The Boston Bruins sent the Toronto Maple Leafs home in a first-round series Game 7 for the third time since 2013 and second consecutive year with a 5-1 win Tuesday at TD Garden.
The puck was first introduced to the back of the net with 5:31 remaining in the first period when center Joakim Nordstrom capitalized on sloppy back-line play by the Leafs and a rare mistake by goalkeeper Frederik Andersen.
Andersen let another goal get by him three minutes later when his defense committed another ugly turnover behind the goal, the Bruins crowded his vision in front of the net, and center Marcus Johansson coiled one into the back post. It was the second goal in three shots for Boston.
Toronto center John Tavares pulled one back for his squad at the 16:06 mark in the second period after left winger Tyler Ennis hustled to force a Boston turnover.
Toronto had several chances to even the contest in the second period but couldn't capitalize, and Nordstrom bookended his impressive evening with an assist to center Sean Kuraly for a third goal two minutes and 40 seconds into the third period.
Center Charlie Coyle jabbed the icepick in the hearts of Leafs fans everywhere—as the franchise has failed to win a postseason series since 2004—with his goal at 2:34 remaining in regulation.
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Bruins star center Patrice Bergeron was able to gently tap the puck into Toronto's empty net for the final goal of Game 7 with 0.2 seconds left before the buzzer. Coyle's goal was an empty-netter, too.
The Leafs were forced to play with an empty net down 3-1 not because of Boston's stars but because of clutch play by the fourth line.
Tuesday night, Nordstrom, Kuraly and center Noel Acciari accounted for the first three goals and combined for a plus-five rating when on the ice.
Nordstrom lucked out because Anderson uncharacteristically let the puck slip between his glove and the post, but the fourth line as a unit kept the puck down by the goal. Kuraly had to split Leafs defenders by himself in order to stroke in his goal, but he gained possession because Acciari poked the puck away from Tavares.
Outside of them, the two teams were even on paper: Toronto had 33 shots to Boston's 32, and each side won 30 faceoffs, for example.
Following the victory, Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask said on the NBC Sports broadcast that the team's fourth line has come up big all year and again in Game 7. "We need that," he added. "We need the depth."
To Rask's point, Boston has been a deep squad all season. However, the difference now is that their fourth line is healthy enough to aid all the way to the Stanley Cup Final—specially Kuraly.
In January, Nordstrom fractured his fibula and remained out until Jan. 31. Then, Kuraly was diagnosed with a broken hand on March 23 and didn't return until Game 5 against the Leafs. In February, prior to Kuraly's injury, Acciari told Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald that he felt the fourth line had hit its stride.
Though Chris Wagner sat out both Games 6 and 7, the fourth line's impact in Game 7 is the most encouraging thing the Bruins can take into their upcoming second-round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Bruins are 2-1 against Columbus this season, but the Blue Jackets are hot off the shocking sweep of the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. Because the Blue Jackets completed the sweep, they've had since April 16 to rest.
Depth will be extremely important for the Bruins, at least in the early games of the series, to get their skates underneath them against an extremely confident, hot and rested squad.
Game 1 of Boston and Columbus' second-round bout is slated for Thursday at 7 p.m. ET in Boston.