By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Nobody could be blamed if they were starting to wonder just how trustworthy this edition of the Boston Bruins would be in the playoffs.
After all, the Bruins -- while showing mettle and worthiness -- had suffered gut-wrenching Game 7 losses in each of their last two playoff runs.
This time around, would the big-game ghosts and playoff poltergeists would be too much for a team with plenty of playoff baggage?
While it certainly deserves the caveat that the series against Montreal isnt over and things can change awfully quickly in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bruins are looking more and more like a team that isnt living in the past at all.
They kept their composure locked down tightafter losing the first two games at home. They've come from behind on the road. And they've won back-to-back overtime games in forging a 3-2 series lead over their arch-rivals to the North.
It was all encapsulated in Saturday night's 2-1, double-overtime victory in Game 5 at TD Garden that will do down as another chapter in the book of BruinsCanadiens.
It took a lot," said Patrice Bergeron, who looked exhausted after finishing with 28:18 of ice time. "We stayed with it. We kept competing. We tried to tell ourselves we werent tired and I guess . . . we were the more fit of the two teams, because at that point it is just mental.
Its not your body, it's your head. You have to stay with it. I thought we did a great job of that.
The Bruins have displayed equal parts courage, heart and guts in ripping off three straight wins against the Habs. The Bs, who began the season with plenty to prove in the playoffs, finally look like a hockey club thats putting it all together when it matters most.
As does their goalie. Tim Thomas had long since proven hispuck-stopping brilliancein the regular season, but now -- after a 44-save performance Saturday night -- is finally beginning to build a postseason reputation, as well.
The hyperactive Bs goaltender, who experienced exaggerated highs and lows in the first four games of the series, was all kinds of good against the Canadiens Saturday night while elevating the heart rates of everyone on either side of the BostonMontreal fence.
The cross-crease, post-to-post save in double overtime on Brian Gionta during a 2-on-1 break with Travis Moen was the highlight-reel stop of the night for Thomas. The 37-year-old has given up somesucculent rebounds during this serieson Montreal shots, but he made the adjustment by quickening his leg pad whenchances come from the far side.
Thomas has racked up gaudy stats and plenty of awards in the regular season, but true playoff greatness had eluded him until he went into the Timmy Zone for the final 30-plus minutes of an epic double-overtime tilt that will no doubt grow into his signature moment with the Bruins..
Save of the game. Simple as that, said Zdeno Chara of the Gionta stop. It is two-on-one and I think he made a hell of a save.
More than anything else, a Thomas who plays as well in April and May as he does in December and January allows Boston to dream that this year will be different. Just ask Gionta as he continues shaking his head slack-jawed indisbelief.
But Thomas isn't all Boston has going for them.Playoff newcomers Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton powered the offense with the two goals, Patrice Bergeron is back to being a postseason warrior with six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in five games and face-off domination throughout the series. Dennis Seidenberg led the Bs with 38:15 of ice time along with six blocked shots, four hits, five shots on net and has sparkled in alead role as Charas defense partner that's also settled down the other defensive pairings.
It all starts with the kind of physical sacrifice that Michael Ryder unflinchingly made with an unprotected glove save and a beauty -- in the first period on Tomas Plekanec. Ryder even kicked his leg out and threw his gloved hand up with perfect technical style in a nod to his ball hockey days between thepipes in Newfoundland as a kid.In the third period, a sure-fire Montreal goal was deflected from Bergerons backside to Charas leg and away from the net in the type of grit and determination that symbolizes winning playoff hockey and Boston's newfound grace under fire.
Theres no glitz, no glamour. But there is a growing sense of confidence and good feeling.
These Bruins seem faster, hungrier, more experienced . . . and determined to erase Boston's recent playoff history.
And they know how tough it's going to be.
I think weve experienced that last year, right?" said coach Claude Julien when asked about the difficulty of nailing down the fourth win of a series. "We dont want to bring up the collapse against the Flyers after they built a 3-0 series lead, but unfortunately it is what it is. That last win is a tough one, we recognize that. We need to go to Montreal with the intentions of winning that game and playing to win that game.
We need to understand its probably going to be the toughest game of the series. When teams are playing for their lives they come out with their best effort. And we have to be ready for that.
Saturday nights double overtime win was just further confirmation that as Zdeno Chara said, anything is possible for the Bruins this spring.