There are just some moments in life that take a little while to process. Three days to be exact.
That is how many amongst the Black-and-Gold faithful felt following the Boston Bruins 5-4, overtime win in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.
The Bruins were dragging all night, but the score was close. Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri then score within the first 5:30 of the third to run the score to 4-1. It was done.
The Bruins had blown yet another 3-1, 3-0 series lead for the third time in five years. This space was already three-quarters of the way full with an argument about how head coach Claude Julien was going to take the fall and get fired because of the loss, but how blame should lie with general manager Peter Chiarelli. It was the kind of night that just leaves an ugly knot in your stomach for the next week.
The Bruins were flat and the Maple Leafs were dominant in all phases. Show me a person who was still confident in the Bruins midway through the third period of Game 7 and I will show you a liar. How could it be anything but over?
10:41 remaining in the third, Nathan Horton from Milan Lucic and David Krejci. 4-2, Toronto.
Silver lining as Horty gets a goal in his last game as a Bruins.
1:22 remaining, Lucic from Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron. 4-3, Toronto.
Great, so they lose by one.
Yet, 1:22 is a lot of time, but only a fool’s hope.
0:51 remaining, Bergeron from Krejci and Jaromir Jagr. 4-4.
0:14 remaining. James Reimer gives up another ridiculous rebound leaving a wide-open bid for an uncontested Rich Peverley, who does not put it away.
That’s the game. A golden opportunity to put away a Game 7 you had no business winning and you fail to ice it and give Toronto time to catch their breath? What was the third line doing out on the ice anyway?!
6:05 of overtime. Bergeron from Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand. 5-4, Boston.
I was rendered speechless for the next couple of minutes, unsure of how to process what I just witnessed. Three days later and I am still not entirely sure.
Maybe they were spurned, hearing the crowds in the streets of Toronto playing the Standells “Dirty Water.” Maybe they were playing the most elaborate game of rope-a-dope there ever was. Maybe they were finally scared they might lose their job if they went down like dogs again.
Whatever it was, the Bruins found the clichéd “extra gear” and the killer instinct that once defined them, but had eluded them the past two seasons, and came through when it mattered.
They might not have deserved it, but the Bruins won it. While Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask may have out battled his Toronto counterpart in Reimer, outside of Game 1, the Maple Leafs as a whole outplayed the Bruins throughout the series. A team that once ran scared from the Black-and-Gold was not the least bit intimidated and looked to be in complete control until those final minutes of the series. Toronto deserves their due credit, but it is Boston moving on.
By no means are the Bruins the unstoppable juggernaut thought to be at the beginning of the season. By and large, with the exception of the Krejci-Horton-Lucic line, who seem to have found life after being a complete disappointment throughout the regular season, and Rask, the Bruins may have gotten the breaks they needed, but are they really playing well enough to go deep in these playoffs?
Sometimes, however, all you need is a fresh start. The Bruins will get that tonight as they play Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the New York Rangers. If they play how they played through the breadth of the Toronto series, Monday night’s theatrics become nothing but a tease. If they can carry the momentum gained from the comeback to start the series anew, there is a good chance they knock another four wins off the 16 needed in the postseason.
Despite some historical numbers – like how they have never scored more than two goals against the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist in the 30 times they have faced the Swede – the matchup should be seen as a favorable one for the Bruins. Both teams play a very similar style. Both teams offensive output seemingly comes from just one spot. Both teams feel the best way to win a hockey game is 1-0.
Lundqvist does present a daunting task. Goals are going to be at a premium, especially a team as offensively challenged as the Bruins can be at times. Yes, Lucic and Horton have found their stride after a two-year hiatus and Krejci is once again ruling the playoffs, but the second unit of Bergeron-Marchand-Seguin was a non-factor against Toronto. The trio combined for three goals in the series, all of which were scored by Bergeron and only one was scored then they were playing together as a three-man unit. That kind of production will sink the Bruins in Round Two and Peverley will not be able to miss out on golden opportunities like the one he had in the closing seconds of Game 7.
All three lines are going to need to contribute and cash in on the limited number of chances Lundqvist and the Rangers give them. The bigger issue at the moment, however, for the Bruins is not how are they going to put pucks in the net, but rather how are they going to keep pucks out?
With all three suffering from the elusive “undisclosed body injury,” the Bruins are currently without the services of Dennis Seidenberg, who went down in the first minute of Game 7, Andrew Ference, who has been out since Game 5, and Wade Redden, and the team has been mum on any sort of time table for their return. Their absence has forced three rookies in Dougie Hamilton, who spent much of the last month of the regular season watching from the stands, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug, both of whom spent the majority of the year playing in the American Hockey League, into action. Their presence is going to put a lot of pressure on an already fatigued Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid.
Rask has played well. The Rangers are also not prone to taking many shots, ranking 13 out of the 16 playoff teams in that category, and are also struggling to get production from some of their top end players, with just one goal between Rick Nash and Brad Richards in their opening series. The prospects of three rookie defensemen, however, trying to withstand what could be a physically punishing attack from the Rangers, puts a lot of onus on Rask, Chara, Boychuk and McQuaid – depending on how long the others are out of the lineup – and does not leave the Bruins defense a lot of room for mistakes.
The Bruins have proven this week all 60 minutes of game play count and a game’s fate is not decided until they have done so. The lack of consistency in their effort and level of play, however, makes it hard to accurately judge this team. The decision of how the Bruins will fair in this series comes down to the simple questions of can they be consistent in the way they play and are they going to play the way they did in Game 1 and the final minutes of Game 7?
The faithful will show up in droves to support their team this evening at the TD Bank Garden. Will the Bruins?
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.