MONTREAL - Coach Guy Carbonneau says lessons were learned from the Montreal Canadiens' shaky first round of the NHL playoffs.
The Canadiens wasted a 3-1 series lead as a harder-working Boston Bruins club battled back to force a decisive Game 7 in their Eastern Conference quarter-final.
The Canadiens rallied to win 5-0 in that game on Monday to the delight of the 21,273 Bell Centre fans who had been strained through an emotional wringer by their team's ups and downs. They are expected to begin second round play on Thursday night.
So what did Carbonneau's team learn?
"That this is the playoffs and you can't take games off and think that it will be easy and that you just have to show up," he said. "That's a process you go through to become a better team."
The Canadiens finished first in the conference and were heavy favourites against the eighth-seeded Bruins, who were without two of their top offensive players, centre Patrice Bergeron and winger Chuck Kobasew.
The Canadiens were all over Boston in Game 1, a 4-1 victory, but needed an overtime goal from Alex Kovalev to win the second game, when they looked to be outplayed by Boston.
The Bruins were the better team again in a 2-1 win in Game 3 in Boston, but the Canadiens and their rookie goalie Carey Price shut them out 1-0 in Game 4.
Coming back to Montreal, the Canadiens fans and apparently the players felt the series was in the bag, only to watch as plucky Boston pounded four third-period goals past Price for a 5-1 win.
Back in Boston for Game 6, a third-period let-down saw the Bruins score another four to win 5-4 and force a seventh game. Even in Game 7, they needed Price at his best to make 11 first-period saves before they took over and closed out the series.
"We started and ended the same way," said Carbonneau "(Boston coach) Claude Julien did a great job.
"They pushed us to the limit."
There had been fear that the 20-year-old Price's confidence may have been pieced by allowing 10 goals in two games, but the Vancouver native was back to his usual cool-headed best for the deciding game.
"We asked our players to give us their best," added the coach. "I told our goaltender that he didn't have to be Superman, he just had to be Carey Price.
"But I never lost confidence in him. All season long, when he was faced with a challenge, he met it."
Despite his two setbacks, Price ended the series with respectable numbers - a 2.09 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
The Bruins made a series of it by luring the Canadiens into playing their style of defensive, physical hockey, while Montreal's strengths all season were speed and quick puck movement.
Kovalev said his team seemed to think it important to show the Bruins how tough they were instead of using their quickness and skill.
Carbonneau saved perhaps his best move for Game 7, when he put Kovalev onto captain Saku Koivu's line with winger Christopher Higgins and had brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn with Kovalev's usual centre Tomas Plekanec.
That freed Kovalev somewhat from the smothering attention of big Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara and he ended up assisting on Montreal's first two goals, by Mike Komisarek and Mark Streit.
The clever Kostitsyns combined for three goals - two by Andrei, one by Sergei. The Kostitsyns had also scored the first two goals of the series in Game 1.
"I think that was the first time we played a whole game together," said 22-year-old Andrei, who is two years older than Sergei. "I think I had more shots than in the first six games together."
It helped Montreal immensely that Koivu was able to return from a fractured foot for the final two games of the series. Defenceman Francis Bouillon also came back for the last two from an ankle injury.
Both will be needed against what is sure to be tougher opposition in the next round.
Of concern was the sub-par play of Plekanec and top defenceman Andrei Markov, who denies reports that he is playing with an injury.