, the power play at least looked better, perhaps an encouraging sign as the Bruins get ready to face the Flyers. The first unit had Recchi up front with Rich Peverley and Patrice Bergeron, backed by Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara. PP2 used Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Ryder up front, with Tomas Kaberle switching in for Chara as Seidenberg’s point partner.

But the Plekanec shorthander was the insult added to injury. With 4:41 gone in the second, Habs forward Lars Eller dropped Chara with a crosscheck deep in Boston’s end. A good sell job by the towering Chara, who fell to the ice on the fairly light hit, looking much like the trained pratfalls the Habs took throughout the series.

The trouble started right at center ice, where Seidenberg shoveled a short pass to his left in the neutral zone. As Recchi attempted to handle the easy dish, Plekanec stepped in and took off alone, with the entire five-man unit flatfooted and dumbstruck. Plekanec closed to within about 10 feet and finished off with a low, sharp wrister that beat Thomas stick side to the left post.

“I’m not going to comment on our power play right now,’’ Boston coach Claude Julien said late in the afternoon. “Because what I am commenting on is something positive and that’s winning the hockey game.’’

Ultimately, winning meant surviving the Habs’ tying power-play goal (a P.K. Subban blast) with 1:57 remaining in regulation, then getting Horton’s winning shot. It was his only shot of the night, following a Game 6 in Montreal in which he didn’t land one. For once, Game 7 went the Bruins’ way, leading goalie Tim Thomas (34 stops) to joke that there was a little more gray in his playoff beard when the night came to an end.

“It looked to me like his shot must have hit something on the way to the net,’’ said Thomas, musing over the reasons Game 7 went to his team for a change. “So we got that bounce instead of the other team. Other than that, I don’t know what to say.’’

Left speechless in so many Games 7 of the past, there really wasn’t much more he had to say.

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

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