Up 3-1 in the series after a 3-1 victory at Air Canada Centre last Thursday, few would have predicted that the Bruins would find themselves in their current predicament: tied 3-3 with the Maple Leafs and headed to a do-or-die Game 7 on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NESN) at TD Garden.
Toronto rallied from the brink of elimination to hold on for a 4-3 win in Game 5 at the Garden on Saturday night and then a 3-1 triumph on their home ice on Monday. No other first-round matchup went the distance, so it’s not hyperbole to say that the entire NHL will be watching on Wednesday to see who will face the Lightning in the second round. A win for the B’s in Game 7 is still expected but a loss would leave an especially bitter taste for a club that has legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations.
This is Boston’s first Game 7 since 2014 (a second-round loss to Montreal) and they are 3-2 in their five most-recent Game 7's dating back to 2010. For what it’s worth, they came out on top in three Game 7's when they won the Cup in 2011 (Montreal, Tampa Bay and Vancouver).
“You go back to the drawing board and find some character that we’ve shown all year,” said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron. “You can look back all you want but that’s where we’re at: it’s the position we’re in, you have to prevail.”
The easiest way to explain Toronto’s comeback is that Boston’s offense that exploded out of the gates with 12 combined goals in Games 1 and 2 has only registered just nine since then. As you would expect with that sharp turn, Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen has gotten better and better as the series has dragged on. Game 6 was his opus as he was named the first star of the contest after stopping 32 of 33 shots.
“He’s making a lot of big saves,” said Bruins left winger Brad Marchand. “We’ve just to keep going, I think that’s the only thing. We’re getting bodies there, we’re getting pucks there, we’re getting some really good looks. Just have to keep doing it and hopefully, it pays off for us.”
Boston scored first in Game 6 but they became the first team to lose in the series when they did that as Toronto answered 35 seconds later. The Bruins would not find the back of the net again.
All season long (and through the first four games of this series), Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak have been the best forward line in hockey. The problem is that the Leafs have held them all off the scoresheet in the last two tilts and their combined plus-minus has been minus-9 in those particular defeats. Secondary scoring has been a strength for the B’s most of the year but other than rookie Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, few of their other forwards have really produced in this series. Rick Nash’s reputation before he got here was that he becomes invisible in the postseason and unfortunately so far he has done nothing but continue to be that guy considering he has one goal and zero assists despite racking up 22 shots on goal.
Home ice typically isn’t as important as other sports but in NHL history, the home team is 103-73 in Game 7's. As a franchise, Boston is 12-8 all-time in Game 7's at home (13-12 overall) while Toronto is 5-9 on the road (12-10 overall). Either way, the final result of Wednesday’s Game 7 could have a lasting effect on both Original Six clubs. Surprisingly there hasn’t been any overtimes yet in this series so don’t be shocked if that is needed to decide things.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate