Toronto Maple Leafs collapse sees Boston Bruins move on

 

 
 
 
 
Toronto Maple Leafs fans react to the Boston Bruins fourth goal while watching game 7 third period NHL action against the Boston Bruins at Maple Leafs Square.
 
 

Toronto Maple Leafs fans react to the Boston Bruins fourth goal while watching game 7 third period NHL action against the Boston Bruins at Maple Leafs Square.

Photograph by: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press, Canada.com

BOSTON — Hockey isn’t easy. Putting away a champion isn’t easy. Being a Leafs fan is hard. It can be no other way.

Facing elimination, the Toronto Maple Leafs played two games and 45 minutes like trapeze artists, trying not to look down. In the last 15 minutes of Game 7, though, they did, and they fell. They had fallen behind 1-0, had scored four straight goals to take a 4-1 lead with 14:31 left in Game 7 in Boston, had made the Bruins look cooked. People said Bruins coach Claude Julien would lose his job if Boston lost. People in Toronto would lose their minds if the Leafs won. And the Leafs looked home and dry.

But hockey is hard. The Bruins came heavy, like champions. Nathan Horton, who scored two Game 7 winners when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup two years ago, made it 4-2 with 10:18 left. Milan Lucic, who slumbered all season, scored in front with 82 seconds left. The Leafs had clung to the edge in Game 5 and held on. It’s a dangerous way to make a living.

And with the goalie pulled, Patrice Bergeron, who was robbed by James Reimer in both Games 5 and 6, snuck a point shot through traffic and past Reimer and the TD Garden went up like the world’s biggest bonfire. The poor suckers who left early to beat the traffic must have pounded their heads on their steering wheels, or yanked them 180 degrees.

The Bruins did, too, and since Rich Peverley whiffed on one last chance with 14 seconds left, all alone in front, that meant this series would be decided by overtime. How do you keep skating when the bottom has fallen out?

Maybe you can’t. Six minutes into overtime the Bruins leaned one last time, pushing the Leafs in their own end, and the puck started bouncing around in front, and the Leafs couldn’t get it. Jake Gardiner had it on his stick briefly, but he threw it blindly right to Bergeron, who buried it for his second goal of the game, the killer, the hammer. Bruins 5, Toronto 4.

The Leafs spilled out onto the ice, dead eyed, and hugged their goaltender. Boston’s last five seasons had ended in Game 7s; they had only won one of them, in Vancouver. This time, they survived.

Games like this are a long series of what-ifs. One team was going to spend a long summer replaying this game in their collective minds, seeing it as they lay in the dark, reliving it. That’s what Game 7, in overtime, is. It is regret waiting to happen. The Bruins will advance to the second round to play the sixth-seeded New York Rangers.

It had been such a wonderful performance, first by one team, then the other. The Bruins played without defenceman Andrew Ference; the Leafs played without centre Tyler Bozak. The Bruins had to fly back to Boston on Monday morning after an airplane malfunction; they commandeered a Toronto-area restaurant Sunday night and had to change their routine.

“It’s been one of those years,” Julien said before the game. “Three cancelled games, and our plane for Game 7 has a malfunction. But that’s not an excuse.”

The Bruins crowd seemed as weary as its team. Boston’s No. 2 defenceman, Dennis Seidenberg, played 37 seconds with what appeared to be an undisclosed leg injury. With Wade Redden out too, that left a Bruins defence corps of Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, and rookies Dougie Hamilton and Mark Bartkowski. One of the values of dragging out a series is attrition.

Still, Boston had talked about desperation and desire, and the Bruins came out snarling, growling and flying. Chara set the tone, crushing Phil Kessel on one shift, and trying to crack open James van Riemsdyk like a walnut. The Bruins threw hits, started fires after the whistle, closed off Toronto’s space, and had three quality chances in the opening minute.

Cody Franson gave the puck away for Boston’s first goal, and then scored Toronto’s next two, for the first two-goal performance of his NHL career. It was atonement on fast-forward. The Bruins tried to pay the Leafs the greatest compliment they could — cornered, they tried to become their worst selves, a gang wielding cheap shots, sucker punches, Brad Marchand going splash in the pike position. The Leafs responded with two more goals by Kessel and Kadri, a 4-1 lead, a cushion that leaked away, second by second. The Bruins looked cooked, until they did not.

What a game. What a series. What a rolling carpet of heart attacks, of hope that faded and bloomed, of adrenalin and incredulity. What a test. And what an ending.

Hockey isn’t easy, but this one was hard.

 
 
 
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Toronto Maple Leafs fans react to the Boston Bruins fourth goal while watching game 7 third period NHL action against the Boston Bruins at Maple Leafs Square.
 

Toronto Maple Leafs fans react to the Boston Bruins fourth goal while watching game 7 third period NHL action against the Boston Bruins at Maple Leafs Square.

Photograph by: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press, Canada.com

 
Toronto Maple Leafs fans react to the Boston Bruins fourth goal while watching game 7 third period NHL action against the Boston Bruins at Maple Leafs Square.
Zdeno Chara #33 and Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins celebrate in front of James Reimer #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs after Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins scored the game-tying goal in the third period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 13, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) makes a pad save on a shot by Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Joffrey Lupul, right, during the first period in Game 7 of their NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series in Boston, Monday, May 13, 2013.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans react as the game is tied up in the third period as they watch game 7 of the first round playoffs against the Boston Bruins on the big screen at Maple Leaf Square in Toronto, Ontario, May 13, 2013.
Nathan Horton #18 of the Boston Bruins is congratulated by teammates after scoring in the third period against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 13, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
Mikhail Grabovski #84 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoves Gregory Campbell #11 of the Boston Bruins after the play in the second period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 13, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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