Desperate Bruins turn tables on Habs

MONTREAL -- They're cut. They're cut. The Canadiens are cut.

It turns out the Montreal Canadiens really are just another team and not the big, bad machine they were during Games 1 and 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, which we know because the Boston Bruins took it to them in Game 3 en route to a 4-2 victory Monday night at Bell Centre.

Montreal still leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 back here Thursday night.

The Bruins proved why desperate teams are dangerous in every aspect of the game and received major contributions from virtually every player. Boston played its style and brought a much-needed physical presence, executing the game plan effectively.

"It was huge," assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said of the team's physical play. "In the long run, it's going to wear them down. Obviously, if we get hit, we're getting tired, so we tried to do that against them."

Captain Zdeno Chara was back in the lineup after missing Game 2 because of the effects of a virus that caused dehydration. The veteran defenseman logged a total of 26 minutes 20 seconds of ice time.

According to Bruins coach Claude Julien, the captain felt better Monday morning, but the team wanted to give him the entire day, including the pregame warmup, before making a final decision whether Chara would play.

He did and he proved crucial.

"He's arguably the strongest guy in the league and he's not easy to play against," Julien said. "Whenever you take him out of the lineup, you're taking a big piece out of there. Tonight we were glad to have him back. We were gauging his game by how he was going to be feeling period after period and he seemed to feel good. We kept giving him the ice time he was capable of handling."

"I felt good," Chara said. "I wasn't feeling well and I tried to play [Saturday], but we decided not to. It took me another 24 hours to recover. Since this morning I knew it was likely I could play."

Chara's teammates knew having the captain back would add a spark.

"He makes a huge difference," goaltender Tim Thomas said. "He's one of the most important players, if not the most important player, on this team and one of the best defensemen in the league. It's harder to play without him. Last game we all wanted to step up for him and we weren't able to get it done, but it was nice to see him back and he's such a big part of our team."

Not only was Chara's presence a motivating factor for the Bruins, Game 3's character victory for Boston could turn the tide in the series.

Case in point: The Bruins held a 3-1 lead with 3.3 seconds remaining in the second period when the Canadiens' Benoit Pouliot was called for charging after throwing an elbow to the head of Boston blueliner Johnny Boychuk.

Boychuk's defensive partner, Andrew Ference, quickly jumped Pouliot and the two dropped the gloves. After the game, Julien said he was pleased with Ference's decision to intervene.

"There are two sides to those kinds of things," Julien said. "You really appreciate your teammates coming to your player's defense.

"What I'm not a big fan of is when there's a clean check thrown and we feel the need to [retaliate]. That has crept into our game now, whenever there's a big, clean check, and that's on every team. But tonight [Pouliot's hit] was a penalty, obviously, and I thought it could have ended up worse than it did because he jumped in the air and it was definitely a charging penalty. For [Ference] to go to his defense, I thought it was the right thing. I would respect him and support him on that decision."

Thomas finished with 34 saves and made some timely stops down the stretch after allowing a couple of soft goals.

The spectacular pregame presentation got the Bell Centre rocking, but it quickly turned into Sunday Mass when the Bruins struck early and often.

The Bruins showed their sense of urgency from the start, getting the game's first goal from David Krejci at 3:11 of the first period. Unlike the first two games of this series, Boston finally gained momentum and had a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes thanks to a goal by Nathan Horton.

"Maybe playing with a lead took [Montreal] out off their comfort zone a little bit," Julien said. "It was important for us to have a good start. The early goals helped our confidence. Our guys were ready to play tonight and weren't as tense as they were the first two games at home. It helped and gave us more energy."

Rich Peverley gave the Bruins a 3-0 advantage at 2:02 of the second period, but the Habs answered with back-to-back goals at 7:03 of the second and 4:08 of the third to cut the deficit to one. Chris Kelly added an empty-net goal for the 4-2 final.

"Obviously it's nice to get rewarded for the results," Bergeron said. "But at the same time, we knew we could get those goals. It was just a matter of getting the puck and forcing the play. I thought the first two games, they were first on the puck. I felt like we got a lot better on that."

Montreal coach Jacques Martin told his players he was disappointed that they did not play with urgency and believed they weren't prepared to play."

"You win as a team and you lose as a team," Martin said.

Following the game, the Bruins took a two-hour bus ride to set up camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., for the next two days in order to focus on the task at hand and eliminate any possible distractions.

"We've got a couple of days before our next game and we have to keep working on our game a little bit," Julien said. "Hopefully we'll get a little rest and sharpen up in those areas that we think we need to sharpen up in and come back here ready for Game 4."

Because the Bruins were able to get back into the series with Monday's victory, Julien said he's not worried about the extra day before the next game affecting the team's momentum.

"You can't worry so much about the schedule," he said. "It's something we can't control, so to dwell on that is a waste of time to me. The schedule is made, you live with it and make the adjustments. It's the same for the other team. At this stage, guys are putting everything out on the line, so rest is never a bad thing."

While hanging in the Adirondacks, the Bruins won't be splitting wood or running from the Montreal media. In fact, only those players who did not dress for Monday's game are scheduled to practice at the USA Rink in Lake Placid on Tuesday.

The Bruins have made it a series and the Canadiens will attempt to stop the bleeding. If Montreal allows Boston to tie the series on Thursday, the wound may become too big for the Habs to close.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.