By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s hard to imagine having a month-long training camp, 82-game regular season slate, and six and two-thirds games of postseason play boil down to 20 minutes. I mean, how do you even begin compartmentalize such a situation?
“It was only a one goal game, so you win a period it’s either overtime or you win a game,” Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said of the second intermission script-flipping. “We just decided we’re going to win it. There was no ifs ands or buts. We said we’re going to win it and we went out there and played like we wanted to win.”
I give Rask credit for the simplicity, but there’s no way it was that easy. Just consider the fact that with this comeback, the Bruins became the first team in NHL history to overcome three separate deficits to win a Game 7 in regulation.
But to properly understand this latest Bruins comeback — this one in a must-win Game 7 on TD Garden ice against the Maple Leafs — one needs to understand the dire situation they put themselves in after 40 minutes of moribund play.
After taking a 3-2 lead into the first intermission behind a last-minute goal from Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins came into the second period like a team that wanted to lose this game. David Pastrnak couldn’t clear a blocked puck up and out of the Boston zone, and just seconds later it was Travis Dermott that made him pay with a fluttering shot through a screened Rask. The goal came just two minutes into the second period, and it somehow got worse.
Back on a power play that’s been so kind to them, a golden chance came from an activated Torey Krug, but was met with a gigantic stop from Frederik Andersen. Despite the save, the 6-foot-4 Andersen then frantically fumbled around for his stick as the puck rolled back to Brad Marchand all alone at the attacking blue line. The puck bounced over Marchand’s stick, and Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen charged ahead with speed and positioning on his side. Kapanen then won a puck-battle against Marchand, got Rask to bite on a tremendous move, and tucked one home for the lead.
The goals could not have been worse in terms of what they did to the Bruins and the then-silenced Garden crowd.
One came on Toronto’s first shot of the period and immediately undid the positive of your late first-period lead. The second, of course, came with the Bruins on the power play, and was also on the second shot of what finished as a six-shot middle frame. The Leafs also iced the puck nine times in the second period and the Bruins did nothing with it.
There’s digging your own grave and there’s what the Bruins did — or rather didn’t do — in the second period.
Given 20 minutes to fight out of a funk, shoddy goaltending, and a one-goal deficit — and bury some demons in the process — what the hell was it that got everything started in what was a four-goal bonanza in the third period?
Well, aside from captain Zdeno Chara screaming at his teammates during the second intermission?
“Didn’t matter how long it was going to take, we were going to do the job,” Bruins defender Torey Krug said when asked what was said behind closed doors between the second and third period. “It’s kind of how we were all season long; coming back in games, losing guys to injury. It was just kind of like the definition of our season, so it didn’t matter. We were going to break them, and we were going to out-will them and we did.”
To break the Leafs, though, the Bruins first had to break the increasingly-comfortable Andersen.
Three seconds into a four-on-four early in the third period, Krug found a hole in Andersen’s game and tied things up at 4-4. In fact, Andersen wasn’t even looking Krug’s way by the time No. 47 fired the puck through traffic. After the game, Andersen admitted that he simply had no idea who had the puck and where that shot came from.
“He’s a blocking goaltender,” Krug said of the 6-foot-4 Andersen and their approach in the third period. “He’s been getting a lot of saves and it was just put pucks to the net. Let’s crash it and go to work. You know, we were able to just continue to funnel pucks and it kind of, it broke the pressure a little bit. They weren’t able to grab those rebounds and continue to move up on us, and every time you’re shooting the puck it makes the defense think twice.”
And sensing blood in the water, Jake DeBrusk received a five-foot pass from David Krejci, turned on the jets, and simply abused Jake Gardiner en route to the fifth goal. Potting his shot through Andersen’s five-hole at the 5:25 mark of the third period. It’s a sharp-angled drive that DeBrusk tries at least once a game, but it’s one that became nearly automatic thanks to Gardiner’s just plain baffling pivot towards the middle as DeBrusk drove to the outside.
“I think I just kind of caught [Gardiner] off guard,” DeBrusk said of the tally. “I just started pumping the legs a bit and then I think he thought I might go to the middle maybe, um, but I just took him wide, I just wanted to get in the zone and then saw that I could maybe make a move and was very happy it went in.”
“Getting inside position, he played his off wing a lot and finding a hole. Goal-scorer’s goal, right? Quick release, fight for your ice,” Cassidy said of DeBrusk’s game-winning score. “He’s had a real good year and a real good playoff. He’s comfortable, confident in his game playing with good veteran guys that have pulled these young guys along.
“But, it was a big one for us and we ended it, so the timing was excellent.”
These goals were going to mean as much as a Round 2 ticket if the Bruins didn’t hold the Maple Leafs off the board at the other end, though, which had been a constant struggle in this series — and even in this game. Given the way that the Leafs had become masters of the dreaded response goal in this series — eight of their 20 goals in this series came within three minutes of a Boston tally — the Bruins knew that they needed to weather an upcoming storm.
The way they did that? They basically refused to allow the Maple Leafs to get a shot on goal within that window.
Forcing the Maple Leafs into four straight missed shots to begin the third period (with just one of those misses coming from within 30 feet of the Boston net), the Leafs did not get their first shot of the third period on net until they were already down by one. Not until they were eight minutes into the final frame, to be exact.
“That’s something on the bench we were really about being in the moment. Next shift, next guys going on the ice. We very vocal about it,” Bergeron said of bucking that trend. “It’s something we got caught in a few times in the series; them scoring a big goal after us kind of maybe getting overexcited with getting the lead or tying the game.
“In the third, I could sense that was behind us and we could learn from it.”
The Leafs would throw another two shots on goal in search of that response goal. But it could not come before David Pastrnak put this game to bed with his dagger, giving Rask a two-goal lead to work with for the first time all night.
Considering the fact that this was where the Bruins were at their most dangerous in the regular season, the Bruins managed to take the most uncomfortable of situations and turn it into something right in their wheelhouse.
“It was huge,” Rask said of Pastrnak’s goal. “That’s what you always try to do but the past couple games we scored a goal, they scored a goal, it kept going back-and-forth. Lucky we got that and extended the lead for once.”
And extended their postseason lives in the process.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.