After the Bruins took a three games to two series lead, some pundits had the Canadiens dead and buried.
The Bruins were big, strong, deep, experienced and had Tuukka Rask in goal. Montreal captain Brian Gionta, however, channeled his inner Mark Twain in saying the reports of the Habs’ death were greatly exaggerated.
The Canadiens put together back-to-back masterpieces in Games 6 at the Bell Centre and Game 7 at TD Garden Wednesday and eliminated the heavily-favored Bruins.
They did it with terrific defense — the kind that requires sacrificing your body to block shots. They did it with superior goaltending from Carey Price — 29 saves in Game 7. And they did it with opportune scoring — the team that scored first in all seven games emerged victorious.
The soft-spoken Price even delivered a pep talk between the second and third periods with the Habs holding a 2-1 lead.
“They had scored a goal toward the end of the period,’’ said Price. “At that point, it was important we realized the situation we were in. We were in a great spot going into the third period and it was exactly where we wanted to be. Our motto has always been living in the moment and in the third period, we just stuck to our guns and did what we had to do.’’
Price said the team really became tight over the course of the last half of the regular season and became stronger as the postseason wore on. They became a united front in squaring off against their archrival.
“We enjoy coming to the rink and spending time together and that’s what you need for a winning team,’’ he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be on a few winning teams and they’ve all had that in common.’’
As much as the Bruins were a terrific opponent and it was seven compelling contests, the Canadiens proved to be the better team.
“Definitely our style of hockey is relentless puck pursuit, not giving teams time and space,’’ said Price. “When we’re getting into our forecheck and we’re making it hard on teams to come up the ice is when we’re playing our best.’’
Throughout the series, Mike Weaver, Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov and others threw their bodies in front of heavy shots from Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, and the rest of the Bruins to keep the puck away from Price. The vast majority of pucks that made it to the net were easily seen by Price.
“I can’t say enough about [the defensemen], even the forwards,’’ said Price. “That’s not an easy job to block shots like that and constantly come back and get pounded all the time. That’s why winning is so hard and these guys paid the price for it.’’
Even after the Canadiens swept the Lightning in the opening round, they didn’t feel as if many people outside their organization believed they could advance past the Presidents’ Trophy winner as the best team in the regular season.
But the Canadiens always believed they could do that and more.
“Every year you want to prove something,’’ said Price, who led Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal in Sochi. “As the season goes on, once you get to the dance, anything can happen. It’s all about believing you can do it. Once you stop believing you can do it is when you’re in trouble.’’
At the end of the game, Price added an exclamation point to the victory when he took his water bottle and squirted it at his teammates as a joke, harkening back to when Bruins winger Shawn Thornton squirted P.K. Subban in the face twice toward the end of Game 5, which earned Thornton a fine.
“It’s been going around in the league,’’ said Price, a large smile spreading across his face. “I thought it would be good to make some light on the situation.’’