Game 7’s in the NHL often come down to capitalizing on the opposition’s mistakes. If a team stays its course and sticks to the game plan, opportunities to score usually arise during the latter half of the game. Often times, defensive units and goaltenders alike stand tall and force opposing forwards to work for scoring chances. Boston’s 7-4 win over Toronto Wednesday night, however, didn’t fit any of those narratives. Due to nerves, an overdose of adrenaline, or both, the Bruins and Maple Leafs each slipped up early and often. In most instances, they made each other pay.
Despite playing in front of a rowdy home crowd, Boston made the first blunder just 30 seconds into the matchup. Sean Kuraly was sent to the box for blatantly tripping Jake Gardiner behind the Bruins’ net. Boston fought off Toronto’s sustained pressure on the ensuing power play, but another Bruin mistake—this time from Boston captain Zdeno Chara—led to the game’s first goal. Boston won a crucial neutral zone faceoff late in its penalty kill, but Chara flubbed a backhanded clearance attempt. The Maple Leafs immediately entered the zone and found the back of the net moments later when Patrick Marleau tipped in his first goal of the night. It didn’t take long for him to bury another, but not before Boston battled back to tie it at 1-1.
Keeping the puck in attacking territory on a power play of their own, the Bruins’ chances at tying it up appeared to slip away when Toronto’s Zach Hyman found the puck on his stick and winded up to send it down the ice. But like Chara, Hyman couldn’t get it over center. David Krejci cut it off and slid it over to David Pastrnak, who executed a brilliant back-door shot-pass to Jake DeBrusk. A minute and a half later, it was Torey Krug’s turn to fail on an attempt to clear the defensive zone, and after a few nifty Toronto passes, Marleau flung a shot over Tuukka Rask’s right shoulder for his second tally in the game’s first seven minutes, giving Toronto a 2-1 lead.
Once again, Boston fought back and scored the final two goals of the first frame, the second of which came off the stick of Patrice Bergeron 36 seconds before the first intermission. Boston players sat on a 3-2 lead in the locker room, and their fans likely took simultaneous sighs of relief up in the seats at TD Garden. But those feelings of alleviation were short lived when Toronto potted the first two goals of the second period. After giving one up early, the Bruins found themselves on the power play with a chance to regain their lead. Instead, Kasperi Kapanen raced down a loose puck and overpowered a gassed Brad Marchand to claim it, dangled Rask out of position and slid it by his left pad to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 lead that they took into the third period.
As Boston failed to score in the second, the conversation shifted to Rask. Entering the game, he was 5-12 in his career when the Bruins had chances to close out a playoff series. Wednesday night, Rask let four of the first 12 shots he faced slip through. When the two teams came out for the final 20 minutes, the home team did its best to take pressure of if its netminder. Rask’s counterpart, Frederik Andersen, let the leaky shots cross the goal line in the third. Krug made up for his earlier mishap by finding Andersen’s five hole from the point to tie the game again just over a minute into the period. DeBrusk scored his second of the game and fifth of the series minutes later when Andersen let his shot funnel through his legs once more. With the crowd rengerized, Boston fans let their voices be heard for what seemed like the first time since the first period.
Boston tacked on two more tallies, including an empty netter with less than a minute remaining, to punch its ticket to the second round. The Bruins earned a date with the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the series is set to start Saturday.
BOS wins series 4-3 | Box Score | Full Recap
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Though it ended up being in a losing effort, Kasperi Kapenen still scored the goal of the night. His team was shorthanded, but Kapenen beat Marchand to a loose puck and made a slick move on Tuukka Rask to give the Leafs the lead in the second period.
1. Jake DeBrusk, BOS — DeBrusk scored the Bruins’ first goal of the game, a nice response to Toronto taking the lead early in the frame. He also put Boston ahead for good in the third, which brought the crowd back into the game and gave the team the boost of momentum it needed to seal the deal.
2. Patrice Bergeron, BOS — Bergeron scored his first goal of the playoffs just before the first period ended and added two assists while posting a plus/minus of +2. He also won 14 of his 22 faceoff attempts (63.6%).
3. David Krejci, BOS — Krejci recorded three assists, two of which came on DeBrusk’s momentous goals. He was solid from the center position for most of the night.
After Wednesday’s game, the second round is set. Both the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights swept their first round opponents and have been waiting for a week. They’ll face off against each other in Game 1 on Thursday night. The Knights had scoring issues in their first-round takedown of the Los Angeles Kings, only scoring three goals in one contest—a 3-2 triumph in Game 3. Vegas bookended the series with a pair of 1-0 shutouts on the back of playoff veteran Marc-Andre Fleury. He posted a 0.65 goals against average and a .977 save percentage against the Kings. The Sharks’ Martin Jones posted similar stats against the Anaheim Ducks: a 1.00 GAA and .970 save percentage. If Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture outshine James Neal and Reilly Smith, then San Jose has a decent chance to end one of the strongest storylines of the season. Though the Knights struggled to score in round one, they don’t need much of an offensive boost to continue their success with the way Fleury is playing behind them.
Before the puck even drops in Sin City, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will have played Game 1 of their second-round series. This is the fourth time in the last 10 years that the two clubs will have faced each other in the playoffs. Pittsburgh won all three of their previous series, and each time, the Pens went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin has never made it past the second round. To change that, he’ll have to overcome a red-hot Sidney Crosby, who has been Ovechkin’s nemesis for the duration of the two players’ careers. Crosby has 13 playoff points this postseason, tying him for the league lead with his teammate Jake Guentzel and Boston’s David Pastrnak. Goalies Braden Holtby and Matt Murray will be tested with the amount of firepower on each roster.