Tug of war

Thursday, 08.05.2014 / 11:00 PM canadiens.com

MONTREAL- Nineteen a side and a sturdy piece of rope. That’s overtime hockey in the playoffs.

Every sudden death matchup in the history of professional sports has ended with one victor and one loser. There's no getting around that. No matter how tightly contested the event, in the end an odd bounce can mean the difference between ecstasy and agony.

Given that the Thursday night meeting between the Habs and Bruins remained scoreless through 60 minutes, with only three minor penalties handed out during that span, one would not get a good sense of what transpired on the Bell Centre ice with a cursory glance at the post-game box scores. All in all, both teams’ skaters played a fast-paced and physical game. Their efforts were in turn nullified by Carey Price and Tuukka Rask, who stopped every puck in sight - 65 in total - during regulation time.

At the 1:19 mark of the extra frame, with both teams still holding on to the rope for dear life and pulling with all their might, matters came to a head. A harmless looking dump-in by the Bostonians turned into an extended stay in the Habs zone, which ultimately produced goalmouth scramble. Rookie Matt Fraser was the last visitor to touch the puck before it slid into the goal through a maze of legs and behind Carey Price. The moment of chaos and its immediate result gave the win to the Bruins and tied the series at two games apiece going back to Boston.

“That’s the way it goes in overtime. Scrums and bounces in front of the net. Unfortunately we were on the wrong end of it,” mused Josh Gorges, who watched the winning goal from the frustrating confines of the home bench.

“Both teams played a hard-nosed game and both goalies were great tonight. When you get to overtime, anything could happen. We lost a battle in front of the net,” said head coach Michel Therrien following the defeat. “You had to fight for every inch tonight. It could have gone either way. Our effort was there.”

With Ginette Reno once against handling the opening ceremonies, the Canadiens came out of the blocks with decent pace, finishing the first period with 14 shot attempts to the Bruins’ 16. In the second, the long change may have complicated the Habs’ strategy, as Therrien's troops saw themselves hemmed in their own end time and again by the oncoming Bruins, the result of which manifested itself on the shot clock.

“We knew they were going to come hard. They’re one of the best teams out there and we didn’t start out the way we wanted to. We were hesitant and scrambled a lot. We weren’t sharp,” admitted Gorges.

Despite being outshot 25-19 after 40 minutes of play, the Habs regained composure after the second intermission and improved their puck possession game down the stretch. After keeping the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners at bay for two periods, the Habs came out of the second intermission with a plan and outshot the visiting team 14-7 in the third period thanks to efficient breakouts and more incisive offensive zone entries.

“I thought we did a good job of establishing our forecheck and generating opportunities,” offered captain Brian Gionta, who was one of the most dynamic players for the home side on Thursday night.

His line, which also featured Rene Bourque and Lars Eller, continued to show excellent playoff form, generating 17 even-strength shots between them. Gionta accounted for five of those shots, which tied him for the team lead with Andrei Markov.

“The second half of the game, I thought we played really well. We skated and passed well and drove the pace,” stressed Gionta.

The loss marked the Habs’ first setback in Montreal this postseason, and the first time the team has failed to score three goals or more in a game during the 2014 playoffs.

The ultimate outcome may be a bit of a letdown, but at least the series itself is not a sudden-death struggle. Not just yet, that is.

“We didn’t get as much traffic in front of Rask as we did earlier in the series. We need to get back to that. We had some terrific opportunities, but we could have created some more chances with more movement,” mentioned Gionta. “It’s tough to lose. It was a big swing game and I felt we deserved a better outcome, but in the end it’s still a tied series. We’ll play best-of-three from here on in.”

Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.

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