Don Sweeney’s moves really paid off in Game 7
No word on what Don Sweeney was thinking as he watched Game 7. He’s scheduled to address reporters at the Bruins’ practice facility in Brighton on Wednesday, to take stock of things entering a second-round date with Columbus.
No doubt he was satisfied watching his club, which made him look Harvard-smart in Game 7.
Nearly all the pieces Sweeney added to this year’s roster factored significantly in Boston’s 5-1 clinching win over Toronto, contributing in limited minutes.
Joakim Nordstrom, signed as a fourth liner/penalty-killer, scored the opening goal. Deadline pickup Marcus Johansson produced the second, off a tenacious turnover from call-up Karson Kuhlman. The other late-season addition, Charlie Coyle, cashed an empty-netter to put the game out of reach.
It was return on an investment for coach Bruce Cassidy, who played Coyle 11:52, Nordstrom 10:30, Kuhlman 9:11, and Johansson 8:49. Those four, and Sean Kuraly (goal), were the five least-used Bruins.
Cassidy felt Game 6 was his team’s best of the series, which is why he stuck with the same lineup for the finale. He said it was difficult to scratch David Backes, given his experience (71 career playoff games, including last year’s Bruins-Leafs Game 7), and another depth piece added last July, Chris Wagner, who dealt with a lower-body injury down the stretch.
“Game 6 was our identity, our type of game: pace, physicality, finishing, all aspects of the game, special teams,” Cassidy said before puck drop. “That’s the biggest thing that goes into the decision.”
Coyle saw more of the same.
“Relentless, resilient, whatever you want to call it,” the Weymouth-raised Coyle said. “We were down every part of that series. We battled back to tie it, tie it, and eventually went ahead. There was never any panic in our game.”
Chara ties mark
Zdeno Chara tied a league record, equaled by Patrick Roy and Scott Stevens, by playing in his 13th Game 7.
“It’s just a stat,” said Chara, hardly impressed by his own experience.
Patrice Bergeron made his 11th appearance, tied for seventh-most. David Krejci (ninth), Brad Marchand (eighth) and Tuukka Rask (sixth) were Game 7 vets, as was Johansson. He played in five Game 7s with Washington, beating Boston in 2012. He also knocked out Toronto with an overtime goal in 2016.
Torey Krug (fourth), John Moore (fourth) and David Pastrnak (third) had been there a few times. Tuesday was the second career Game 7 for Coyle (formerly of Minnesota), Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Charlie McAvoy, Kuraly, Matt Grzelcyk and Noel Acciari.
Nordstrom (15 career playoff games), Kuhlman and Brandon Carlo were playing in their first.
Carlo had the right attitude going in.
“I think the same playoff hockey we’ve been playing,” he said, “should do us justice tonight.”
It was a coin flip of a series, at even strength.
At 5 on 5, the Leafs took a 358-347 edge in shot attempts. In Corsi For percentage, that translated to 50.78 percent to 49.22 percent. The Bruins had landed 198 shots on Frederik Andersen, and scored 11 times. The Leafs had put 189 on Rask, and scored 12 times.
Five current Bruins — Chara, Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand, Krug and Rask — were part of the squad that pulled off an unprecedented feat in 2013, overcoming a three-goal, third-period deficit to break the Leafs’ hearts in Game 7. For Toronto, only Jake Gardiner returned from that day.
According to Sportsnet, Gardiner’s minus-8 mark in Game 7s is now tied for worst in NHL history. He was minus-5 in last year’s Game 7, and on the ice for three goals against Tuesday. He is reportedly dealing with a significant back issue. “He’s not mobile and that’s unfortunate,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “He tried to give us what he could. No fault on his part.”
The other returning Leaf from 2013, Nazem Kadri, was suspended for his cross-check to DeBrusk’s head in Game 2. He wound up missing five games.
Time to chill
Both the Bruins and Maple Leafs had been critical of the ice conditions at TD Garden. Marchand called conditions “terrible” and joked that Game 7 might as well be played with a tennis ball. Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin said the sheet was “pretty bad.”
Grzelcyk’s father, John, is a senior member of the TD Garden bull gang. He started working at Boston Garden in 1967. The Bruins defenseman said before puck drop his father was “pretty offended” at first, but isn’t taking things personally.
“Me and [Pastrnak] actually gave him grief after the game,” Grzelcyk said. “He didn’t like it, we were kind of joking, but he obviously doesn’t have much to do with that. But yeah we were able to kind of poke some fun at him for sure.”
Several players said afterward the Garden ice, in a colder-than-normal building, was its best of the series. The Garden was last a basketball court last Wednesday, during Celtics-Pacers Game 2. With the Bruins starting Round 2 at home and the Celtics starting Round 2 on the road, the ice will have time to chill.
Game 7 got off to a rollicking start, thanks to Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Edelman, wearing right winger Pastrnak’s No. 88, was welcomed as the honorary banner captain before puck drop Tuesday night at TD Garden. Introduced on the Jumbotron as a three-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl LIII MVP, Edelman was joined by Special Olympics athlete Meghan Colby.
Making their points
Entering the game, Pastrnak and Marchand led all NHLers with 1.44 point-per-game average the last two playoff seasons (players with 10 or more games played). Third in line: Sidney Crosby, 1.38 ppg .. . . The Bruins’ active roster has 89 games of Game 7 experience. Collective record: 62-27. Cassidy is 2-0 . . . The Leafs have 52 games of Game 7 experience. Collective record: 9-43. Babcock is 3-7. The only Leafs who have won Game 7s did so with other teams (Muzzin, who’s now 4-1; Marleau and Hainsey) . . . Entering Tuesday, the Bruins’ playoff lead time (160:15) ranked second behind only Vegas (175:12) . . . Only Pittsburgh (4:51), Tampa (47:42) and Calgary (64:14) had fewer minutes in front than Toronto (78:01) . . . Marchand, who led all Bruins with five shots and nine attempts, was the series’ leading scorer (4-5--9) . . . Charlie McAvoy blocked a game-high nine shots, and averaged a team-high 24:04, behind only Toronto’s Morgan Rielly (25:05) . . . Bergeron finished a blistering 61.9 percent at the dot.
Nicole Yang of Boston.com contributed.