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Bruins tie Montreal (4/5/96)

Friday, April 5, 1996

The one that got away
Jim Greenidge, Globe Staff

When the Canadiens' Mark Recchi was called for slashing with 2:12 remaining in regulation last night and the Bruins leading, 3-2, Boston goaltender Craig Billington, who hadn't played in 14 games, wasn't thinking victory. Instead, he was thinking about how fleet afoot the Montreal players were. He was thinking that something fluky could happen.

He was right. Saku Koivu took a pass off the left boards from Vincent Damphousse, skated in one-on-one and beat the seldom-used netminder with a shorthanded backhander with just 24.3 seconds remaining.

As a result, the Bruins had to settle for a 3-3 deadlock, just one point and a tie with the Washington Capitals for sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff logjam rather than a tie with Montreal for fifth.

With Koivu putting the heat on him, Billington considered challenging the shooter with a poke check or by coming out and taking away the angle. But he did neither.

"As soon as you think about [coming out], generally you don't," said Billington, who wound up allowing one goal on 15 shots in just over 40 minutes after replacing injured Bill Ranford with 15:25 remaining in the second period. "In that split second you take, he's usually going to beat you, so I just wanted to play him upright. So either way, I knew it was going to be tough. Sometimes players bait you a little bit. I know he's a very good skater. With 40 pounds of gear, I don't know if I could match him."

Billington, the backup for 33 of the last 36 games (his last start was a 2-1 overtime loss in Buffalo Feb. 7), never let himself get comfortable when Boston had a man advantage in the late going. This is his seventh year in the National Hockey League, so he knew there was still plenty of hockey left.

"I was actually thinking exactly what happened," he said. "I was waiting for a blocked shot off a shin pad or a quick break or someone floating in behind the net. In a situation like that, they've got to go for it. I also know the speed they have; they're an extremely good skating team."

Billington did everything he could to prepare for this situation: "That's why I get the big bucks."

(ed. note: How many atheletes complain about money? A lot. Yet Craig, who was making $300K in 95/96, consdered himself to be fortunate with his salary.)

He said he's in good enough shape physically to run the Marathon. It's the mental part that's much more difficult. "You can go and jump on a bike and training and do the weights," he said. "You can do all the physical things, but the mental part is extremely challenging for all athletes put in a position of not seeing a lot of playing time. You've got to take pride in it. You don't have to like it, but you have to accept it.

"That's what I do."

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