TORONTO — With 11:38 left in the third period Thursday night at Air Canada Centre, a desperate Maple Leafs team saw their season in the balance. Defensman Paul Ranger pushed Patrice Bergeron in the crease and the Bruins center landed awkwardly on Jonathan Bernier. The Toronto goaltender stayed down for a bit before leaving the ice gingerly with the help of a trainer.
Bernier was out. James Reimer was in. And the Bruins were starting a power play.
Though the Bruins didn’t score, they did a few minutes later, at 12:51, with Bergeron beating Reimer off a feed from Brad Marchand as the Bruins stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to tie it.
And though the Bruins eventually lost, 4-3, on Nazem Kadri’s power-play goal 2:51 into overtime, it was an impressive comeback against an opponent with far more on the line.
“It showed some character to be able to come back against a desperate team like Toronto,” Milan Lucic said. “These are the type of the situations you can find yourselves in in the playoffs.”
It was a comeback that left the Bruins wanting more. The Bruins had the feeling they should have won, as they had on Wednesday after their 3-2 loss to Detroit. All the Bruins needed, as Bergeron said, was a full 60 minutes of effort. And a little help from the referees.
There was a certain amount of frustration in the dressing room, despite the point gained. That came from a penalty that was called, and a penalty that was uncalled, both happening in the final minutes.
“What a great play by our defenseman, to poke the puck away,” coach Claude Julien said of Torey Krug’s holding infraction in overtime, a penalty that led to Kadri’s winner. “It’s frustrating. We deal with that so much. Yesterday, had a goal disallowed. It is frustrating. And the biggest thing is you’ve got to try and keep your guys focused and not let that get to them. With time it gets worse and worse.
“I think our guys have done an unbelievable job of keeping themselves poised, going out there saying let’s not let anything that we can’t control upset us, and let’s try and win the game our way.”
While Krug was whistled off, Toronto’s Phil Kessel got away with an errant high stick that opened a gash on the side of Dougie Hamilton’s face late in the third period.
“The criteria is if you hit the puck first, it’s not a penalty,” Lucic said of Krug’s play . “We thought Kruger did a pretty good job of that. But we can’t control the calls that the refs make. They miss a high stick that cuts open Dougie with 2½ minutes left — we get that call, the game probably ends in our favor.
“All season long we never try to make the refereeing an excuse and we’re not going to do that here tonight.”
No, they were willing to take on the blame in a game in which the Leafs scored three goals in the first 20:52, including one with 12 seconds left in the first period and another 52 seconds into the second. As Julien said, “We had a bad first period. We didn’t come out ready.”
Ranger scored six minutes in, but Toronto’s lead lasted less than a minute because Brad Marchand nabbed a defensive zone turnover (created by Bergeron) and went top shelf on Bernier.
But the Bruins let up in the final seconds as Kessel’s bad angle shot banked off Tyler Bozak to restore Toronto’s lead.
And they increased that lead when a Hamilton pass was intercepted in the defensive zone and James van Riemsdyk beat Johnson for his 30th of the season.
The Leafs were up, 3-1, in a game crucial to their playoff chances.
That was when the Bruins staged their comeback.
“I think we can learn from this, for sure, realize that if we just play our game like we did in the third we can just dominate, dominate teams, especially teams like the Maple Leafs,” Johnson said. “It’s just disappointing we didn’t get the two points.”
Boston, which outshot the Maple Leafs, 17-5, in the third, drew closer at 5:03 of the period, as David Krejci pulled the puck around the net and found Lucic, who one-timed it past Bernier for his 22d. That was followed by the Bergeron goal, which led to overtime.
“It’s adversity that we’re going to face in the playoffs,” Bergeron said. “We’ve got to make sure that we realize that. We talked about that during the intermission there, that we had to keep pushing. We found a way. We got those two goals that we needed.”
They got enough to tie, enough to take a point. They just didn’t get enough to win.
“We’ve got to find a way to get that extra point, especially on our four-on-three. We’ve got to execute better and make the plays,” said Bergeron.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.