TORONTO — When the Maple Leafs found themselves trailing the Bruins, three games to one, in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, a few players asked forward James van Riemsdyk about his experience being on the brink of elimination.
Van Riemsdyk was on the Flyers team that rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to knock out the Bruins in the 2010 conference semifinals.
Van Riemsdyk’s message, in short, was that it was important to keep the faith. That message resonated with the Maple Leafs Sunday night as they took a 2-0 lead on Boston and hung on to win, 2-1, to win Game 6 and tie the best-of-seven series.
Game 7 will be Monday night at TD Garden.
“You try to have that chatter within the locker room that you can’t get kind of overwhelmed by the situation you’re in,’’ said van Riemsdyk, who assisted on both goals. “You’ve just got to kind of dial into the game and the present and you’ve got to do it one game at a time, one day at a time, and focus on what’s right in front of you. I think we’ve obviously done that so far but it’s far from over. The games we won to get ourselves in this position don’t mean anything if we don’t win [Game 7].’’
It was the Maple Leafs’ first victory at home in the series after dropping Games 3 and 4. They managed to harness the energy of the crowd at the Air Canada Centre, which they weren’t able to do before.
“The atmosphere here has been unbelievable,” said van Riemsdyk. “Throughout the season, some games are a little bit quiet in the rink and you kind of wonder what it’s going to be like in the playoffs. It’s blown me away in there. It’s louder than any building I’ve ever played in, I think. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen playing hockey.’’
One player for whom the night was very special was Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. The defenseman, whose error led to David Krejci’s overtime goal in Game 4, scored Toronto’s first goal Sunday when Nazem Kadri put the puck on net from high between the circles and it went off Phaneuf and past goaltender Tuukka Rask. Phaneuf said after Game 6 that he felt like he owed the team, but his teammates disagreed, saying he is a crucial part of the Maple Leafs’ success.
“That was great [that he scored],’’ said van Riemsdyk. “Obviously, we know what kind of player and what kind of leader he is on this team and he’s a big part of our team. He caught a bad break that one game but he makes a lot of good plays for us. He plays a ton of minutes and made a great play in front of the net [Sunday] to make something happen and get the balling rolling for us.’’
Now the series comes down to a single game, pitting the Bruins’ extensive experience against the enthusiasm and youth of the Maple Leafs. Toronto has already won twice in Boston so the team believes in itself.
“We’re battling hard and trying to do the little things,’’ said Phil Kessel, who had the winning goal Sunday. “They’re tight games, they’re a great team and there’s one more to play.’’
Van Riemsdyk said the Leafs have gained confidence throughout.
“We’ve gotten better and better as the series has gone on,’’ he said.
Coach Randy Carlyle said it’s a clean slate going into enemy territory.
“We know that there is passion in their market and their fans,’’ he said. “We’ve been there already, we know what we’re heading to and we just have to make sure to play the game to a higher level than we did tonight. Because we know they will.’’