A gritty Game 7 performance sends Bruins to next round in playoffs
They can never be completely comfortable in these games, not until the clock runs out.
But they’ve earned their confidence. And their right to celebrate.
The Bruins ended another seven-game epic against the Maple Leafs with another Game 7 win, their third in seven seasons.
Boston, a 5-1 winner Tuesday night at a wild TD Garden, advanced to play the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round (Game 1 Thursday night at 7). The Bruins sent away the Leafs miserable, without a frenzied comeback, an overtime goal by Patrice Bergeron, or an end-to-end scoring rush by Jake DeBrusk.
No, this one, for Boston, was a tale of Tuukka and the Plumbers.
Rask, the netminder, stopped 32 of 33 shots. He was first star in a clinching game, and called on for his best work in the first 40 minutes, when the Bruins were out-attempted, 41-27, and out-chanced, 21-15.
“He made the stops he needed to and more,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.
He got help from even-strength goals from Joakim Nordstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Sean Kuraly, who punctuated his third-period snipe with a double-hop into the glass.
Kuraly leaped again with 2:34 left when Charlie Coyle, another Bruin outside the top six forwards, cashed an empty-netter. Bergeron scored another with one second left, the celebration already under way.
The Leafs, who added superstar John Tavares and stout defenseman Jake Muzzin, had the better of the play throughout. They will rightfully wonder this offseason why they couldn’t get it done. Part of the reason: another poor power-play performance (0 for 2). Toronto failed on its final six opportunities of the series.
In one first-period stretch, they held the Bruins more than eight minutes without a shot. Boston had five giveways in the first 10 minutes, and allowed two backdoor plays that didn’t go. Rask saved an Auston Matthews ripper from the slot and three Mitch Marner chances on one rush.
And because this sport can be wonderfully bizarre, the Bruins’ fourth line and third defense pair produced the first goal of Game 7.
Leafs blue liner Travis Dermott sent an outlet pass to the Bruins’ Noel Acciari at the blue line. Matt Grzelcyk’s pinch kept Boston’s possession alive after a Kuraly bid. The puck came to Nordstrom below the circle. He said afterward he saw no space, but knew he had Kuraly crashing the net for a rebound.
So, why not shoot?
“You never know,” Nordstrom said.
The fourth-liner, with seven goals during the regular season, found space between Frederik Andersen’s pad, glove, and the near post at 14:29 of the first.
“A little bit surprised, I guess,” Nordstrom said.
Matthews’s line was on the ice again for the 2-0 goal. Rookie Karson Kuhlman — a member of the supporting cast, who like Nordstrom stayed in Cassidy’s lineup because he was part of the Game 6 win — harassed struggling defenseman Jake Gardiner into a turnover behind the net. Johansson picked it up, circled into the slot, and fired through a Coyle screen at 17:46.
Meanwhile, Rask was pulling the rope.
“We had a couple breakdowns there, and he did a phenomenal job of helping us out and getting us out of those situations,” said defenseman Brandon Carlo, who played 24:04. “I wouldn’t expect anything different.”
Rask only cracked 3:54 into the second, the Leafs’ bottom unit providing a spark.
As John Moore tried to wheel out of the zone, Leafs fourth-liner Tyler Ennis shoved him off the puck along the boards. Tavares jumped off the bench, took a feed, and beat Rask far side. It was the 47-goal scorer’s first even-strength strike of the series.
But Tavares had a great view of the next goal.
He turned it over and watched Kuraly, another plugger-turned-hero, rush through the neutral zone, beat two Leafs, and rip a wrister over Andersen’s shoulder 2:40 into the period. If Nordstrom was surprised at his goal, Bergeron was not when he saw the speedy Kuraly gain a head of steam.
“I saw it all along,” Bergeron said. “I was like, ‘Man, he’s got it.’ That was an amazing shot.”
Kuraly, who grew up 20 minutes outside Columbus in Dublin, Ohio, got his first of the postseason while playing his third game since March 21. He missed 12 games because of hand surgery.
“The hand was fine,” he said.
The Bruins killed the game’s only two penalties (Carlo for cross-checking in the second, too many men in the third). The Leafs finished the series 3 for 16.
The Black and Gold beat their Original Six rivals after being down, 3-2, in the series. It was their first time overcoming such a deficit in a series since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final against Vancouver. TD Garden was respectful during “O, Canada,” but the home team has more than done its part to extend that country’s Cup drought to 26 years.
The Leafs, without a playoff series win since 2004 and Cup since 1967, haven’t beaten the Bruins in a series since 1959 (0 for 6).
The trash talk was somewhat muted during the series, despite the history. But the winners get to talk.
Brad Marchand strolled through a victorious dressing room, wearing a towel and a conspiratorial grin. He put his hand to his ear, and asked the question he has earned the right to ask:
“How quiet’s Toronto right now?”