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Biller holds off Montreal in relief (4/5/96)

Billington seizes the moment
Joe Gordon

Craig Billington clearly dislikes sitting on the Bruins' bench night after night with 40 pounds of goaltending equipment strapped to his slender frame.

He's a competitor who believes he is good enough to be a No. 1 goalie. But he also knows his role on the Bruins is backing up Bill Ranford.

His last start was Feb. 7 when he lost, 2-1, in Buffalo. Before last night, his previous appearance was a 14-minute stint March 5 against the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y., with no decision.

Last night, the unthinkable happened. Ranford took a shot off the right knee and went down like a wounded calf. Suddenly, Billington, the forgotten man, was pressed into service at the FleetCenter in a crucial game against Montreal.

The Habs were leading 2-1 at 4:35 of the second period. At that precise moment it should have become evident to Bruins management that it would have been wiser for Billington to have started at some point during the four-game-in-five-night stretch that ended last night.

Billington took his bosses off the hook, however, handling 14 of the 15 shots he faced in his 40:25 stint. He came within 24.3 seconds of getting the relief win, but succumbed to a shorthanded breakaway goal by Saku Koivu and settled for a 3-3 tie.

It's hard to believe there's a goaltender in the NHL who could have done a better job than Billington did last night.

"The mental part is something that is extremely challenging," said Billington, who added that he considered coming out of the crease more aggressively, but stayed back because Koivu is so speedy.

"For all athletes who are put in a position where they're not going to see a lot of gametime, you have to take pride in it," Billington said. "You don't have to like it, you have to accept it. That's what I do."

Billington, 29, was extraordinary under the circumstances. The 5-foot-10 170-pounder stopped Pierre Turgeon with a pad save less than five minutes after he came in and stoned Brian Savage on a breakaway 2:30 into the third.

He made two big stops in the final seconds of overtime. He did not look like a goalie who was fighting the puck or his role.

"I guess it comes from the way you approach it," he said. "I believe in life everything is attitude. You have to find the attitude that will allow you to succeed under different conditions. Certainly the position I have here, I understand it. I may not like it, but if I don't accept it I'm not going to be any good when I do play.

"I know how good I am. A belief in yourself is something that allows you to get through these things. Perhaps because I've played for so long and under so many different situations I can feed from them. I think that's something I do."

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