MONTREAL – Four years ago, Claude Julien made a little history.
His seventh-seeded Montreal Canadiens rallied from a three-games-to-one, first-round deficit to stun the second-seeded Boston Bruins in seven games. It marked the first time Boston ever gagged up a series after taking a 3-1 lead, after amassing a 15-0 record in such situations.
Can history repeat, with a little twist? These days, Julien coaches the eighth-seeded Bruins, who were all but left for dead after losing Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup to the top seed Habs on Tuesday night and falling behind 3-1 in the series.
But the Bruins stepped out of the grave Thursday night, as they stunned what had been a festive sellout crowd at Bell Centre with a four-goal third-period outburst in a 5-1 Game 5 victory. Boston will look to even the series and force a deciding seventh game when the Bruins host Game 6 Saturday night.
The win marked the first time in seven tries the Bruins managed to force a Game 6 after falling behind 3-1 to the Habs in a playoff series.
"We've got to win or we're going home," Julien said. "Simple as that. We're two games away, that's still a long way to go and a lot of hockey to play. We have to do the same thing on Saturday."
Expectations rarely had been lower for the Bruins than when Julien took over the reins this season. In a city in which the Patriots built a mini-dynasty, the Red Sox won two World Series in four years, and the Celtics take the NBA's best record into the playoffs, the Bruins are a distant fourth in fan interest.
Boston missed the playoffs each season since the 2004 collapse and have just one playoff series win since 1994.
But something different happened along the way to another depressing season. The anonymous B's coalesced under Julien's watch. Boston earned its way to a surprise playoff berth with 94 points due to the efforts of a crew of lunchpail grinders, with a low-scoring, hard-hitting crew anchored by journeyman Tim Thomas' steady hand in net.
With the exception of a nervous start in Game 1, the Bruins have given the Habs fits throughout the series by sticking to their script. Boston has turned what on paper seemed a mismatch – Montreal won all eight regular-season meetings – into a battle.
Games 2, 3 and 4 were decided by one goal, with two of those games going to overtime. But Boston only had a Game 3 win to show for their efforts.
"We've been holding back on shots too much in this series looking for the perfect opportunity," Julien said, "and we're not the type of team that can be doing that."
The Canadiens have a record of killing the Bruins in their long and often one-sided playoff history with breakout performances by young goaltending talent, from Ken Dryden in 1971 to Patrick Roy in 1986.
This series appeared to be the coming-out party for Habs phenom Carey Price. The 20-year-old rookie from Vancouver held Boston to just five goals over the first four games of the series and took a .957 save percentage into Game 5.
But just as the glistening city on the St. Lawrence River was getting ready to proclaim Price the next Dryden, the rookie suddenly looked like a kid again as the Bruins broke Game 5 open.
The Bruins snapped a scoreless streak of 87 minutes, 45 seconds early in the second period, when Phil Kessel rifled one past Price to tie the game, answering a first-period tally by Montreal's Alex Kovalev.
"It's a good feeling, we knew what we were facing tonight, and that's how we approached it," said Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. "We played really desperate hockey. We gave up the first goal, but we never gave up."
The floodgates opened in the third. Price made the game's critical mistake, dumping a puck he should have held for a faceoff.
Petteri Nokelainen collected the loose puck and dished it to Glen Metropolit, who put it home for a 2-1 lead 3:31 into the period. Chara scored a power-play goal and Marco Sturm a shorthander before Vladimir Sobotka finished things off with a soft goal with 2:12 remaining.
"Maybe we thought it would be easy tonight," said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau. "Maybe we thought it would be just another 1-0 game and Carey would make all the saves for us and everything would be great. We knew (a bad game by Carey) would come at one point, whether it was the first series or the last series."
"He's been outstanding the whole series," says Julien. "I've seen him have a couple weak games, and he always bounces back. I don't think we're in his head or anything."
Price spoke about his gaffe after the game, but told reporters, "I won't think about it again after I leave this dressing room."
One bad period, of course, does not mean a permanent shift in momentum. Montreal usually has gotten the better end of the rivalry, winning 23 of the 30 times they've met in the postseason, including 18 in a row in one stretch and both meetings this decade.
But Julien, having been on the other side of the fence, isn't going to be satisfied by merely giving the top seed a run for their money.
"For me personally, I wouldn't say I would be satisfied. I don't believe in that, if you're in a tight series that could have gone either way and you don't win, I don't take consolation in that. … The small picture, focusing on one game at a time, makes it a lot easier. We did that tonight and came up with a win."
- Claude Julien