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WILMINGTON -- Nothing here yesterday at Camp Ristuccia so much as approached the level of news. Less than a dozen hours after departing Montreal with a somewhat bizarre double-overtime victory, good for a 3-1 series lead over the Canadiens, the Bruins reported to their tucked-away training site for a day off.

Light lifting, in every sense, was the order of the day.

"Today's about recovery," said coach Mike Sullivan, following a brief noon meeting with his good-humored charges. "The guys are getting some rest, staying focused."

How different than all those decades gone by, huh? Over a span of 45 years, 1943-88, when the Bruins came home from Montreal during the playoffs, recovery usually found them desperately attempting to tape their shattered souls, ice down their broken spirit. Their springtime jaunts to the Forum were far more tours of torture than tours de force.

Just as a subtle but vivid reminder of the way it used to be, the jumbo screen at the Bell Centre a number of times on Tuesday flashed video of Game 7, Boston-Montreal, in the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals. Oh, yeah. Nothing like a little refresher course in TOO MANY MEN ON THE ICE to knock the stuffing out of the Black & Gold faithful who have been waiting since 1972 for a Bruins season to end in something other than heartbreaking defeat. What's on the screen when the Bruins aren't in town, behind-the-scenes clips from "The Silence of the Lambs"? Perhaps something in a merlot, Clarise?

There couldn't have been more than 100 Habs fans in the stands when the video first rolled around 5:50 p.m., but those 100 booed with conviction at the sight of Rick Middleton providing the 4-3 lead with 3:59 to go. Twenty-five years later, the Cup banner grown dusty in the rafters, and they booed even a temporary Boston advantage.

And we're supposed to be shocked when some of them also boo our national anthem? By the way, note to those who continue to get their shorts tied in knots over the anthem dissing: The vast majority of the booing came from the Bell's mile-high cheap seats, filled with very young adults and adolescents. Most of them looked sobriety-challenged. If you're thinking of returning volley tonight at the Vault prior to Game 5, you might want to save your vocal chords for something else. Like maybe Round 2?

If the Habs lose the series -- and the chances of that look pretty good right now -- their faithful fans will have Alexei Kovalev to kick around for decades to come, in a TOO-MANY-MEN-ON-THE-ICE kind of way. Following a lighthanded slash from Travis Green, the highly-skilled Kovalev tried to beg a penalty call from the officiating staff. But the referees weren't buying it -- no doubt thanks to Mike Ribeiro's histrionics in Game 3 -- and Kovalev's fake-'n'-shake act promptly led him down a disastrous path.

The puck skittering along with him as he winced and shook, Kovalev collided with Habs back liner Sheldon Souray. As the two CH freres banged around, a la "Candlepins for Cash," Glen Murray stepped up, gained possession, raced over the blue line, and fired home the winner.

"A good noncall," summed up Murray.

A stunned, disbelieving silence fell over the rowdy Bell crowd, including those up there in the cheap seats, as the Bruins vacated their bench and raced to surround Murray and goalie Andrew Raycroft. The herd of 20 white-and-gold sweaters remained bonded in a prolonged hug-a-thon as Kovalev and the rest of the dejected Habs straggled off the ice.

Earlier, the clock showing only 22 seconds to go in regulation, and the series at the cusp of returning to Causeway Street in a 2-2 deadlock, the Bruins had to stew in playoff purgatory while referee Mick McGeough waited for NHL officials to review a Mike Knuble shot. Knuble's backhand sweep, with 30.8 seconds to go, initially was ruled NO GOAL by McGeough. But the replay clearly showed the puck darted over the goal line, by a healthy 3 or 4 inches, before it ricocheted back out. McGeough hung up the phone and emphatically gestured toward center ice, the signal that the goal counted, necessitating a faceoff (and a rollback of the clock).

Longtime Bruins watchers, accustomed to Forum horrors of every dimension and cruelty, must have surrounded their TVs like ready-to-mount vigilante posses while McGeough conferred with the powers that be prior to delivering the decision. How in the world, they had to be thinking, could the goal be disallowed? What this time, a phantom whistle, a dislodged net, a crease infraction? After all, when in Montreal, there is a transgression to fit every occasion. Montreal columnist Jack Todd, in yesterday's editions of the Gazette and Globe, wrote that Knuble knocked down Habs goalie Jose Theodore prior to the puck crossing the line. Now that would have been deliciously Forum form -- NO GOAL, goaltender interference. How perfectly, you know, Yvon Lambert-ish that would have been.

Montrealer Martin Lapointe didn't wear Boston's spoked-B sweater back in the bad old days.

"I'm not part of that era, but I've heard about it," Lapointe said yesterday, well aware of how Bruins fans eye all Montreal hockey happenings with equal parts suspicion, mistrust, and loathing. "I can see that it's always in the back of their minds, sure. They don't forget."

None of that, added Lapointe, crossed the minds of the Boston players as the play was under review. Some of them -- Andrew Raycroft for one -- weren't even alive for such, shall we say, signature moments as the '79 Cup semifinals. Their fans live with the scars, while the players live in the moment.

"It's not like you're down there thinking, `Oh, OK, here we go again,' the way maybe a fan would," said Lapointe. "You can't play that way, because if you did, you'd go nuts."

Here in the Hub of Hockey, nuts is not a place you go. Nuts is home. Nuts is a place you've been, and you've come back, and you feel the urge to go again and again. Nuts is a padded white room, dotted with puck-sized CH crests, and a video screen that plays an endless loop of a befuddled, incredulous Don Cherry mouthing the words, "Too many men . . . "

in today's globe
Bruins playoff recap
Bruins vs. Canadiens
Habs win series, 4-3
 Game 1: B's 3, Habs 0 | Gallery
 Game 2: B's 2, Habs 1 | Gallery
 Game 3: Habs 3, B's 2 | Gallery
 Game 4: B's 4, Habs 3 | Gallery
 Game 5: Habs 5, B's 1 | Gallery
 Game 6: Habs 5, B's 2 | Gallery
 Game 7: Habs 2, B's 0 | Gallery

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