The story is being told that Jose Theodore had a message before last night's Game 3 dance with the Bruins. "Get me a lead," he supposedly told his colleagues, "and I'll close the door."
Theodore did, indeed, shut it with the visitors parked on his doorstep in the final minutes of a 3-2 Canadiens victory, but only after the Bruins were allowed back into the game when Theodore was beaten by a Brian Rolston shot from another time zone. The Rolston "softie" lifted Boston to within one of the Canadiens, which is another way of saying Christmas came early for the Bruins.
For Theodore, this one will go into the memory bank mostly for the assists he delivered on Alexei Kovalev's two goals -- the first one opening the scoring on the Canadiens' first shot and the second providing Montreal with a 2-1 lead late in the first.
"I always knew that I could be a factor in this series," Kovalev said. "Game 1 was OK. [It wasn't.] I was a little better in Game 2. [He was.]'
And, as he suggested somewhere in the midst of a massive media scrum, not only was he a factor last night, he was the engine that made this team run.
In the process, the Canadiens at least put a prettier face on a series that looked downright ugly after Friday's 2-1 overtime loss in Boston left them trailing the best-of-seven series, 2-0.
The Canadiens played their best game of the series last night. Translation: This one shouldn't have been as close as it was. The fact is the Bruins appeared dead in the water after Andrei Markov provided Montreal with a 3-1 lead at 13:32 of the second period, but Theodore's door was left ajar on the Rolston goal 3:35 into the final period, with all kinds of time for the Bruins to scuttle back. They almost did in the final minutes when, as you'd expect, the Bruins exerted their strongest pressure.
This time, Theodore got it done.
The Rolston goal, which had people buzzing and hearts fluttering, was a 40-footer and change. But hey, a win is a win -- largely because Kovalev produced, wrote, directed, and at times choreographed it.
For example, nothing can be finer for a team in a desperate situation than to score on the game's first shot 2:16 into it, as Kovalev did, with a little help from Andrew Raycroft, who owned Friday night's game in Boston. The Calder Trophy finalist was out of positon, thus providing an onrushing Kovalev with what amounted to an empty net -- after being fed by Saku Koivu.
Kovalev also had Raycroft guessing on his second goal in the game's 16th minute to reestablish the Canadiens' margin -- after Andy Hilbert used up part of the 31 seconds he spent on the ice in the first period to lock up the score. (Theodore would like to have that one back, as well.)
This time, Kovalev took off from just outside the Canadiens' blue line after poking the puck beyond a Bruins attacker, perhaps asking directions to Theodore's net. Raycroft appeared a tad undecided, whereupon Special K lashed a shot beyond Raycroft from inside the circle.
"Their guy [Raycroft] has been doing a heck of a job [29 stops last night] and some of them were pretty darn good," said Montreal's Craig Rivet.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's all about shooting. We've got to keep on shooting. Throw enough at any goalie and pretty soon a few start to go in."
This was not the Bruins team that toyed with the Canadiens in Game 1, starting with the absence of Michael Nylander with flu-like symptoms, who had his (upper body) bell rung by Steve Begin in Boston during Game 2.
And while Raycroft last night wasn't the goaltender he was en route to pilfering Friday's Game 2, he was exceptional from time to time -- starting with a Richard Zednik breakaway in the first period and during several more scrums around his place of business before relinquishing the second period's only goal to Markov.
Game 4 is on the line tomorrow, but it's unlikely Begin will be joining in the fun. He was carried from the ice late in the game after damaging his knee and left the arena on crutches.