BOSTON – Playing on the second night of a road back-to-back with their star goaltender benched to start the third period, the Montreal Canadiens could have been excused if they relinquished first place in the Northeast Division to the Boston Bruins with little fight.
Instead, the Canadiens overcame multiple deficits in that third period and left TD Garden with sole possession of first place. Andrei Markov scored with 8.2 seconds left in regulation to tie the game and Brendan Gallagher connected in the sixth round of the shootout to give the Canadiens a 6-5 win Wednesday.
Montreal has held at least a share of first place in the division every day since Feb. 19.
That streak was less than 10 seconds from ending before Markov's shot hit Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara and went past Tuukka Rask to tie the game at 5-5. The goal came during a 6-on-4 power play with goaltender Peter Budaj off the ice for an extra attacker.
"I mean it wasn't an adjustment in our style, it was just an adjustment in our mindset and the way we were playing where we were much more aggressive," Gallagher said. "We were getting the loose pucks, we were winning those 50/50 pucks and finding ways to create chances and I thought that was big for us and when you get down two goals twice and come back two goals, you have a lot of character in this group. It's great to see it and it's a lot of fun."
After the two goaltenders combined to deny the first 11 shooters in the tiebreaker, Gallagher won it with a wrister that slipped between Rask's legs.
The Canadiens had trailed 4-2 after Boston's four-goal second period. Boston also led 5-3, before Gallagher started the comeback with his first goal of the night at 12:18 of the third period.
The Bruins' line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin combined for nine points in the losing cause. Bergeron finished with one goal and three assists. Marchand's goal was his second in his past 12 games. The Bruins had scored just eight goals in their past five.
"We're very disappointed with how the game finished. But we have to be happy we scored as many goals as we did," Marchand said. "We haven't been scoring like that lately. We played a pretty good game. I thought we probably deserved that win. But a couple of bounces and penalties and stuff and it turned out the wrong way. But definitely some things we can be happy about."
Michael Ryder, in his second game back in Boston with the Canadiens since winning the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011, scored twice for Montreal.
"It's pretty good. It feels good, but I'm just happy that we got the win," Ryder said. "We came out, started off the game hard, got the lead, and then in the second, Boston turned it around on us and got the momentum back. In the third, we knew we had to change it up a bit, and start getting back to our game, getting pucks deep and skating. That's when we're at our best."
Montreal's slumping offense had scored just two goals in two games, so the Canadiens were looking for a fast start against the Bruins. That's just what they earned when Ryder got them on the board at 4:15 of the first period.
P.K. Subban doubled the lead at 2:53 of the second period with a blast from the right point that went off the left post and in. But it didn't take long for the Bruins to answer and get their comeback in gear.
Just 39 seconds after Subban's goal, Dougie Hamilton ended a wild possession in the Montreal zone with a shot from the high slot that eluded Carey Price to cut the Canadiens' lead to 2-1.
Marchand then tied the game with a second effort in front of Price. Marchand's initial backhander went over the net and off the glass. It deflected back to the front of the net, where Marchand banked the puck off Price and into the net at 7:23 to tie the score at 2-2.
Bergeron's power-play goal at 17:01 put the Bruins ahead for the first time. Nathan Horton capped the second-period scoring spree when he cashed in on a pass from David Krejci at the end of a 2-on-1 at 17:36 for a 4-2 lead.
"That's the disappointing part. You know it was nice to see us score some goals tonight, we've been a little bit dry lately and we managed to score five," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "So that was nice to see. But unfortunately we couldn't keep it out of our net, so it ended up costing us."
The Canadiens switched to Budaj in goal to start the third, then grabbed a little bit of momentum with a goal. Ryder scored his second of the night at the end of a 2-on-1 with Tomas Plekanec. The Canadiens were within 4-3 just 3:58 into the final period.
Seguin extended the Bruins' lead when he cashed in the end of a 2-on-1 with Marchand at 11:50. But Montreal again pulled within one, when Gallagher's follow-up shot beat Rask to the glove side at 12:18 to cut the lead to 5-4.
With 1:27 left in the third period, Boston defenseman Aaron Johnson was called for a minor for delay of game when he deflected the puck out of the rink in his own end. The Canadiens then pulled Budaj and got a fortunate bounce off Chara for the tying goal.
"We just got the message that even though they were down 4-2, it's back-to-back nights. We don't have a game tomorrow and nothing to save it for, just keep battling back," Budaj said. "It's only two shots away. You never know in hockey. See the goals that we scored, there were a couple of bounces and stuff like that. It's the matter of sometimes bounces, and sometimes hard work. We definitely showed a lot of hard work."