BROSSARD, Que. – The tight games and nastiness between old rivals Montreal and Boston is coming to a Game 7 climax.
The best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference semifinal has the Canadiens and Bruins tied 3-3 going into a final showdown in Boston on Wednesday night.
The Canadiens staved off elimination by using a high-tempo approach for a 4-0 victory in Game 6 on Monday night in Montreal.
And while much of the attention has been on disrespectful words, gestures and the odd spear to the groin area, Canadiens veteran Daniel Briere feels his team will have to stick to fast-paced hockey for any chance to topple the league’s first-place overall team.
“You can’t beat the Bruins playing like the Bruins,” Briere said Tuesday. “I think they’re probably the best at (physical hockey).
“We have to be smarter. We’ll have to take punches. We’ll have to take slashes. We’ll have to get hurt at times. That’s when we’re most successful, when we don’t get into their game.”
It’s likely that neither side will want to risk penalties in a Game 7 that will send one team on vacation and the other to the conference final, unless the score gets out of hand for one team or the other.
But Boston was abuzz with remarks made by Montreal’s flashy defence ace P.K. Subban after Game 6, in which the team’s playoff scoring leader said the TD Garden crowd will provide plenty of energy for the Bruins and “I can’t wait to take that all away from them.”
Subban, who has 12 points in 10 games, also said he gave no credit to the Boston crowd that boos him regularly for making him play better, adding:
“I play to win. I don’t care if there’s nobody in the stands.”
Briere said Subban, who turned 25 on Tuesday, has learned to thrive on playing the villain in opposing team’s rinks.
“Let’s face it, most of the buildings we go into he’s kind of the target,” said Briere. “He sticks out.
“He’s flashy. He plays with an edge. He’s one of our best players, so he attracts the boos on the road. I think P.K. has become even better as the season went on at dealing with that and using it to his advantage.
“Other than screaming at us, there’s not much else they can do. If at the end of the night we win, they’re probably going to be very quiet walking home. That would be the ultimate reward for us.”
The Canadiens and Bruins are facing each other in the playoffs for a record 34th time and this will be their record ninth Game 7.
Montreal has won five of them, but the Bruins took the last one on April 27, 2011, when Subban scored the tying goal but Nathan Horton got the overtime winner in a 4-3 Boston victory.
Subban scored in overtime in the series opener last week in Boston, and scored on a power play in Game 5 in Boston as the Canadiens mounted a late surge before falling 4-2.
The series has seen spears to the groin from both sides, including Andrei Markov’s jab at Boston captain Zdeno Chara late in Game 6. In the previous game, the Bruins’ Shawn Thornton was fined for squirting water into Subban’s visor from the bench.
Boston bruiser Milan Lucic caused a stir with a display of muscle flexing, only to have Montreal’s Dale Weise do it back to him.
“There’s a lot of that going on with their team, their players, even their fans,” said Montreal forward Brandon Prust. “They can throw as much disrespect as they want.
“It doesn’t really bother us at all. That was just (Weise) giving a little bit back and mocking them a little bit. It’s not a big deal.”
Prust does not expect fireworks.
“If it was the regular season, I’m sure it would carry over, but this is Game 7,” he said. “What are we going to do? Go out there and slash them and punch them in the head, take stupid penalties?
“Not at all. We’ll focus on winning a hockey game and not taking dumb penalties.”
The Canadiens stayed alive with what coach Michel Therrien called their best game of the playoffs so far.
He saw Max Pacioretty, with a goal and an assist, and Thomas Vanek, with two goals, deliver the points expected of top-line players. He also got a 26-save shutout from a highly focused Carey Price.
And his move to replace slow-footed Douglas Murray with skilled and quick-skating rookie Nathan Beaulieu worked to perfection as the 21-year-old was plus-2 in limited ice time.
“We played a hell of a game,” said Therrien. “The only thing we’ve got to do is reset, refocus and make sure we’ve got another good game (on Wednesday).”
The Canadiens have not been to a conference final since 2010, when goalie Jaroslav Halak backstopped them to upsets of Washington and Pittsburgh before they fell to the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Bruins hope to reach the conference final for the third time in four years. They won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and lost in the final to Chicago last spring.
“We’ve felt confident all series against these guys,” said Montreal captain Brian Gionta. “(Monday) night was definitely a great effort, but we’ve had efforts like that already in this series.
“The hope is to go in there and have that same effort. And hopefully, the pressure’s on them.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014