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Reeling and dealing

Bruins' playoff chances take another hit in loss to Montreal

Hal Gill (top right) gets a grip — on Canadiens defenseman Craig Rivet’s face — during this second-period scrum.
Hal Gill (top right) gets a grip — on Canadiens defenseman Craig Rivet’s face — during this second-period scrum. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

The Bruins took yet another step backward last night.

On the same day they bid farewell to left wing Sergei Samsonov, who was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers at the trading deadline, they moved one step closer to bidding an official goodbye to their playoff chances.

Prior to this one, the Bruins had back-to-back opportunities to beat the Buffalo Sabres but scored only a pair of goals in each loss. Last night, they couldn't find the back of the net at all and were shut out by the Montreal Canadiens, 3-0, at TD Banknorth Garden.

They are 9 points behind the Habs in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 19 games remaining in the regular season, and Montreal has a game in hand. Compounding the situation is that Atlanta, Toronto, and the Islanders (whom the Bruins play tomorrow) are between them and the Canadiens in the standings.

Tensions were high, nerves were raw, and frustration was evident as the Bruins realized just how long a shot they are to come back from the substantial deficit they find themselves in.

''I don't think you can use any excuses," said veteran defenseman Brian Leetch. ''We couldn't have had better talk and preparation and focus on what we knew this was -- this was a bit like our Game 7 here and we just didn't have it all going when we got on the ice. It was a big loss. We put a lot of emphasis on this game and we knew we were going to face some challenges with the 19 games after [last night], regardless, but that we had to have this game to make a lot of those challenges worthwhile. Now you're back to focusing in the locker room [on] your next game. Until we string some wins together, scoreboard watching is not going to help us now."

After a scoreless first period, the first half of the second was all Habs, who got all the offense they'd need on their first of two power-play goals. The tally came at 6:48 with Montreal riding a 4-on-3 advantage. With Bruins right wing Brad Boyes and Montreal defenseman Sheldon Souray off for slashing, rookie defenseman Milan Jurcina was called for hooking 40 seconds later at 6:22. Less than a half minute later, the Habs were on the board. Michael Ryder, positioned in the left circle, fired a cross-ice pass to Alexei Kovalev in the right circle. Kovalev wristed a shot into the top right corner of the net for his 17th tally.

At 10:05, the Canadiens had a whopping 10-2 edge in shots and had five power plays in the period. They finished 2 for 8 on the night; the Bruins were 0 for 6.

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas kept his team in it as long as he could, making a multitude of challenging stops and finished with 38. One of the best was at 12:22 of the second on a breakaway by center Tomas Plekanec. Chris Higgins made the lead pass that sprung Plekanec. He switched from his backhand to his forehand, trying to beat Thomas inside the left post but the netminder was in position to fend it off.

Tempers flared at 16:13. Defenseman Nick Boynton was whistled off on a double minor for spearing center Mike Ribeiro. Defenseman Hal Gill and Montreal blue liner Craig Rivet squared off. And Patrice Bergeron had a skirmish with defenseman Francis Bouillon. But the officials called it conservatively, giving Boynton the double minor and a game misconduct, assessing Ribeiro a minor for roughing, and handing Gill and Rivet five-minute fighting majors. Montreal center Steve Begin, who was a third man in, didn't get called for anything and neither did Bergeron or Bouillon.

Montreal doubled its lead on another power-play goal in the third. With David Tanabe sitting in the penalty box for holding at 7:12, the Habs connected only seven seconds later with help from a Bruin's stick. Saku Koivu dished a pass to Souray at the point and he one-timed it from long range. It caromed off Gill's stick and past Thomas to make it 2-0 at 7:19. Plekanec sealed it with an empty-net goal with 24.1 seconds remaining in regulation.

Boynton, one of the more emotional leaders on the Bruins, said he was just trying to light a fire under his teammates. It didn't work, but not much has been working for Boston.

''I was just trying to spark the team a little bit," said Boynton. ''We weren't playing very well. Things didn't seem to be going our way. Obviously, [the loss] doesn't help our cause, that's for sure. We move on to the next game, we've got them [three] more times, we've got Buffalo three more times, and we've just got to start winning games. We've got a capable team and we just didn't show it tonight.

''It's a very deep hole we've dug ourselves and we started right from the start of this year, but we've got to go game to game. There's no excuses, we knew how important the game was tonight."

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