BOSTON — After playing a mentally and physically exhausting 89-minute and three-second marathon that lasted well into a second sudden-death overtime, some people might question exactly why they put themselves through such torture.
Hockey players wonder how they'll ever live without such moments.
"I was just saying to Rex [Mark Recchi] in there, I guess those are the feelings that you miss when you're done with hockey," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. "It's an incredible feeling. I've been on both sides of the coin, so it's nice to be on the right side."
The Bruins were on the right side of this one, as Nathan Horton banged in a rebound off a Ference shot at 9:03 of the second overtime to take a 2-1 win over Montreal in Game 5 of their opening-round series at the Garden.
The Bruins now lead the series for the first time at 3-2, and can close out the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Game 6 on Tuesday. That won't be easy, as the Bruins know better than anyone how difficult getting that fourth win can be after failing in four chances last year when they blew a 3-0 lead against Philadelphia in the second round.
"I think we've experienced that last year, right?" Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We don't want to bring that up, but unfortunately it is what it is. That last win is a tough one, we recognize that. We need to go to Montreal with the intentions of winning that game and playing to win that game. We need to understand it's probably going to be the toughest game of the series. When teams are playing for their lives they come out with their best effort. And we have to be ready for that."
But before they turn their attention to trying to close out the series in Game 6, the Bruins will savor their dramatic victory in Game 5 for a bit.
"We were excited," Horton said of the club's attitude heading into the second overtime. "We were excited to go out there and start over. We knew we were playing well and we just had to keep playing. You know guys are going to be tired, but that's playoff hockey. It's exciting for us to come out there and get that win. That was a big win for us, and the last one is the hardest one to get. But we're not done yet."
They weren't done on Saturday thanks largely to some spectacular work by goalie Tim Thomas. He finished with 44 saves on the night, none bigger than his robbing Brian Gionta of a sure goal on a two-on-one with Travis Moen with 14:25 left in the second overtime.
"Run of the mill, I guess," Ference joked when asked about Thomas' play. "I mean, what do you say? We still get excited by some of the saves, but he does them every game. It's great. It's very reassuring to know that he's back there to bail you out."
Thomas got some help as well, as the Bruins skaters also blocked 21 shots. That included a combination stop in front by Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara in the first overtime, and one save that may have been even better than any of Thomas' when Michael Ryder covered for his netminder with a glove save in the first period.
That helped keep things scoreless until the third period, when Brad Marchand scored his first career playoff goal at 4:33. But the night was just beginning, as Jeff Halpern answered for Montreal at 13:56 and the marathon really kicked into gear.
"They're very nerve-racking and it was getting pretty tough there in the second one," Marchand said of the overtimes. "We were getting very tired. Guys were starting to cramp up. I'm pretty tired right now, but it was a pretty special feeling being out there, very intense.
"We wanted to play simple and keep battling," Marchand added. "We knew it was only a matter of time between whether one of the teams were going to score here. We wanted to make sure it was us and we just wanted to make sure we did the little things right and take advantage of their mistakes."
It was the Bruins, or more specifically Horton, who made his first playoff series a very memorable one with his second goal.
"It was an exciting game for both teams, but in the end it felt good to get that," Horton said. "We knew it was going to be a greasy goal, and it sure was. It was a rebound, but they all count. It was a big goal for us."
Ference, who had the best view in the house of the long-awaited winner, agreed.
"It's awesome," Ference said. "It's a great feeling to see one go in, but to put it in? That's the first time he's probably ever [had] a goal that felt like that. It's great. That's what it's all about."