Leafs and Bruins play Game 7 tonight!

Of all the series in a lackluster first round, this one has stood out from the rest. A matchup between bitter rivals will require a Game 7 to decide who advances to the second round where the Lightning await.

For the Maple Leafs and Bruins, it’s go time tonight at TD Garden in Boston. Only one team will win while the other has all summer to think about what could’ve been. By coming back from a 3-1 deficit in taking Games 5 and 6, the Leafs have to be feeling really good about themselves. Starting with the brilliant play of netminder Frederik Andersen, they’ve shown tremendous heart to force a deciding game. Facing a hated rival they once choked against, can they finish the job?

For the Bruins, all the pressure is squarely on them. This is a team many felt could make a deep run with a Stanley Cup possible. It was never gonna be easy against the very fast and skilled Leafs. Going in, I felt it would probably be a seven game series with the more experienced Bruins prevailing. However, I didn’t expect Boston to take their foot off the gas pedal. They’ve left the door open for Toronto to pull off a 3-1 comeback for the first time in nearly 80 years in franchise history. They last did it in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final stunning the Red Wings to become one of only four teams to overcome a 3-0 deficit. Twenty eight teams have come back from 3-1 down in NHL history.

Toronto is in this position due to the sensational play of Andersen, who has caught fire. Over the last two games, he’s stopped 84 of 88 shots in both wins to push Boston to a do or die Game 7. In Game 5, he made 42 saves to stave off elimination with many coming (19 saves) in a tilted third that saw the Leafs hang on for a 4-3 victory. He followed it up with 32 big ones in a Game 6 Toronto 3-1 home win at Air Canada Centre before a raucous environment. On a emotional day where the Maple Leafs held a moment of silence for the 10 victims who died along with 15 more pedestrians injured due to being hit by a van in North Toronto on Yonge Street, the Leafs gave their city a reason to smile. Mitch Marner had two points including the game-winner on a nice backhand past Tuukka Rask. Tomas Plekanec sealed it with a empty netter to loud cheers both inside the arena and outside.

The Leafs are here despite Auston Matthews having only a goal and assist with a minus-five rating. Marner has led the way with eight points (2-6-8). The second-year center who flew under the radar entered on fire and has remained that way. Toronto has gotten good series out of Morgan Rielly, James van Rymsdyk, Plekanec, Tyler Bozak along with unlikely source Andreas Johnsson. After being suspended for three games, Nazem Kadri has contributed two assists in two Leafs victories. If Matthews or William Nylander spring to life later, it could be lights out for the Bruins.

Interestingly enough, Boston has gone as their dominant top line has. In the three wins, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak have combined for 23 points (6-17-23). In the three losses, they’ve been totally shutdown with no points and a combined minus-16. So, what’s it gonna be for the big line tonight at home? They have missed on a number of chances the last two games. Marchand also was taken off the puck by Plekanec that led to Marner’s winner in Game 6. Don’t forget Bergeron missed Game 5 due to a injury. He returned for Game 6. The number one centerman has five assists but no goals in the series. Pastrnak leads all skaters with 11 points (4-7-11) including a hat trick and three helpers in a blowout win. Marchand has two goals and five helpers.

Torey Krug has led the way on D with eight points while Zdeno Chara has struggled at times with Toronto’s speed. He and Charlie McAvoy haven’t had great series. Outside of Jake Debrusk, Sean Kuraly and David Krejci, Boston hasn’t gotten enough support from key vets Rick Nash and David Backes. Despite creating opportunities on the forecheck, Nash again has been a huge disappointment in the playoffs with just one goal. Backes plays hard like Nash but has two goals. They’re a combined minus-seven.

For reasons only known to coach Bruce Cassidy, talented rookie Ryan Donato has only played one game hardly getting ice time while veteran Tommy Wingels has gotten into three. As mystifying as Boston coughing up a third round pick to play Nick Holden in one playoff game.

It could very well come down to the goalies. Andersen is hot coming in. So, he’s very confident which has to give Toronto a mental edge. Rask is as proven as anyone left in the tournament. But his poor Game 5 hurt his team. He bounced back and played well making 27 saves on 29 shots in Game 6. That included a highlight reel poke check denial on Matthews.

The first goal could have significance. While I don’t put a whole lot of stock in it, I have to believe it’s more important for the Bruins. They don’t want to fall behind and create doubt on home ice. The Leafs have proven they can come back.

It should be exciting theatre. There’s nothing like a Game 7. Especially coming off arguably the best game of these playoffs.

Who will win? Call me a hypocrite or if you’re from Boston, a turncoat. After I had the Bruins not only winning this series but the next two to reach the Cup Final. I just have a feeling about Toronto tonight. This was always the worst matchup for the Bruins and now it’s come true. They have all the pressure.

I’ll even pick a final score.

Leafs 4 Bruins 2

Matthews gets one. So does Kadri. Toronto scores a empty netter to gain a measure of revenge for 2013. The miracle Boston third period comeback from three down with Bergeron tying and winning the series in sudden death. It’s worth noting the Leafs also trailed that series 3-1 before blowing a 4-1 lead in the third of Game 7. I’m going against that historic choke game.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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