-- BOSTON -- Between the second and third periods of Game 7 Wednesday night, Montreal goaltender Carey Price, not necessarily the most vocal of figures in the Canadiens room, delivered a simple message.
Stay in the moment, never mind the past, don't look too far into the future.
At the time, the Canadiens had given up a late second period power-play goal to Boston forward Jarome Iginla that cut the Montreal lead to 2-1.
The Canadiens were starting to look like they might be wearing down.
But Price's teammates took his words to heart as they scored a power-play goal of their own in the third period and Price once again meant the difference, stopping 29 of 30 Bruins shots as the Canadiens knocked off the Presidents' Trophy winners in Game 7 and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers with Game 1 set for Saturday afternoon in Montreal.
"I took a penalty, we gave up a goal. I was expecting to come in and see him a little bit down on himself. That wasn't the case at all. He was more confident than I've ever seen him before," said Montreal forward Max Pacioretty. "He spoke up and said something like only live in the moment don't worry about the past. I don't know if that's the difference in his game this year from every other year but I'm speechless with how he's playing."
Veteran center Daniel Briere, another player who had a significant impact on this game, admitted he was a bit surprised to hear Price's words of encouragement.
"He was right. But to hear it from one of your leaders, a guy whose saved us many, many times throughout the year, the playoffs, the series, is an eye-opener and everybody kind of listened," offered Briere.
The low-key Price downplayed his comments.
"At this time of year it's easy to let your emotions get carried away, especially in a situation like tonight. I thought our guys, I don't even think they really needed for me to say anything. I thought we were a really composed group the whole series," Price said.
The netminder also pointed out that the Habs haven't really accomplished anything yet this spring.
"We're halfway there," he said.
We beg to differ.
To come up with this kind of effort in closing out a series that had more twists and turns than the Mississippi River says a lot about this Montreal team, most notably its maturity and its belief in itself in the face of widespread skepticism.
A year ago, an inexperienced Montreal team collectively lost its marbles against the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators and was gone after five games. While Montreal looked efficient in sweeping Tampa in the first round this spring, the Lightning were without their top goaltender, Ben Bishop, so it was a little tougher to gauge where the Habs were as the second-round series against the Bruins began.
Boston, meanwhile, was a team that many had picked to return to what would have been their third Stanley Cup final since 2011. They were deep, physical, experienced and boasted a top-flight goaltender of their own in Tuukka Rask. And the theory was that there simply wasn't as much competition in the Eastern Conference as there was in the West.
After the Bruins shut down the Habs in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead, it looked like the Bruins would simply take the next step. But it didn't happen. The Canadiens struck early in Game 6 and went on to win 4-0. Then in Game 7, they got another early goal from Dale Weise off a delightful Briere pass across the front of the Bruins goal and the die was cast.
"We were just tenacious I think the whole series. We didn't give up at any point. These guys they laid it all on the line and got rewarded for it," said Price, who is 8-3 this spring with a .926 save percentage.
As the two bitter rivals finally began to disentangle themselves from an often rancorous series, there was much discussion of respect, who had earned it and what it meant.
"I thought we competed hard against a bigger team, a stronger team, a more experienced team. People were saying 'don't poke the bear,' but I thought they gave us many reasons to keep competing in the series. That's a character win for us. That's a character series win for us," said defenseman P.K. Subban, a lightning rod of emotion on and off the ice in this series.
"Especially for the guys who have been here, for the guys who were here for the run in 2010, who were here when we lost Game 7 (in 2011 against the Bruins), they were just sick of it. Sick and tired of people disrespecting us and not giving us the credit that we deserve. I think we earned a lot of respect today."
Speaking of respect, Montreal head coach Michel Therrien deserves a boatload of credit for his team's resilience. Even when emotions got high in this series -- and they continued to be high right through to the end of Game 7 with reports of trash talking after the game -- Therrien kept his team pointed in the right direction, something that didn't happen in the Ottawa series a year ago.
"You know what? To be able to do that accomplishment, to beat the Boston Bruins in their building, I believe those guys earned some respect. The respect you got to earn and I think tonight those guys earned it," Therrien said.
Whether the Bruins underestimated the Canadiens or not is moot at this point. But a team that is built for the playoffs was on its heels early in Game 7 and could never quite get the Canadiens to hold still long enough so they could deliver the knockout blow.
"I don't think we can say that we were probably playing our best hockey in this series," Boston captain Zdeno Chara noted.
The big man personally was not at his best Wednesday as he took two holding penalties in the first period and had zero shots on goal. He had just two assists in the seven games.
"I mean I would lie to you if I say it's not disappointing, especially after the season we had," Chara said. "For sure our goals, which were much higher than obviously finishing in the second [round], so of course it's disappointing."
Briere grew up a Canadiens fan, learning to hate the Bruins at an early age. And he was part of a Philadelphia team that stormed back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Bruins in this same building in Game 7 in 2010.
In some ways, he illustrates what has galvanized this Montreal Canadiens team.
Signed as a free agent in the offseason, he has endured an up and down season and was a healthy scratch in Game 5. But he set up the crucial first goal of Game 7 and then scored the insurance goal that broke the Bruins' backs with 2:53 left in regulation.
"Every player wants to participate. Everybody wants to be part of the team, to have a chance to help out obviously. It's a role I'm probably not used to as much as I've been in the past few years. But it doesn't matter. It's not about me. It's about helping out and moving forward and keeping the winning streak," Briere said.
He knew he wasn't likely to get much playing time with the Canadiens nursing a one-goal lead in the third period, but he said he kept telling himself, stay ready, stay ready.
"Stay within the game and stay ready in case they need you. I finally had my chance and it paid off," Briere said.