By Jeremy Perrigo ’18
The Boston Bruins failed to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second-straight game Monday night, as the team from the hub of Canada’s hockey world forced Game 7 with a 3-1 win at Air Canada Centre.
The final game of the best-of-seven series headed back to TD Garden Wednesday night, drawing eerie similarities to a first-round meeting between these two Original Six rivals five years ago.
In 2013, as most Bruins fans remember, Boston had a 3-1 series lead over Toronto in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The B’s went on to lose the following two games and were forced to face the Maple Leafs in Game 7, similar to their matchup this postseason.
In that game, two goals from Cody Franson, followed by goals from then-teammates Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri, propelled the Leafs to a 4-1 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining in the third period.
As the saying goes, the rest is history. Goals from Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, and Patrice Bergeron brought the game back to even with 51 seconds remaining.
Bergeron would go on to score an emotional game-winning goal 6:05 into overtime to propel the Bruins into the second round. From there the team would defeat the New York Rangers in five games and sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in four, before falling to the Chicago Blackhawks on home ice in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Now, many hockey-educated fans are quick to point out that this Toronto Maple Leafs team is not the team of 2013. Sure, they were the underdog team coming into this series, as they were back then, but their current roster looks dramatically different.
Then goaltender James Reimer has since moved on to Florida, and Frederik Andersen has won the starting role for Mike Babcock’s Maple Leafs. Kessel, after the organization spent years trying to build a team around him as their star player, has moved on to Pittsburgh, where he has won two Stanley Cups in a supporting-cast role to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Drafting Auston Matthews first overall in 2016 has been the biggest improvement for the Maple Leafs over the last two years. In his freshman and sophomore seasons Matthews lived up to the hype, recording 69 and 63 point seasons, respectively.
The Scottsdale, Arizona native and Toronto phenom remained mostly silent throughout the series, recording only one goal (albeit a beautiful one) and an assist leading up to Game 7, where he would be held off the board yet again.
That was perhaps the most troubling fact for Bruins fans, heading into the final game of the series. While it felt at times like Toronto had narrowly escaped destruction with at least two of their three victories in the series, they managed to do so largely without the help of their star player.
William Nylander, largely considered to be Matthews’ right hand man, as he literally played right wing on a first line centered by No. 34 for most of the season, went through a similar drought of postseason success. He recorded only one goal and one assist over the first six games of the series, which bounced him down to Toronto’s fourth line for games five and six. He would add two assists to his resume in Game 7.
Players noticeably absent from the scoresheet for the Bruins during those same two games when Nylander was on the fourth line, were David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Bergeron, who are better known as the components of Boston’s first line.
To put it even more into perspective as to how important these three are, in the Bruins’ first three wins of the series, they combined for 23 points. In the team’s three losses, they had zero.
Enter, Game 7.
The Bruins and Maple Leafs combined for five goals in the first period alone, as veteran Patrick Marleau opened the scoring with his third goal of the season just 2:05 into the game.
Bruins rookie Jake DeBrusk would tie the game before Marleau would put his team back ahead with his second of the night with a wrist shot from the right circle.
Two goals from Danton Heinen and Bergeron would give Boston a 3-2 lead heading into the second frame.
Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs 13-6 in the second period, the Bruins would allow the only two goals of the period, one to Travis Dermott, and another, a heart-breaking short-handed goal to Kasperi Kapanen.
Heading into the third, Boston’s season was on the ropes.
Only 1:10 into the period, Torey Krug fired a shot from the center of the blue line off the faceoff that rocketed past Andersen and into the net, tying the game 4-4. Just 4:15 later, DeBrusk would power to the net with a strong cut to the inside, sliding another puck past the Toronto netminder to give Boston the go-ahead goal.
From here, the rest is history.
Pastrnak would add another from the slot off a smart feed from Bergeron, and Marchand put the icing on top with an empty-net goal from center ice.
Boston would cruise to a 7-4 Game 7 victory, with seven points from its first line and six from its second line of DeBrusk, David Krejci, and Rick Nash.
And, for at least a night, the Bruins have reason to celebrate. After all, this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Tampa Bay Lightning wait rested at home as they open the second round against Boston Saturday at Amalie Arena.
Stay tuned, and if the regular season matchups were any indication, hockey fans should be in for another electric series between the B’s and Bolts.