Boston's 100 Greatest Games, No. 35
Bruins 5, Maple Leafs 4, OT
May 13, 2013
In the opening round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Bruins pulled off the greatest Game 7 comeback in hockey history
Could the Bruins win a tight playoff series with Tuukka Rask in goal instead of 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas? That was a major question heading into the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After their first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs it essentially remained unanswered, even though the Bruins had executed the most electrifying Game 7 win in hockey history. Because for most of the crucial sequence, a 31-second span late in the third period, the Bruins had no goaltender at all.
Funny thing was, it was almost predictable—both that they found themselves in such a predicament and that they escaped from it. The 2013 Bruins were as difficult to read as Finnegans Wake (powerplay, still anemic, passing from curve of blade to bend of board, brings us by recirculation of blackish discus back to point of nevercoming triggerpull). This was due, in part, to the lockout-shortened season, which limited the sample size to 48 games. The Bruins began by winning eight of ten. They ended by losing six of eight, squandering an opportunity to win the Northeast Division. Even so, there seemed little reason to fear the Maple Leafs, Canada’s answer to the Chicago Cubs. After Game 4, which David Krejci won by completing the hat trick in overtime to put the Bruins up 3–1, the series seemed as good as done. Then the Leafs ground out consecutive 2–1 decisions to even the series at three each. Still the Bruins rated a significant edge, based on experience alone. This was Boston’s fifth Game 7 in little more than two years. It was Toronto’s first Game 7 since 2004. And the Leafs hadn’t won a seventh game on the road in twenty years.
Yes, the Bruins were banged up. They started Game 7 minus a pair of defensemen, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden, and lost Dennis Seidenberg after just 37 seconds. But when Matt Bartkowski stepped in and scored his first career goal just 5:39 into the first period, the Bruins appeared ready to break out of their offensive funk.
Instead, it was Toronto that found a rhythm. With Zdeno Chara off for high sticking, Cody Franson tied the game halfway through the first period. Franson scored again at 5:48 of the second. Phil Kessel made it 3–1 early in the third. And when Nazem Kadri stuck in a rebound 3½ minutes later, he also appeared to have stuck a fork in the Bruins. NESN play-by-play man Jack Edwards, noted for his outpourings of black-and-gold bombast, offered a clear-eyed appraisal: “The Toronto Maple Leafs, unless they suffer a colossal collapse, are going to eliminate the Boston Bruins.”
One colossal collapse, coming up.
The first cracks in the Toronto facade formed at 9:18 of the third period, when Milan Lucic fed Nathan Horton from behind the Leafs net. Horton buried it. It was 4–2.
According to a mildewed hockey adage, a two-goal lead is the most difficult to protect. That sounds absurd; obviously a one-goal lead is more difficult to protect. (PuckScene.com actually went to the trouble of analyzing an entire season’s worth of NHL games to confirm this.) But safeguarding a two-goal lead can present a psychological challenge, depending on how much time remains. A team that goes up two goals in the first minute of the game won’t try to sit on the lead for the rest of the night. A team that’s up two goals in the last minute of the game will.
But what should a team that’s up by two goals with 10:42 remaining in Game 7 of a playoff series do—in particular, a young team playing on the road, which has just allowed a confident team and a hostile crowd to come to life? It would be foolish to try to sit on a one-goal lead for that long—but a two-goal lead? That might be doable.
Consciously or otherwise, the Leafs started playing like an NFL team in a prevent defense. (Toronto forward Matt Frattin did manage a breakaway with about 3½ minutes left, but Rask denied him.) And although they maintained that two-goal lead for more than nine minutes, they did so knowing that the worst stress was yet to come. That was because of a stratagem unique to hockey: the extra skater. By the time Bruins coach Claude Julien called Rask to the bench, with two minutes left, the Leafs were wilting. The Bruins, on the other hand, had their sense of urgency reinforced by that extra attacker. And hockey players, perhaps more than any other athletes, are adrenalin-driven.
For the Bruins, this was the ultimate high-wire rush. They were working without a net—or at least without anybody to guard it. After a Toronto dump-in, the goalmouth gaped as Chara gathered the puck in his own end with just 1:45 on the clock. All the Leafs had to do was execute a simple poke check, and they could have iced the game with an empty-netter. But by then Toronto had become so tentative—not risking any penalties or turnovers—that they were having difficulty even getting a blade on the puck. They looked like stand-ins, just occupying space while the Bruins ran a drill designed to overcome a two-goal deficit with less than 90 seconds left.
Once he reached the offensive zone, Chara camped out at the right point. He lurked unguarded, stick cocked, as Patrice Bergeron fed him the puck from across the ice. No Leaf was within twenty feet of Chara as he one-timed a shot. Toronto goalie James Reimer stopped the puck but couldn’t contain it. Lucic pounced on the rebound and flicked it in with 1:22 left.
Toronto no longer had to worry about protecting a two-goal lead.
Boston now completely controlled the flow. Bergeron won the ensuing faceoff, which allowed Rask to immediately retreat to the bench again. The Bruins carried the puck into the offensive zone with no resistance. With just under a minute left, Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk had a shot at a loose puck along the boards, but he pulled up and Lucic beat him to it. Moments later, with Chara providing a screen the size of a drive-in theater, Bergeron drilled the puck just under the crossbar from just inside the blue line to tie the game.
Rask, having joined the TD Garden’s 17,565 spectators for that historic two-goal flurry, did his part less than two minutes into overtime by stoning Joffrey Lupul twice in five seconds. Meanwhile his Toronto counterpart, Reimer, couldn’t contain the puck—he could only hope to stop it. Add his teammates’ sudden inability to outskate the Bruins to loose pucks, and you had a terminal combination. Six minutes into overtime, Bergeron collected yet another puck that squirted out of the crease and drilled it past Reimer to complete the most dramatic Game 7 comeback ever.
After advancing to the Stanley Cup Final and taking a two-games-to-one lead over the Chicago Blackhawks, the Bruins dropped three straight, culminating in a Game 6 loss in which a 2–1 lead with 1:17 left became a 3–2 deficit a mere eighteen seconds later. Despite this dispiriting end, the 2013 Bruins will undoubtedly be remembered as one of Boston’s all-time favorite teams. In addition to the Game 7 miracle against the Leafs, there was also the inspiring image of Gregory Campbell finishing a shift against the Pittsburgh Penguins on a broken leg in the Eastern Conference Final, and the revelations that Patrice Bergeron had played Game 6 against Chicago with multiple injuries that should have kept him in the hospital, including a collapsed lung.
Excerpted from Boston's 100 Greatest Games, available on Amazon.