As the minutes ticked by and their shots refused to go in, the Bruins could not help but feel some nerves.
They had slipped just one puck past James Reimer. The Maple Leafs countered with a James van Riemsdyk score at 14:31 of the second.
Given the situation — a punchline of an opponent, the Senators refusing to go away, the absolute requirement of a 2-point result — jitters were expected.
“In the second half of the third, they’re just playing and saying, ‘Let’s go win this game,’ while we’re saying, ‘We can’t afford to lose this,’ ” coach Claude Julien said. “Although you’re trying to win, there was more pressure on our team than there was on theirs.”
The pressure peaked in the shootout. In the post-overtime laugh track, the Bruins have had better luck shooting themselves in the foot than shooting pucks into the net. But for only the fourth time in 13 shootouts, the Bruins emerged with the 2-point result, 2-1.
Patrice Bergeron scored the only goal of the shootout when he got Reimer to bite and go down early. At the other end, Tuukka Rask fought off the heat of the moment to foil Tyler Bozak, van Riemsdyk, and Nazem Kadri.
“I’ve had so many of them that I don’t really expect anything out of them,” Rask said of the shootout. “I just tried to battle through it, make saves, and hopefully we get one goal. Today it was enough.”
The Bruins remain 3 points ahead of the Senators, who have a game in hand. Ottawa beat Washington in overtime on Saturday, 4-3. The Bruins have 95 points, the same number as sixth-place Detroit and seventh-place Pittsburgh. Ottawa hosts Toronto on Sunday and could close to within 1 point of the Bruins.
In theory, the Leafs had no business hanging with the Bruins until the shootout. They are pursuing an opportunity to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. They are laughed at around the league.
But Reimer set the tone in the first by turning back all 19 of the Bruins’ shots. Reimer stumbled on the first shift of the second. He kicked out Bergeron’s initial shot, but he booted the puck into a spot where the center could retrieve it and put the rebound in at 0:19.
In all, the Bruins hammered the Toronto goalie with 50 pucks. They attempted 29 other shots. The Leafs, who were filling the shooting lanes well, blocked 22 attempts. The Bruins shot wide on seven other sniffs.
Their finish was missing, just as it was on March 17. That night, the Bruins played the down-and-out Sabres. They made the Sabres look like bantams. The Bruins peppered the Buffalo net with 45 shots. Only one went in. The Bruins lost in the shootout, 2-1.
That shootout loss was recent enough to remain in the Bruins’ heads. Their nerves showed at times.
“If you let that get to you, then we’re going to sit back on our heels and they’re going to take it to us,” Torey Krug said. “They don’t have any pressure. It’s about controlling that. I thought there were times we did a good job at that. Then there were times where we kind of sat back and they had a couple opportunities and looks at the net. It can definitely be tough. These are games that are tough to win. They don’t have any pressure.”
A mistake led to Toronto’s second-period goal. Adam McQuaid tried to hit Reilly Smith with a pass in the neutral zone. Smith couldn’t handle McQuaid’s pass, and the Bruins were called for icing.
On the following faceoff, Bozak beat Carl Soderberg cleanly and pulled the puck back to the point. Rask punched out Morgan Rielly’s shot. But during a net-front scramble, McQuaid banked the puck off Rask and over the line while trying to sweep it out of danger.
With just one more good shot, the Leafs could have left the Bruins with zero points. That nearly happened midway through the third. During a frenzied net-front flurry, Joffrey Lupul suddenly found himself with a point-blank chance at the side of the crease.
In desperation, Rask threw up a two-pad stack to deny Lupul of the winning goal.
“Two guys in front and our D broke his stick,” Rask said. “The guy gets two whacks at it. I saw he was by himself at that point. I just tried to take as much net away from him as possible. I think he had two shots, then we cleared the puck. Lucky there.”
It was Rask’s best sequence of regulation. In the shootout, Rask sticked away Bozak’s bid, punched out van Riemsdyk’s shot, and stood tall against Kadri.
“It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality of shots,” Julien said of Rask’s 27-save performance. “That two-pad stack at one point was probably one of the biggest saves there late in the third. He had to make the saves when needed to. In the shootout, it’s the same thing. He’s left on his own, and some pretty good shooters went up against him.”