The Bruins found themselves in a decisive Game 7 for the fourth in time in the last four years as the Canadiens pushed their opening-round series with Boston to a seventh game with a 2-1 win in Game 6 in Montreal on Tuesday.
Back in Boston with their series on the line less than 24 hours later, the ghosts of past playoff horrors could have haunted the Bruins. And not just the specters of the distant past of a Montreal franchise that had won 24 of the first 32 playoff series between the Original Six rivals.
The Bruins had more recent demons to deal with, having ended their season in Game 7 defeats in each of the last three springs, including the last two years on home ice.
But they weren't about to add another chapter of misery to a long-suffering fan base. They surrendered a lead late in the third period to force overtime and make the 17,565 on hand sweat a bit, but Nathan Horton scored at 5:43 of the extra session for a 4-3 win and TD Garden exploded in a mixture of relief and jubilation.
"I think it felt pretty good because if you look back, my first year here we took Montreal to seven games and lost that seventh game in Montreal [in 2008]," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "And we know the last couple of years it's been Carolina and Philadelphia and to be able to win a seventh game … it was just one of those things where you feel happy. And more so, it happened in our building. Our fans were excited, elated to see that goal go in. And for us I guess as a group it was nice to reward our fans with that because they've been punished enough."
The players have been punished as well, first by suffering those devastating defeats over the past three, then in dealing with the constant reminders of those failures.
But the Bruins refused to let those past setbacks dictate their approach to this game.
"Well, we're very happy to get that win, but we never doubted ourselves," center Patrice Bergeron said. "We always believed."
The Bruins believed despite falling behind in the series 2-0 after losing the first two games at home. Believed despite their failure to close out the series in Game 6. And believed despite squandering an early 2-0 lead and a late 3-2 advantage in Game 7.
"I'm impressed by this team," goalie Tim Thomas said. "Impressed that all the adversity that we faced, even during the middle of this series, that we were able to stick with it and come out with a huge win for the franchise and a huge win for us as individuals."
Now the key will be to see whether getting over the Game 7 hump will lead to a truly deep playoff run for a team that hasn't gotten past the second round since 1992.
"It shows everybody that wasn't quite sure what it takes," defenseman Andrew Ference said. "It's such an even playing field at this time of year. The mistakes are magnified and the individual performances have to be so bang on to give yourself a chance. It was the perfect lesson to learn what it takes to advance anywhere in the playoffs."
The next step will take getting past the same team that handed the Bruins their worst defeat last year, as they will open another second-round series with the Flyers on Saturday in Philadelphia.
"I'm not going to lie, it's a good opportunity for us to hopefully exorcise some demons," Ference said. "I think I commented before the game about how much stock I put into history. There's new guys on this team. There's new guys on that team. It's a fresh start for us. We learned lessons from last year, no doubt about it. And we're not afraid to talk about those lessons, and we have a chance to try to make things a little bit better this year."
Though it will be hard to top the feeling of what they just accomplished on Wednesday, even if it came with a little more drama than the Bruins needed.
"Everyone knows Montreal is our biggest rivalry, Game 7 overtime and to be the one who came out on top, the team that came out on top, it's pretty incredible to be a part of," Thomas said. "If I would have said I knew we were going to win I'd be lying. I knew we had the potential to win, but it could have gone either way the way that they just kept battling back. That's what overtime is all about. I think I have a few more gray hairs in my beard over here."
And for the first time since he's been in Boston, Thomas won't be shaving that playoff beard after a Game 7.