In one of the most thrilling playoff hockey games in recent memory, the Boston Bruins rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the third period to force overtime and upend the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4, securing a second-round playoff berth and handing Toronto a heartbreaking exit Monday night.
The Bruins came out swinging in the opening minutes, finding some early scoring chances without much resistance from Toronto’s defense. ESPN’s Brendan Hall:
Boston’s aggressiveness contributed to its early surge, but it also resulted in an early roughing call against Rich Peverley that created some terrific power-play looks for the Maple Leafs.
Toronto was unable to capitalize on its opportunities, though, and Boston came roaring back at full strength to change the early momentum of the contest. Jesse Spector of the Sporting News:
It was a nice play from Bartkowski, but he never should have had the opportunity. As Mandy Kovacs pointed out, it was a failed clearing attempt from Cody Franson that allowed Bartkowski to score his first career goal in the first place:
It didn’t take long for Franson to make up for his mental mistake, however. Less than four minutes later, the defenseman slid one past Tuukka Rask for a power-play goal to even the score at 1-1. From the Maple Leafs’ official Twitter account:
The opening period certainly didn’t look like a typical Game 7. Despite the slim margin for error, hits were abundant in the first frame. Through the first 20 minutes, the two teams combined for 31 hits, including a couple bone-jarring open-ice collisions at both ends of the ice.
Toronto held the edge in shots in the first period (12-7), but every other category was fairly even after 20 minutes. Both teams played with energy and aggressiveness to suggest an exciting second period would be in store.
Toronto certainly had reason to be hopeful coming out of the locker room following the first period. As noted by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun, the Maple Leafs entered the rubber match 3-0 in the series when the game was tied after the opening stanza:
It wouldn’t be tied for long, however.
Less than six minutes into the period, it was Franson again who found the back of the net, this time with a slap shot to the top shelf over the right shoulder of Rask. The Boston Bruins Twitter account:
The Maple Leafs took the series to seven games by playing fast, aggressive and tough. That approach didn’t change Monday night, and the Bruins struggled on their home ice to contain a relentless Toronto offense through the first 35 minutes.
As Jason Brough of Pro Hockey Talk pointed out, Boston simply couldn’t match Toronto’s speed:
The frustration seemed to boil over in the final half of the second period. Milan Lucic was handed a roughing penalty for scrapping with Dion Phaneuf behind the net with seven minutes to play, and both Mikhail Grabovski and Gregory Campbell came off less than a minute-and-a-half later for the same offense.
As physical a game as both teams played in the first two periods, it was only a matter of time before the contest got overly chippy. Ken Campbell of The Hockey News:
The Bruins would end the second period on a power play after Joffrey Lupul came off the ice for tripping, but they were unable to capitalize on the opportunity to even the score before the second intermission. With 40 minutes in the books, it was apparent Toronto was in control and well on its way to a second-round playoff berth.
Despite winning 29 of 36 faceoffs through two frames, Boston was unable to put much pressure on Toronto goalie James Reimer. The Bruins were out-shot 20-13 in the first 40 minutes, tallying just six shots on goal in the second period. For the Bruins to mount a final-period comeback, they would need to turn up the heat in the offensive zone in a big way.
Phil Kessel put the writing on the wall just two minutes into the third period, though:
And it wouldn’t be long before Toronto would extend the short-lived two-goal lead. With an odd-man rush and a Kessel shot off the post, Nazem Kadri found the twine with a wrist shot to light the lamp and increase the lead to 4-1 with less than 15 minutes to play following Toronto’s fourth goal.
Frustration and desperation began to mount, as the Bruins desperately needed a spark if they were to extend their chances of battling back in the final frame.
Nathan Horton provided that spark:
Down 4-2 with a hint of extra momentum, the Bruins turned the screws on Reimer and the Maple Leafs defense, as the Bruins wouldn’t go down without a fight on their home ice with the crowd once again on its feet. With just under five minutes to play, Boston pulled even in total shots on goal at 25-25—a far cry from its offensive efforts through the first two periods.
Rask was pulled with under two minutes remaining for the extra attacker, and the Bruins took full advantage.
With Toronto failing to put pressure on Boston’s attack, Lucic managed to poke a Zdeno Chara miss past Reimer to push the game to 4-3, and Patrice Bergeron provided the dagger just 30 seconds later with a long wrist shot to even the score with 51 seconds to play. Writer Kevin Pang:
If aggressiveness is the mark of a good team, the Bruins were easily the better team in the third period. Out-shooting Toronto 17-6 in the third period, Boston repeatedly peppered Reimer with shots from everywhere in the offensive zone with most of the damage coming off good rebounding and smart positioning. Reimer may have allowed the goals, but it was the Leafs defense that set him up for failure.
The same held true in overtime.
In truly stunning fashion, the hero of the third period came through again in the form of a game-winning goal. Bergeron picked up the rebound off a 20-foot wrist shot and poked it past Reimer.
As well as Toronto played through the first 50 minutes, Boston's constant barrage of pressure in the final 10 minutes of regulation was simply too much for the visitors. Speed dominated the early action, but it was aggressiveness and pressure that would ultimately decide the outcome of the game.
With the win, Boston advances to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with plenty of momentum on its side, while Toronto returns home with little to show for its efforts. Both teams, nonetheless, provided a tremendous playoff series that will be hard to top.