BOSTON – Even as the Montreal Canadiens swept through the opening round of the playoffs — their first postseason series victory in four years — they knew that a more difficult challenge was next.
The Boston Bruins. Their Original Six rival. The defending Eastern Conference champions and the NHL’s top team in the regular season.
“That’s our measuring stick,” forward Max Pacioretty said after the Canadiens beat the Bruins 3-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday night. “There’s always been that rivalry, and that bad feeling between Boston and Montreal. Not just between the cities, but in the rooms, too.”
Pacioretty scored the winner, and Carey Price made 29 saves to give Montreal a spot in the conference finals against the New York Rangers. Game 1 will be in Montreal on Saturday, with the rest of the schedule to be announced.
It’s just the second time since winning their NHL-best 24th Stanley Cup title in 1993 that the Canadiens have reached the third round of the playoffs.
“You have an opportunity to get one step closer to the Stanley Cup,” said Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, the team’s leading scorer in these playoffs. “We deserve it. We played hard. Nothing has come easy for us all year.”
Dale Weise and Daniel Briere also scored for the Canadiens, who needed a win in Game 6 on Monday night to force the series to a seventh game. They beat Boston 4-0 in that one.
“Carey Price was outstanding. Gave them a chance to win every night,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the goalie who backstopped Canada to Olympic gold in February.
The Canadiens scored just 2:18 into the game to quiet the Boston crowd and then made it 2-0 midway through the second period. Jarome Iginla made it 2-1 at the end of the second, but Briere chipped in a power-play goal off Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara’s skate with about 3 minutes left to make it 3-1.
“We just beat the best team in the league,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. “Down 3-2 and (we) showed a lot of character, a lot of passion. To win a series in Boston, it is a tough place for people to come and play here.”
Tuukka Rask made 15 saves for the Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and returned to the finals last year. Boston finished with the best record in the regular season this year, but its road stopped against the Original Six rival in another classic playoff series.
In front of boisterous crowds on both sides of the border, the Canadiens won the 34th playoff series between the two clubs — the ninth that went the seven-game distance. But after finishing the regular season with an NHL-best 117 points, home-ice advantage meant little to the Bruins.
Kings 2, Ducks 1
In Los Angeles, Trevor Lewis scored his fourth goal of the postseason, Jonathan Quick made 21 saves, and the Kings forced a seventh game in the Freeway Faceoff series against Anaheim.
Jake Muzzin scored an early goal for Los Angeles, which ended its three-game skid with another sturdy defensive effort at home.
The Kings improved to 6-1 in postseason elimination games over the last two seasons while beating Ducks goalie John Gibson for the first time in his six-game NHL career.
Kyle Palmieri scored and Gibson stopped 21 shots for top-seeded Anaheim, which missed the chance to clinch their first trip to the Western Conference finals since 2007.