For us as a group it was nice to reward our fans because theyve been punished enough. -- Claude Julien
BOSTON In one short sentence, Claude Julien showed just much he understood all that was swirling around him.
When asked to express his feelings when he saw Nathan Horton fire up an overtime game-winner that clinched Bostons first Game 7 victory in 17 years, Julien had the big picture in mind.
There were ramifications and upheaval brewing on Causeway Street if the Bruins couldnt get it done in their fourth season under Julien, but it looks like all of that has tabled for the time being.
The Bruins always understood the pressure and the expectations that came with Wednesday's perform-or-perish Game 7 scenario -- they've been there before. But this current brand of Black-and-Gold brothers had never been able to match the lofty aspirations of a hockey city reborn.
Beyond the three straight Game 7 losses under Julien prior to Wednesday night -- to the Flyers, Hurricanes and Habs -- there were legitimate organizational questions about the long-term employment of Julien and his staff.
Even with the win, the questions linger.
Bruins president Cam Neely will ultimately make the decision on retaining the coaching staff and the roster once the season is over, and he didnt shy away from the questions pertaining to his coach while holding court in the victorious dressing room.
Based on how we finished last year and coming into this year, we had some high expectations, said Neely. We knew it was going to be tough series against Montreal given how we played each other during the course of the season. In sports there are always expectations and there is always pressure.
The pressure and the pain might have been exactly what these Bruins needed to get to the other side. Learning to win can often involve painful losses and wince-inducing lessons, and they dont come any more painful than the gut punches suffered during last years collapse against Philly.
In the end, that bitter taste may be exactly what spurred Boston on to victory against the Canadiens . . . and what will keep them going.
You know, the guys deserved it. I think we deserved this series, said Mark Recchi. I give Montreal a lot of credit: They played hard, they played well, their power play was unbelievable and it kept them in the series. But five-on-five I thought we were a really good hockey team. I thought we deserved the series.
Horton's overtime score was a team effort in every sense of the word.
Adam McQuaid beat P.K. Subban in a one-on-one puck battle in the corner. Milan Lucic set a perfect pass back to Horton in the high slot for the second assist of the playoffs, and David Krejci served as a human screen as the puck whistled past.
That little bit of overtime execution gave Boston the victory after several heart-stopping saves by Tim Thomas in the extra session, and 34 total stops on the evening.
No longer will Thomas, Lucic Zdeno Chara or Patrice Bergeron have to answer questions about why their team couldnt capture a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs after Wednesday nights coming-out party.
The Game 7 dragon has been slain, and the Bruins were enjoying the spoils after finally tasting sweet victory against a team that wielded the upper hand on them way too many times.
There was a lot at stake in this series. People understand the rivalry between Montreal and Boston thats been there many times, and people also understand the statistics and the winning percentages between the two teams, said Julien, alluding to Boston more often being on the losing end. If you look back to my first year we took Montreal to seven games and then lost.
We know the last couple of years its been Carolina and Philadelphia. I saw some of the stats of Bruins in the seventh games, so its one of those things where you feel happy.
One of the best parts of the victory: different heroes for the Bruins at every turn.
Playoff newcomer Horton had two overtime game-winners in his first postseason appearance, Kelly had six points from Bostons third line, Ryder had a two-goal game and The Save when Boston needed him most in the middle of the series. Andrew Ference finished as a feisty plus-6 while stepping up and answering all who doubted his three-year contract extension last summer.
I think we showed a lot of character. We had to put ourselves in a little bubble, and not think about the pressure and what people were saying around us, said Bergeron. I think we did a great job with that. We stayed resilient all game and all series, and we found a way.
It was a true team playoff victory in every sense of it, and the Bruins are going to bask in it for at least a day.
There are still serious power-play problems, not to mention the revenge issues against Philadelphia and enigmatic performances from franchise players like Chara and Lucic.
But those are issues for another day.
For now, Chara, Thomas, Julien, Chiarelli, Kelly and so many other Bruins can laugh heartily at the playoff monkeys tossed from their backs on Wednesday night.