The result was the same. For one hockey crazed city, it was deja vu all over again. For the other, it was celebration time. Five years later in a similar situation, the Bruins again got the better of the Leafs in Game 7. Unlike 2013, they didn’t need a miraculous rally from three goals down to stun Toronto.
This time, Boston needed only one goal to tie the score and swing the momentum in a very entertaining deciding seventh game. After playing a sub par second period to fall behind by a goal, the Bruins used a four goal third to eliminate the Leafs 7-4 before a chaotic environment at TD Garden to advance to a second round match up against the Lightning.
A wild game is just what NBC needed in a otherwise dreadful opening round devoid of drama or excitement. Of the eight series, this was the only one that needed seven games to decide. The classic Original Six rivalry lived up to the hype with the Bruins gaining the upper hand early before the Leafs came storming back to make last night possible. It didn’t disappoint.
The first period featured five goals. Each team traded power play goals in the first five minutes. The Leafs got on the board early with Patrick Marleau deflecting home a Jake Gardiner point shot past Tuukka Rask. But the Bruins came right back when rookie Jake DeBrusk scored on a redirection past Frederik Andersen.
Marleau again tallied when he took a nice Mitch Marner feed and beat Rask with a good wrist shot far side. The Boston netminder was not square to the shooter and was shaky. But the Bruins came hard in the second half and got the last two markers of a crazy period.
First, rookie Danton Heinen was able to get to some loose change off a Rick Nash centering feed that David Krejci got a piece of. Heinen’s quick turnaround shot beat Andersen to tie it at two. With under a minute left in the first, Boston had Toronto pinned in. Patrice Bergeron was able to sneak in on a line change and bury a rebound at 19:23 from Kevan Miller and David Backes for a 3-2 Bruins lead.
There was no momentum from the end of that stanza for the hosts. Instead, it was the Leafs who played a much better second outscoring the Bruins 2-0.
It didn’t take long for Travis Dermott to tee up a left point shot and beat Rask from distance a little over a couple of minutes in. A play set up by William Nylander with Roman Polak earning a primary helper.
There was only one penalty in the second. With Tomas Plekanec in the box, his team took advantage of some sloppy Boston play to score shorthanded. A back pass that Brad Marchand missed allowed Kasperi Kapanen to get behind for a breakaway. With Marchand hustling back, Kapanen was able to ward him off and cut in and put a series of moves on Rask before tucking home the puck on the last of about four dekes for a amazing solo effort. The shorthanded goal gave Toronto a 4-3 lead.
That goal seemed to take the steam out of Boston. Even though they were getting more shots (13) on Andersen, he was stopping them like he did at the end of Game 6. His defense was also suffocating the Bruins in the neutral zone by taking away time and space. They didn’t give up any dangerous chances. Despite just six shots, they converted on 33.33 percent to take a one goal lead to the locker room.
There was no doubt the Bruins crowd was nervous entering the third. Their team trailed in a Game 7 rematch in the same round as 2013. Could they come back again? Of course, the rosters were different but the Bruins still had a few key holdovers including captain Zdeno Chara along with Bergeron, David Krejci (3 assists) and Marchand. Rask wasn’t the goalie. It was Tim Thomas.
In a unpredictable game where there was no such thing as momentum, the Bruins played a great third period. They outscored the Leafs 4-0 to once again break Toronto hearts.
It only took 70 seconds for Torey Krug to tie it with a point blast from Miller off a critical Bergeron faceoff win. He’s money there and in these pressure packed situations. It was no surprise one of the game’s best superstars stepped up with a goal and two assists. Bergeron is my favorite player for a reason.
As if to prove it would not be the Leafs’ night, the Bruins turned a undisciplined Nash retaliation into a four-on-four goal. Once again, it was the super fast DeBrusk who blew through the neutral zone and by Gardiner sending a quick snap shot that eluded Andersen through the five-hole for the series clinching win with 14:35 remaining. Just a unreal individual effort by a young future star who plays like a power forward. No wonder I wish the Rangers could’ve gotten him instead of any draft picks for Nash. The Bruins were never doing it. He’s already a top six forward. DeBrusk had five goals in the series. Amazing production for a young player.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the two huge saves Rask made on Kapanen before the comeback. He stoned him pointblank and denied another chance which could’ve put the Leafs up 5-3. The biggest saves of the game. Without them, Boston probably doesn’t win.
With the game still hanging in the balance, David Pastrnak finished off a great passing play from linemates Bergeron and Marchand in front for a 6-4 lead with 8:21 left. When the Boston top line gets on the board, they win. They combined for seven more points to finish with 30 total points in Boston’s four wins in the series. In the three losses, they had no points and went a combined minus-16.
By that point, it was painfully obvious that the Leafs were done. They couldn’t beat Rask in the final period. Even with Auston Matthews finally getting some chances throughout, he continued to struggle. The sophomore only had a goal and assist in the seven games. He’ll no doubt need to improve in future postseasons.
A Marchand empty netter sealed the Bruins win with 51 seconds left. A fitting conclusion considering how hard The Rat works. He had been snake bit the previous two games but was better last night along with Bergeron and Pastrnak.
When it was over, the two teams met at center ice for the game’s greatest tradition. Each player shook hands. A heated rivalry went to Boston again. But at the end of the day, there was mutual respect shown along with great sportsmanship. That’s what makes the hockey playoffs great.
I felt bad for Toronto. Maybe it’s that I’m sentimental towards teams and loyal fan bases who haven’t won in a long time. It must suck for them. No first round wins since ’04. No big runs since ’99 when they lost to the Hasek Sabres in the Conference Final. And of course the gut wrenching classic Western Conference Final loss in seven to the Gretzky Kings in ’93.
Boston now will face Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division Final. They get two days off to prepare. They’ll need it following a taxing series. Game 1 is Saturday afternoon on NBC at 3 PM.
The second round officially begins tonight. The Caps host the Pens in Game 1 of the same old same old Metro Division Final. I won’t watch a second of it because I don’t believe in the Caps and am sick of the Pens. Maybe me not watching will bring Alexander Ovechkin and Co. some luck. They’ll need it. I don’t think they’re any match for Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel. Even with Evgeni Malkin missing tonight, I expect the Pens to cruise in five games.
The best match up pits the Golden Knights hosting the Sharks in the Pacific Division Final. I see it being fast and furious with it going back and forth. I’m taking the Knights in seven due to Marc-Andre Fleury.