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Orfao: Bruins break Toronto hearts again in Game 7

  • Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen hits Boston Bruins center David Krejci during the second period of Wednesday’s Game 7. AP

  • Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen looks back as the puck bounces to the back of the net on a goal by Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) during the third period of Game 7 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series in Boston, Wednesday, April 25, 2018. At center is Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63). (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa


Thursday, April 26, 2018

The sequel almost lived up to the original.

Brad Marchand took a pass from Riley Nash, found some open ice and flicked a backhand shot into an empty net. He made it look easy, but finally ousting the Toronto Maple Leafs was nothing of the sort as the Boston Bruins resuscitated their season with a 7-4 triumph in Game 7 at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

For a while, it seemed the Maple Leafs were destined to find some semblance of revenge for their well-documented 2013 collapse in the very same building.

There were plenty of parallels to the classic five years earlier. Like 2013, Toronto had erased a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7. Like 2013, Toronto held a lead going into the third period. Like 2013, the Bruins stomped on the hearts of Toronto fans and sent the Maple Leafs to the golf course.

While the game was won with four third-period goals, it could have been lost early.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy shared some words of wisdom with reporters before the puck dropped Wednesday night, and the message seemed to resonate with his team.

“Pressure can’t become a word you fear – it just can’t,” he said.

It didn’t take long for the Maple Leafs to apply the pressure.

New Hampshire’s own Tim Schaller got the start in Game 7, but linemate Sean Kuraly put the Bruins in unfavorable position when he was whistled for a tripping penalty only 31 seconds into the season-deciding affair. The Maple Leafs made the Bruins pay for the miscue when Jake Gardiner’s blast was deflected in by Patrick Marleau for a 1-0 edge only 2:10 after the opening puck drop.

TD Garden took a collective gulp.

The anxiety grew when on a Boston power play, a puck fluttered toward the Toronto goal line before goalie Frederik Andersen and longtime nuisance Tomas Plekanac batted the would-be goal out of harm’s way. Moments later, Andersen was flailing around the crease again and it appeared the Bruins might have been holding their sticks a little too tight.

The third threat proved to be the charm, though, as a drive from David Pastrnak was deflected in by Jake DeBrusk less than three minutes after Toronto’s initial strike.

TD Garden exhaled a sigh of relief.

Again, the Maple Leafs applied pressure when Marleau bombed in a one-timer for a 2-1 lead just 6:12 into the game.

Gulp.

The Bruins responded again. Rick Nash sent a centering pass between his legs, which bounced out to Danton Heinen. The 22-year-old, who was scratched in Game 6, beat Andersen for the equalizer.

Exhale.

Boston finally got the upper hand when an intentionally wide pass from Kevan Miller was gracefully corralled around the boards by Patrice Bergeron, who buried it and triggered flashbacks to the Game 7 comeback in 2013.

“That’s why we play the game,” Bergeron said of Game 7 experiences before the game. “It’s one of those things that you can’t get too caught up in it, and just go out there and let your instincts take over.”

The Garden was rocking, but not for long.

The Bruins fell victim to an unlucky bounce when Travis Dermott’s shot caught a piece of Miller’s stick and slipped by Tuukka Rask. The Bruins goalie was left out to dry when Marchand lost a race with Kasperi Kapanen, who had Rask bumbling around the net as he slipped it by for a 4-3 lead.

For the remainder of the period, an uneasiness began to settle over the Boston faithful.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs in the frame, 13-6, the Bruins needed to overcome a one-goal hole for a third time to even have a chance at extending a feel-good season that was on the verge of going up in flames.

The Bruins took the ice in the third period and caught fire. The Leafs, meanwhile, endured their annual spring wilt.

Before any more skepticism could settle into the seats at TD Garden, Torey Krug tied it with a slap shot 1:10 into the period. At that moment, the rest seemed inevitable.

About four minutes later, DeBrusk took it to the net with authority and sacrificed his body while slipping the puck between the legs of Andersen, who will likely be joining James Reimer’s support group this summer.

It was fitting for the best line in hockey to provide the icing on the cake.

Marchand wreaked havoc behind the net, Bergeron poked it in front and Pastrnak demonstrated the poise of an elite NHL scorer despite being just 21 years of age, sending the puck to twine for a 6-4 cushion – the first two-goal advantage in this back-and-forth classic.

Every wise Bruins fan couldn’t deem the two-goal lead to be completely safe, but that back-handed flip from Marchand officially started the celebration to the second round.

There’s plenty of work left to be done, starting with Game 1 at Tampa Bay on Saturday, and either the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins or the ultra-talented Washington Capitals will await the winner of that series in the Eastern Conference finals.

We don’t yet know how the 2017-18 Boston Bruins will be remembered.

Wednesday’s effort ensured the memories won’t include first-round heartbreak. It seems those are reserved for Toronto.

(Jason Orfao can be reached at jorfao@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JasonOrfao.)