Phil Kessel has heard the taunts from Bruins fans, “Thank You, Kessel” chants that reference the trade that enabled the Bruins to draft Tyler Seguin in 2010.
But Kessel had a big series for the Maple Leafs, and his fourth goal of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals gave Toronto a 3-1 lead early in the third period of Game 7 Monday night at TD Garden. A little over three minutes later, Kessel assisted on the goal that pushed the Leafs’ advantage to 4-1.
The Leafs thought they were en route to the second round. Then the Bruins turned the tables to force overtime, and pulled out a 5-4 victory.
“It’s pretty tough,’’ said Kessel. “Obviously, we were up, 4-1, with 10 minutes left. You can’t blow a lead like that. Obviously, it’s disappointing. I don’t know what happened to us. At 4-1, you can’t lose that game.’’
Kessel was asked how a young Toronto team would find a way to rise above the disappointment.
“Obviously, we’ll have the summer to think about it and work hard and get back at it next year,’’ he said. “It’s pretty tough, right? At 4-1, you can’t lose. They kind of took it to us. We sat back and you can’t do that. We didn’t do things we needed to do, right? We sat back and they came at us.’’
Monday’s finish was particularly excruciating for James Reimer. The Leafs goaltender had held the Bruins to a total of three goals spanning Games 5 and 6 and the first 49 minutes of Game 7. Then he allowed four goals over a 17-minute span.
“[The Bruins] played hard and they came hard and they played with a lot of passion,’’ said Reimer. “They came with some pressure in the last 10 minutes. But you know, especially as a goalie, you want to step up and try to make one more save in that situation.’’
Reimer said it was an awful feeling when Patrice Bergeron’s second goal of the night, coming at 6:05 of overtime, ended the Maple Leafs’ season.
“There’s no way to describe it, I don’t think,’’ said Reimer. “Just an empty feeling, really. It’s over and there’s nothing you can do about it. You know, when you go through the season and a goal goes in or somebody scores in the shootout or whatever deciding goal it is, it [stinks] but you’ll get them the next time.
“But a case like tonight, there is no next time, it’s just next year. It’s really just an empty feeling.’’
‘We gave it away’
Defenseman Cody Franson was shaping up as the Maple Leafs’ hero. The 25-year-old had never scored twice in a game over his four-year career. He had only 23 goals in 243 regular-season games and two in 22 postseason contests entering Monday. In Game 7, he scored Toronto’s first two goals. Turns out it was all for naught. “They put pressure on us and we had a tough time with it, and that’s the way it goes,’’ said Franson. “We’ve just got to learn from our past mistakes and learn how to close games out. We sat back in the neutral zone a little bit too much and allowed them to just keep dumping it in on us and they were able to find the back of the net. We gave ourselves a very good chance to win this series and we gave it away. It’s that simple. We gave it to them.’’ . . . The Maple Leafs are 12-10 lifetime in Game 7s with a 5-9 mark on the road . . . Toronto played a Game 7 overtime for the fourth time in franchise history, falling to 2-2. It was the Leafs’ first Game 7 overtime since a 4-3 win over Detroit in 1993 division semifinals.Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.