It was only a first-round series, against a team that hasn’t won a playoff series in nine years.
It was not Bobby Orr scoring to win a Stanley Cup championship. Or Adam Vinatieri splitting the uprights at the Superdome. Or coming back from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees.
But it was one of the great moments in Boston sports history. In a pulsating Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night, the Bruins trailed, 4-1, with 11 minutes left, but rallied to tie the game (two goals in the final 1:22 of regulation), then beat the Maple Leafs, 5-4, in overtime on a goal by Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron’s follow-up shot in the sixth minute of OT pushed the Black and Gold to a second-round series against the New York Rangers.
“We showed some character coming back,’’ said Bergeron. “It’s about finding a way and showing some character and we did that tonight.’’
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bruins are the first team in NHL history to win a Game 7 after trailing by three goals in the final period. The Bruins’ third and fourth goals came in a span of 31 seconds.
“I thought it was a good character win,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “They had us on the ropes. I’m not going to sit here and lie.’’
Amen to that.
The season may yet prove to be unfulfilling. This might have been a tease. But the comeback against Toronto goes down as one of the great nights in the history of our storied hockey franchise.
The Bruins were done. They were Toronto toast. They were going down hard. They were going to be scorned. Julien was going to be Grady Little and the Bruins were going to be the Manila Folders of ice. They were going to exit from the playoffs in a seventh game for the fifth time in six seasons. They were going to blow a 3-1 series lead. We were going to have the sounds of silence at TD Garden.
And then came a miracle. Trailing, 4-1, with 11 minutes left . . . down, 4-2, with 1:22 left . . . the Bruins scored and scored and scored. It was a surge that probably disabled every router in the 617 area code.
With 10:42 left, Nathan Horton cut Toronto’s lead to 4-2, scoring off a pass from Milan Lucic. With 1:22 left, Lucic banged home a rebound of a Zdeno Chara slapper to cut the margin to a managable 4-3.
In the final moments of regulation, Julien called timeout and worked on a desperation game plan. It worked. With Boston’s net empty, Bergeron scored on a wrist shot from 40 feet out on the slot.
After the third period ended stadium operations fired up the crowd, playing “Don’t Stop Believin’,’’ “Livin’ on a Prayer,’’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,’’ and “Baba O’Riley.”
Then came OT. More hard skating. And a game-winner from Bergeron — when he went to the net and converted his own rebound after shooting from the right-wing circle.
Toronto’s noble goalie, James Reimer, was face down in the crease while the Bruins celebrated and the Garden rocked. This was one for the ages.
“Anything can happen, and that’s exactly what happened,’’ said Lucic.
The Bruins had the better team. The Bruins were the higher seed. Boston took that 3-1 series lead. The laughable Maple Leafs — the youngest team in the NHL — haven’t won a Cup since 1967 and hadn’t been in the playoffs in nine years. This was a formality. Going into Game 6, the Leafs hadn’t won a playoff game against the Bruins in Toronto since 1959.
But the Leafs took charge in the first 2½ periods of Game 7.
The Bruins were going down hard. They were going to be punching bags. Still, they did not concede — even though a good number of fans left the building and were not allowed to return for the big comeback. The Bruins stood tall and punched back. They pulled off one of the great comebacks of all time.
“Once we got that second goal, we looked at the clock and felt we still had time,’’ said Julien.
And now they are going to play the Rangers. With home ice.
“Another New York-Boston series,’’ said Lucic. “Red Sox-Yankees. Patriots-Giants. The Celtics just played the Knicks. There’s a lot of hatred between the two cities. We’re looking forward to the series.’’
They may go on to win the Cup. Or they may fall aside. But we never will forget the comeback against the Leafs.