Nathan Horton, Adam McQuaid, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic

Bruins need overtime to kill off Canadiens in Game 7, will face more demons in Round 2

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Much like the Vancouver Canucks last night, the Boston Bruins didn’t shake off the Montreal Canadiens in the prettiest way possible. This Game 7 match fits this gripping, up-and-down series like a glove. Even though it took three overtime wins and plenty of nervous moments, the B’s will play in the second round thanks to Nathan Horton’s second overtime game-winner of the series.

Although the Bruins got one longer term monkey off their backs by beating their historical rivals, they will face another ghost of their playoff past in the second round against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Boston 4, Montreal 3 (OT); Bruins win series 4-3

Even though Boston won, both teams seemed to thrive in their preexisting roles in elimination games. The Bruins kept shooting themselves in the foot, making mental errors to cough up 2-0 and 3-2 leads. Montreal remained defiant in desperate moments, as they scored timely goals and Carey Price made astounding saves.

Give the Bruins credit, though. They kept their heads down and wouldn’t let some tough breaks sap their energy, ultimately overwhelming their hated opponents at home.

Boston builds, then squanders lead in first and second periods

The Bruins came out humming in Game 7. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk and 43-year-old wonder Mark Recchi made it 2-0 in a two minute span in the first period before Habs coach Jacques Martin wisely calmed his team down with a timeout.

Much like in Game 6, mental errors plagued the Bruins throughout this game. Yannick Weber scored an absolutely brilliant power-play goal to make it 2-1, which is the way the first period would end.

The Bruins’ abysmal power play (0 for 21 in the series) reared its ugly head in the second period, as Tomas Plekanec added injury to the insult by scoring a shorthanded goal. Yup, that means the Bruins’ PP was actually a -1 in this series.

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Boston can’t kill off Montreal until OT

To little surprise, the third period was full of drama. One of the carryover stories from this game will be the suspension debate regarding Andrew Ference’s hit on Habs forward Jeff Halpern. Decide for yourself if Ference deserves supplementary discipline for the hit (he didn’t get a penalty in the game, if that matters).

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The Chris Kelly-Rich Peverley-Michael Ryder line hasn’t been together very long, but they seem to work incredibly well together. Kelly scored another big goal to give the Bruins a 4-3 lead, but it wouldn’t last.

Say what you want about cocky Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban, he’s clearly a special talent. Subban rifled a one-timer through Thomas for a power-play goal, the Habs’ third special teams tally (two on the PP, one on the PK).

Despite some tense moments, the Bruins were spot-on in overtime for the third time in this series. Once again, it was Horton, who scored his second overtime-winner of the first round to win it for Boston.

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The outlook for both teams

The Bruins won, but they face some serious questions. Becoming the first time to win a seven game series without a PP goal isn’t something to be proud about. They also struggled protecting leads, as they coughed up two in this game. They cannot expect to go deep in the playoffs without improving on special teams and they need to avoid taking bad penalties, as well.

One of the areas they don’t need to worry about is the play of Tim Thomas, as their Vezina Trophy candidate made 34 out of 37 saves in Game 7.

While the Habs must feel great sadness about this defeat, they were tough to finish off once again. Price might not have won a series, but he silenced just about anyone who wondered why the team went with him instead of Jaroslav Halak. Montreal’s top line also grossly outplayed Boston’s, although some will forget that after watching those two Horton OT winners.

So both teams had some pluses and minuses to look at, but Boston overcame their historical headache. Will they also avenge their 2010 collapse against the Flyers? We’ll find out in Round 2.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

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Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…