BOSTON — The bounce is everything. The bounce is fresh air for the chokers and cold water for the thirsty. The bounce is not necessarily a single moment or a single play or even a single game. The bounce is what happens when you get your chance, and the game happens to end up in your hands, or on your stick. The bounce exists in every sport, but in no sport is it more crucial and more obvious than it is in hockey, and in no part of the hockey season is it more crucial and more obvious than in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and in no part of the Stanley Cup playoffs is it more crucial and more obvious than it is in a seventh game. In a seventh game, you grab the bounce when it comes your way because, in a seventh game, the bounce is life.
With the arena at a roiling boil, and with Julian Edelman guzzling beer and Justin Bieber doing whatever it is Justin Bieber does when he’s not doing whatever he’s famous for, the Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-1, to take their playoff series four games to three, and move on to a second-round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the third time in seven years that the Maple Leafs have lost a seventh game to Boston, which is an essential part of the fact that Toronto hasn’t won a playoff series in 15 years. And, as an added bonus, the elimination of the Maple Leafs guarantees that the Stanley Cup will reside in a city south of the 49th parallel as it has at the end of every season since 1993. The bounce has brought the Cup to the United States for longer than Auston Matthews has been alive. On Tuesday night, because that’s the way it happens sometimes, the bounce came to several members of the deep supporting cast of the Boston Bruins. The bounce came to Marcus Johansson, and to Joakim Nordstrom, and to Sean Kuraly, all of whom play on Boston’s third and fourth lines. (The last two Bruins goals came into an empty net.) None of these people ever has been confused with Bobby Orr—or, for that matter Brad Marchand. But the bounce is democratic. Sooner or later, it gives everybody a chance.
"They don't usually go in for me,” said Kuraly of what eventually was his game-winner. "That was a good one. I think you can see by the way I reacted how I felt about that goal.”
So who are these guys? Kuraly is an Ohio native whose rights the Bruins obtained from San Jose in 2015. Nordstrom is a Swedish international whose name is on the Cup already from his time with Chicago in 2015. And Johanssen is a countryman of Nordstrom’s who came to Boston in a trade in February. It was Nordstrom who opened the scoring on Tuesday night and if you wanted to see the bounce in action, you couldn’t do better than watching Nordstom’s goal find its way past Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen. With a little more than five minutes left in the first period, the Leafs got sloppy in their own end of the ice and, operating to Andersen’s left, Nordstrom threw it at the net. The video replay looks like it was done by an SFX shop. The puck looks as though it goes through Andersen’s left leg. In super slow-motion, you see Andersen’s knee come off the goalpost by the approximate width of a hockey puck just as Nordstrom’s shot arrives. That’s the bounce. Johansson scored next, three minutes later, sweeping around behind Andersen and finding the net from the right slot.
"I think everyone throughout the lineup stepped up and had a really good game,” said Johansson. “I thought we played our best game of the series tonight. It was nice. It feels like our line has created enough chances. We’ve played pretty well and it just hasn’t gone our way. In fact, it’s gone the other way. We’ve been on the ice for their goals. It was good to get one going our way.”
“We felt we needed a certain type of lineup to beat Toronto and we finally got that,” said Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve got a lot of good choices. A guy like Nordstrom is good for that.”
The third goal was a solo dash from Kuraly after Toronto’s John Tavares had carved the Boston lead to 2-1 at the end of the second period. Kuraly leaped on a steal at center ice, carried the puck into the Maple Leafs zone, and got just wide enough on Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly to get enough of an angle to whip a shot past Andersen. Kuraly celebrated by dancing along the end boards.
“Any time you can contribute offensively is a good feeling,” Kuraly said. “A lot of times, we contribute in other ways. When I’m thinking the least amount is when I find myself making good plays, so that it’s kind of like I don’t know what’s going on at the time, I was just playing and taking what was next. I found myself close to the net and figured I’d put it on net. Most guys will tell you that, when they’re making good plays, there’s not much going through their heads.”
And that is the essence of the bounce. The bounce is not luck—not entirely, anyway—nor is it the residue of design. It’s something like the cosmic slop dished out by Patrick Swayze in the original Point Break—the place where you lose yourself and find yourself at the same time, but not exactly that. The bounce is the place where you lose yourself and the moment, the play, and the game find you, and it’s almost always a surprise, even to you, at least if you’re a third or fourth line player on a playoff hockey team. That’s what Kuraly was talking about. The bounce is not an essential part of any of the other sports the way it is in playoff hockey. The bounce can be an actual bounce, a funky hop off the boards and onto your stick. A clank off the post and into the net, the way Johannsen’s goal got past Andersen on Thursday night. The refs vanish into the phantom zone, the way the officials in the Las Vegas-San Jose Game 7 did on Tuesday night. If luck is the residue of design, then the bounce is the residue of both.
It will, alas, be another summer of endless recrimination for the Maple Leafs. They rebuilt themselves almost from scratch, signing Tavares for big money and backing up the Brink’s truck for both William Nylander and Auston Matthews, all the while Mitch Marner was becoming an All-Star. They were young and talented and appealing to watch. Among the sad-faced Toronto faithful now, however, these moves will be compared unfavorably to the deals the Bruins cut with the people who scored the goals that eliminated the Maple Leafs again. As Boston’s Patrice Bergeron said, “It’s always about finding ways to compete and beat the match-up you’re up against. You don’t have to rely all the time on the perfect match-up because, with all the lines jumping over the boards, you have the confidence in them.
“It’s a big character win for us tonight and now it’s about the next series. I mean, you enjoy it tonight but, then, it starts pretty quickly.”
For Boston, there now come the Blue Jackets, who dismissed with surprising ease the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were rated no less than a co-favorite to win the Cup. The Bruins beat Columbus two out of three during the regular season with their one loss being a 7-4 loss in which Tuukka Rask gave up five goals before being pulled.
“We’re gonna enjoy this one tonight,” said Cassidy. “But tomorrow we’ll be back in trying to break them down. I don’t mind the quick turnaround necessarily when you’re playing well. Our last two games we have played well. We saw [them] three times late in the year, that’ll help with our preparations. We know they were physical against Tampa, they came after them, they got key saves, power play was lights out. So we got our hands full. But we’re looking forward to it.”
Nobody knows where the bounce will settle this time around. It’s fickle, but it never goes entirely away.