The 10 best games of 2011 (as viewed by me) – #5 – NHL Playoffs Round 1: Montreal Canadiens vrs. Boston Bruins, April 23, 2011

There is not a much more dramatic thing in sports than bitter rivals going at it in postseason play.  It’s even better when it goes into overtime.  In the first round, seven game playoff series in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs the Bruins and Canadiens went into overtime three times.  The second of the two overtime games went into double overtime.  What’s better than a double overtime playoff game between two historic rivals?

Price stopped nearly everything that came his way

It was Game 5 of the B’s and Habs first round series.  This was the 164th game that the Bruins and Canadiens had played each other in the postseason since they had their first playoff match up back in 1929.  The game was played at TD Garden in Boston.  The Bruins had lost the first two games of the series in Boston and then returned the favor in Games 3 and 4 when they defeated the Canadiens in Montreal.  Goalies Tim Thomas and Carey Price had both gone stretches where they were nearly impenetrable.  The first and second periods were two of the best that you had ever seen for two goalies in the same playoff game.  Thomas and Price matched each other shot for shot in the first two frames.  Thomas had 16 saves through the first two periods and Price already had 21.  Neither team’s offense could manage a goal against either guy.  We went into the 3rd period with the score tied at 0-0.

The Bruins started with a flurry of offense in the 3rd period but they were stonewalled by Price.  Price saved the first 6 shots of the period by the B’s, all by the 4:00 mark.  Finally at 4:33 someone found the net.  Bruins winger Brad Marchand found the puck on a rebound and put it into the goal to end the scoring drought and give the B’s a 1-0 3rd period lead.  Thomas was up to the challenge of preserving the victory for the Bruins.  He stopped the first 7 shots on goal for the Canadiens in the period.  He stopped shot #8 of as well at 13:39 in but Jeff Halpern took the rebound of that shot and put it into the net to tie the game at 1-1.  The two teams played out the last 6 minutes of the game with neither team being able to hit the game-winning goal.  This would be the second overtime game in a row.  By the end of the 3rd period Thomas had added 12 saves to his total for the night, bringing the grand total to 28, and Price had added 9, giving him 30 for the game.  Now whoever slipped up first would lose the game for his team.

Nathan Horton hit the game-winner 9 minutes into the 2nd OT

20 minutes in the first overtime period came and went without either team putting the puck into the net.  The Bruins battered Carey Price with shots on goal throughout the first overtime period but Price turned everything back.  He made 12 saves in the 1st overtime frame.  The Canadiens took 9 shots at Thomas, who stopped them all.  The 1st overtime period ended the way it began and we were to be subjected to a 5th period of hockey action between these two historic franchises.  We would go 9 more minutes in the 3rd period.  5 minutes into the period it had looked like Brian Gionta had the game won for Montreal.  The Habs were on a 2-1 break and Gionta took the pass and one timed the puck into the vacated side of the net but somehow Thomas reached over and made a miraculous stop of the shot.  Roughly four minutes later Andrew Ference blasted a shot at Carey Price that Price stopped with his pad.  Nathan Horton was there to clean up the rebound and Price did not stop his shot.  Horton put the puck into the net and gave the Bruins a grueling Game 5 victory after 89 minutes of hockey.

The Bruins celebrated a hard fought Game 5 victory

This was one of the greatest goalie duels that you will ever see in the playoffs.  Carey Price had 49 saves on 51 shots.  Tim Thomas saved all 44 of the shots that he faced.  Both goalies played all 89 minutes of the game.  In the end the Bruins took the game and a 3-2 series lead.  The Canadiens would take game 6 in Montreal and they would come back to the Garden for Game 7, where the B’s won in overtime again to beat the Canadiens in the series.  In the Bruins run to the cup this was the most exciting series.  It was fitting that it was Montreal they had to play first and had to play it to the bone just to get past them.  Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and when the Canadiens couldn’t put the Bruins down the B’s didn’t look back until they hoisted the Cup.

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The 10 best games of 2011 (as viewed by me) – #8 – Stanley Cup Finals Game 7: Boston Bruins vrs. Vancouver Canucks, June 15, 2011

Assistant Captain Patrice Bergeron scored twice in Game 7

The Boston Bruins hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1972.  They were just 13 months removed from an embarrassing playoff collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers.  They were a tough but young team, sometimes undisciplined.  They were a sleeper to make a deep playoff run and they did have a hell of a run to the Stanley Cup.  They had two grueling series against the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning with a revenge sweep of the Flyers sandwiched in between.  Then came the hard fought and sometimes chippy Stanley Cup finals vrs. the Canucks.  The Canucks were a finesse team and the Bruins were a power team.  The Canucks had ultra conservative veteran netminder Roberto Luongo.  The B’s had the risk taking maverick Tim Thomas in goal.  The two teams couldn’t be more opposites.  This series also came down to a game 7, played in Vancouver.

B's sparkplug Brad Marchand celebrated his 2nd period goal

The Canucks came out aggressive on their home ice, taking 5 of the first 7 shots on goal.  Thomas stopped them all.  Luongo stopped his first 3 shots on goal until Patrice Bergeron got the Bruins on the board at 14:37 into the 1st period to take a 1-0 Game 7 lead.  Thomas had 8 saves for the period.  Luongo had stopped 3 but let the Bergeron goal in and the Bruins led 1-0 after a period.  Thomas stopped the first two shots of the 2nd period and Luongo tried to get back on track by stopping the first B’s shot on goal of the 2nd.  Alexandre Burrows had the best chance at Thomas the whole night.  He actually had him beat but Zdeno Chara came in and blocked the shot after Thomas had gotten too far from the net.  Brad Marchand struck 12:13 into the 2nd period with a wrap-around goal to make it 2-0.  The next goal came from Bergeron while the Bruins were short-handed at 17:35, his 2nd puck in the net, making it 3-0 Bruins.  Through 2 periods Tim Thomas already had 21 saves.  Luongo saved 10 of the 13 shots that he faced.  The Rogers Arena in Vancouver was stunned silent after 40 minutes of hockey.

The Canucks had a 3 goal lead to surmount and only 20 minutes to do it and Tim Thomas was playing lights out.  The Canucks had no choice but to give it their best effort in the 3rd period and Tim Thomas was ready for every bit of it.  He stopped shot after shot, not needing help from Chara this period, as he stopped all 16 of the shots that came at him.  Brad Marchand put the cherry on top at 17:16 into the 3rd after Luongo had vacated the net.  A little over three minutes later Thomas had completed the shutout and the Bruins had completed the storybook run to the cup.

The Bruins and Lord Stanley's Cup

The Bruins celebrated their first Stanley Cup in 29 years on the Vancouver ice while they rioted outside.  Veteran and Assistant Captain Mark Recchi announced right on the ice during the celebration that he had played his last NHL hockey game that night.  Every Bruin skated around the ice and celebrated with the Cup.  It was the icing on top of the Boston sports domination cake that started with the Patriots Super Bowl ten years earlier.  The Bruins came back to Boston and partied all over the city with the cup.  It was really the culmination of an incredible run, two months of hockey that Boston sports fans will never forget.  This ranked as only the third best game of the Bruins’ run on my list but this was the celebration of a greater accomplishment.  It was a microcosm of the tenacity the Bruins showed all summer long and of the domination by Tim Thomas behind the net.  This will go down as one of the great team victories in Boston sports history.

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