MONTREAL - In the waning minutes of Game 5, the faintest whisper of "Go, Habs, Go" rattled in the upper reaches of Bell Centre. But there weren't many other voices joining in.
Most of the fans had departed.
The Bruins, facing elimination last night in enemy territory, busted open a 1-1 game by pouring four third-period goals past the once-unflappable Carey Price, stating, with a 5-1 exclamation point, the following:
Come and get some.
"We said to each other, 'You know, boys, we have 20 minutes to continue our season,' " said Dennis Wideman. "We went out and played as good we could."
The band of disrespected boys (even NESN bailed on the Bruins, bumping them from their high-definition feed in favor of the Red Sox) who know no quit not only made Game 6 tomorrow night at TD Banknorth Garden possible, but they did so in a manner sure to rattle the confident Canadiens, winners of 11 of 12 previous meetings this season. Boston now trails, 3-2, in the best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
After allowing a first-period goal to an electric Alex Kovalev, the Bruins shut down the wicked winger the rest of the game. They equaled their offensive output of the four preceding games. They ended the barrage with a bad-angle goal by Vladimir Sobotka that might have temporarily buckled Price's confidence.
"I'm not going to tell you that we got in his head," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "We got shots. We threw pucks at the net. And we got a few breaks here and there."
And they got the long-awaited goods from arguably their most skilled player.
The Boston bosses consider Phil Kessel, owner of the team's fastest wheels and finest release, the type of player who needs an occasional boot to the rear. During the regular season, Julien delivered benchings and public tweaks, mostly to do with Kessel's need to compete.
But there can be no bigger bold-faced message than three straight banishments in the playoffs, especially when Kessel dressed for every regular-season game. So for Games 2, 3, and 4, when Julien deemed his services unnecessary, Kessel waited and watched while his teammates did battle.
"Obviously, you're not happy to get sat out," Kessel said. "You're disappointed. You try and help the team whenever you can."
With the Bruins desperate for some offense, Julien gave Kessel the nod and scratched fourth-line grinder Jeremy Reich, putting the 20-year-old on the second line with Milan Lucic and Marc Savard.
The kid responded.
In the second period, with the Bruins trailing, 1-0, Kessel evened the score with his first playoff strike, beating Price on the power play. With defenseman Roman Hamrlik in the box for holding (Glen Murray drew the penalty), Kessel took a feed from David Krejci at the left wall, where he likes to set up on the power play, and attacked the net. He pumped his first shot into the chest of defenseman Mike Komisarek, but found his own rebound and whistled a shot through Price's five-hole at 7:45.
It wasn't, however, just the tying goal that opened his teammates' eyes. Kessel, who's been hesitant to dip his skates into the danger areas, flew around the rink, engaging the Canadiens along the boards. He was credited with two hits. He recorded one takeaway and didn't cough up the puck. He tried five more shots that were blocked. In a 17-shift, 12:32 night at the office, Kessel played an all-around game, showcasing his offensive talents, but also playing responsibly.
"It wasn't even so much the goal," Wideman said. "He's scored a lot of goals this year that I was impressed with. But I don't think I've ever seen him battle that hard from start to finish. He worked hard. He kept his game. He didn't try and make too many plays. He made the safe plays and the right plays. I thought he battled through really well tonight. To get the goal was just icing on the cake for him. It's just good to see him come out and get right back at it."
In the third period, after killing off the remainder of a Shane Hnidy interference penalty (the defenseman was sent off at 19:33 of the second), the Bruins went to work. Tim Thomas turned aside a Kovalev attempt. On an ensuing shift, Thomas (31 saves) kicked out a close-range shot by forward Steve Begin.
At the other end, Price finally showed signs of being a rookie. He botched a save-and-clear sequence that led to Glen Metropolit's winning goal at 3:31. Zdeno Chara cranked a power-play one-timer over his glove at 5:49 to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead. With Metropolit in the box for roughing, Marco Sturm rocketed a shorthanded strike top shelf at 15:13. Then with the arena nearly empty, Sobotka threw a shot from the left circle that Price flubbed at 17:48.
"We knew what we were facing tonight," Chara said. "We had our backs against the ropes. That's how we approached it. We played desperate. We played hard. And we never gave up."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.