---- — BOSTON — Down a goal, anything can happen.
Down two goals? Daunting, but doable.
Down three goals, in the third period, of Game 7? Turn out the lights and melt the ice. Forget about it.
The Boston Bruins turned logic on its head in front 17,565 delighted fans at TD Garden last night, scoring twice with the goalie pulled in the final 82 seconds and again in overtime to stun Toronto, 5-4, in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Patrice Bergeron had both the tying goal (with 51 seconds to play) and the overtime winner at 6:05 of sudden death.
“We found a way,” Bergeron said. “We showed some character and we found a way”
Boston will now face the Boxford native Chris Kreider and the New York Rangers (winners of their own Game 7 over Washington, 5-0, last night) later this week in the East semifinals beginning Thursday at home.
The Black-and-Gold were an eyelash away from allowing a 3-1 series lead slip away. They managed only 13 shots on goal after two periods and appeared lifeless, with one skate and nine other toes in the grave of another season marred by an early playoff exit.
They’d scored two goals, total, in closeout opportunities in Games 5 and 6. Then they scored twice in 82 seconds last night with their lives on the line. The crowd went from angst-ridden to alive and hungry just as quickly as Boston’s fortunes changed.
“One of the craziest Game 7’s I’ve ever played in,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who has an assist and logged 35:46 of ice time.
It’s hard to say what changed over the final 10 minutes. How exactly did the energy shift so drastically from Toronto to Boston?
It began when Nathan Horton scored with 10:42 to go, slicing Toronto’s lead to 4-2. Boston had a few lifeless shifts after that, and it seemed like the Maple Leafs could still salt away the lead.
If you thought the Bruin’s late goal by Milan Lucic in Game 6 Sunday night, which made it 2-1 in favor of Toronto, with little time remaining was meaningless, think again; that goal gave Boston comfort and confidence in the extra-attacker situation — and it worked in their favor late last night.
With 1:22 to go and goalie Tuukka Rask on the bench, Milan Lucic scored to make it 4-3. Boston’s passing was crisp and purposeful.
“I know two minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time to get two goals, but we felt like we had the time to do it,” said Bergeron. “We were moving the puck really well and skating with poise. Guys knew where the other guys were going to be.”
Just 31 seconds after Lucic’s goal, Bergeron fired one through traffic past Toronto goalie James Reimer. What seemed impossible minutes earlier had happened.
Boston’s best two-way player scored the winner with extended offensive zone time in overtime. Linemates Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin (the latter playing his first shift on that line of the evening) kept the puck in, and eventually Bergeron scored from the left circle.
Seguin earned an assist, his first point of the series, after being badly outplayed by Toronto’s Phil Kessel in these playoffs.
Even more impressive than the scoring was Boston’s defense in the final 10 minutes. Rask, who was good but not great for much of the series, made a breakaway stop with the score 4-2. Moreover, defensive force Dennis Seidenberg was limited to 37 seconds of ice time by an undisclosed injury.
Rookies Dougie Hamilton (21:08) and Matt Bartkowski (24:51) logged major minutes and were not liabilities. Bartkowski was playing in the Calder Cup playoffs for Providence not long ago and was part of a similar late comeback.
“All I could think about was comparing the two and it’s not even close. This was ridiculous. Any great feeling you can think of,” said Bartkowski, who scored to give Boston an early 1-0 lead before Toronto netted four straight.
The Bruins know they have to be better in the next round. Lucic needs to play like he did over the final 40-or-so minutes, hitting anything that moved and asserting himself away from the puck. Bergeron and Marchand must shoot with confidence. Same goes for Chara, and Rask will need to be stronger with All-World Henrik Lundqvist in the other cage.
Boston is a team that will frustrate you with their awful power play and their inability to score at times. There will be moments in the series against the gritty, skilled Rangers when you want to put the nearest object through the television. When it happens, remember how close they were to losing to Toronto. Down 4-1, fans were already thinking about Claude Julien’s future, about why Seguin was outshined by Kessel, and about how general manager Peter Chiarelli could improve the club.
Thanks to a comeback for the ages, as improbable as they come, all that is delayed for at least two weeks.
Matt Williams is the assistant sports editor of The Salem News. You can contact him at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.