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Canadiens Enjoy Old Feeling

Hockey: Power-play goals by Audette, Perreault lift Montreal past Boston, 2-1, and to first playoff series victory since 1998.

April 30, 2002|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MONTREAL — Of all the many great moments in the Montreal Canadiens' fabled history, it's doubtful many packed the emotional punch of the 2-1 victory that launched them past the Boston Bruins on Monday and into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Compensating with heart for what they lacked in size and depth, the Canadiens parlayed power-play goals by Donald Audette and Yanic Perreault, and the acrobatic goaltending of Jose Theodore into the clincher of a six-game upset of the top-seeded Bruins.

The Molson Centre, dark during the playoffs the last three years, rocked with noise, passion and 21,273 furiously beating hearts.

"Tonight," said team captain Saku Koivu, seven months removed from learning he had stomach cancer and nine games into a stirring comeback, "it's good to be a Montreal Canadien."

That hasn't been the case for many years. The Canadiens, seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference, hadn't won a playoff series since 1998, when they defeated Pittsburgh in the first round. Their prospects of ending that streak often seemed grim.

Koivu was ill. Audette was recovering from surgery to repair seven tendons in his arm. And when their leading scorer, Richard Zednik, was struck by the elbow of Bruin defenseman Kyle McLaren in Game 4 of this series and suffered a concussion and facial injuries that put him in intensive care, they seemed to have exhausted their resilience.

But like Koivu and Audette, the Canadiens as a team discovered they had more strength than they knew. Two days after his release from the hospital, they gave Zednik the best medicine he could have.

"To see him feeling better motivated us to win this series," Koivu said.

No one was more determined than Theodore.

"After the McLaren hit I was so frustrated," he said. "I told Richard I would do what I could to win this."

Theodore stopped 34 shots and got help from the left post on a shot by Martin Lapointe halfway through the third period.

"The ghosts came back," Audette said, referring to the phantoms often credited with helping the Canadiens win at the Forum, their home until 1996.

There was nothing supernatural about Monday's game--just rugged, grinding hockey.

"This was a great series that we just went through," Bruin Coach Robbie Ftorek said. "A lot of things they worked for and got. A lot of things we worked for and didn't get. And Theodore played very well."

Brian Rolston got the Bruins a lead at 7:57 of the first period, converting his own rebound after Nick Boynton intercepted a clearing pass by Patrice Brisebois. But the Canadiens pulled even at 13:56, when Audette's skate deflected a centering pass by Perreault past Byron Dafoe.

The Canadiens' power play produced the decisive goal 39 seconds into the third period. Boston's Joe Thornton was serving a double minor for high-sticking Sheldon Souray when Perreault, with Lapointe clutching one arm, freed the other to nudge the puck past Dafoe.

"Martin Lapointe had one of my arms, so I tried to use the strength of my right leg and lift the puck," Perreault said.

He got enough to propel the Canadiens into the second round, where they will play third-seeded Carolina. That series probably will begin Friday, giving the Canadiens a few days to savor their improbable accomplishments.

"We surprised a lot of people," Coach Michel Therrien said. "We faced adversity and made the playoffs, and everybody was thinking we were not going to make the playoffs. But we believed in ourselves.... This is one step for us. To make the playoffs was one step and doing this was another step."

Said Perreault: "It's been a loud building in this series, and tonight it was especially loud. It was great to see the fans into it. People were glad to see us in the playoffs, but this team, we want to do more."

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