The Boston Bruins were on the verge of another playoff disappointment when Nathan Horton — unfamiliar with postseason pain — rescued them in overtime.
Playoff veteran Dwayne Roloson was all the Tampa Bay Lightning needed to make a long-awaited return to the second round.
There is nothing quite like a Game 7, and the Stanley Cup playoffs provided a pair of compelling ones on Wednesday night.
Horton scored 5:43 into overtime to lift the Bruins to a 4-3 home win over the Montreal Canadiens and a second-round rematch with the Philadelphia Flyers. It was the Flyers who knocked out the Bruins last year after falling behind in the series 3-0 and then 3-0 in Game 7.
Horton knows all about that story, but it doesn’t matter to him because he wasn’t there to see it firsthand. In fact, this is his first time in the NHL playoffs after toiling with the also-ran Florida Panthers for six seasons before being dealt to Boston in June.
The Bruins earned three wins in the series in overtime, and Horton scored the winner in two of those — including his deciding goal in Game 5.
“Just getting to the playoffs is all I was really thinking about. This has been a dream come true,” Horton said. “I’m really enjoying it. I’m enjoying it more every day.”
So is the 41-year-old Roloson, who was playing out the string with the New York Islanders before being rescued by Tampa Bay in a Jan. 1 trade.
Already known for his big-game success, Roloson turned back the clock and made 36 saves for his second NHL playoff shutout. With only a goal from former Islanders teammate Sean Bergenheim to work with, Roloson improved to 6-0 in elimination games and backstopped Tampa Bay to a 1-0 win at Pittsburgh.
The Lightning won a series for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 and advanced to a second-round matchup with the Southeast Division-rival Washington Capitals — the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay, in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, erased a 3-1 series deficit to move on. And its well-tested goalie is a big reason why.
“It really didn’t have anything to do with me; it was all about our guys,” Roloson said. “They did everything humanly possible to prevent them from getting a quality (shot).”
The Penguins seemed well on their way to the second round for the fourth straight year, despite the absences of star forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But things started going downhill for Pittsburgh in its new arena with a 8-2 loss in Game 5. The season ended there Wednesday.
It was the second consecutive Game 7 loss for the Penguins, who are 2-6 in such deciding games at home. Pittsburgh had 106 points, its second-highest total, in the regular season but nothing else to show for it.
“We can be proud of the way we did it,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “We had these two guys out of the lineup for a long time and a lot of injuries throughout the season and we still battled and got some points and had a good season. But the playoff is where it matters and it is disappointing.”
Boston will get two days off before facing the Flyers again in the series opener in Philadelphia on Saturday. The Bruins had home-ice advantage in last year’s matchup, but are giving it up to the Atlantic Division champions this time.
“I get at least until midnight before I’ve got to start thinking about that,” said Boston’s Tim Thomas, who made 34 saves.
Tampa Bay has even less time to get ready for Washington. The Lightning will face off with the Capitals in the nation’s capital on Friday night.
They will likely still be in a good mood following the franchise’s third Game 7 win in three tries. Nothing has gone wrong since the Lightning lost to the Penguins in double overtime in Game 4.
“Trailing 3-1, we kind of knew that after we lost in overtime, we thought our team got a lot better and was a lot stronger mentally,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. “It showed in the games after that.”
The Canadiens also showed resiliency in their back-and-forth series with Boston. After winning the first two games on the road, Montreal lost three straight to the Bruins. But the Canadiens extended their season for one more day with a Game 6 victory at home on Tuesday.
They just couldn’t finish it off. Montreal, which won its record 23rd Stanley Cup title in 1993, is on its longest non-championship drought.
Carey Price made 30 saves, and Yannick Weber, Tomas Plekanec and P.K. Subban scored for the Canadiens, who erased deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 but never led Wednesday. Montreal had won 24 of the previous 32 playoff meetings with its Original Six rivals.
“It’s a tough trophy to win,” Subban said. “I mean, you never know when it’s your year. But this year is not going to be ours.”