BOSTON -- Trailing 4-1 with about 11 minutes left to play in Monday night's Game 7 at the TD Garden, it looked as if the Bruins season would be ending as the result of a blown 3-1 series lead.
But the B's scored four unanswered goals to seal the deal on an improbable comeback, as Patrice Bergeron scored the game-tying and game-winning goal in overtime, giving Boston a 5-4 win in Game 7 and 4-3 series win.
Bergeron put home a rebound from the right post 6:05 into overtime, sending the TD Garden into pandemonium.
Toronto had scored two third-period goals to take a 4-1 lead not even six minutes into the period. Phil Kessel put the Maple Leafs up 3-1 two minutes into the third as he stood at the left post and put home a rebound after Nazem Kadri hit the post following a Bruins turnover deep in their own zone.
Three minutes later Kadri put home a Kessel rebound on a 2-on-1 rush to put Toronto up 4-1.
Nathan Horton scored on a wrister from the left circle midway through the third to cut the Leafs' lead down to 4-2. After that, the Bruins played a solid eight minutes of hockey with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
But then something happened.
The Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask with about two minutes left, and with 1:22 remaining in what looked like the season, Milan Lucic put home a rebound on a Zdeno Chara shot to cut Toronto's lead to 4-3.
And then with 50.2 seconds left and the goalie still pulled, Bergeron took a wrister from the middle of the point that found the top-left corner of the net with Chara screening hames Reimer out front, tying the game at 4-4 and sending Game 7 to overtime, where Bergeron ended it, six minutes in.
The Maple Leafs had taken a 2-1 lead into third period, thanks to a pair of goals from defenseman Cody Franson.
His second came 5:48 into the second period, as he ripped a slap shot top-left from the right point, putting Toronto up 2-1.
Franson's first came midway through the first period, tying the game at 1-1, as he jumped into the play and knocked home a loose puck at the right post, with six seconds left on a Toronto power play.
Tuukka Rask made the initial save, and the puck somehow remained loose in the crease. The Maple Leafs kept digging, no whistle was blown, the puck squirted through the legs of Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton, where Franson quickly put it into the open net.
It made up for Franson's brutal turnover in his own zone, 5:39 into the game, as he tried a no-look pass up the middle of the ice from the half-wall. The centerman, Leo Komarov, wasn't taking off up the middle like Franson had hoped, and the pass went right to B's defenseman matt Bartkowski, who stepped into the high slot, and wristed a shot past James Reimer for the early 1-0 Bruins lead.
Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg only played 37 seconds in two first-period shifts, shortening the team's bench early on.
The Bruins will now play the No. 6-seeded New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals, with Game 1 at the TD Garden on Thursday.
Game superlatives by Joe Haggerty:
GOLD STAR: Patrice Bergeron had been a tough-luck customer through most of the series, but it was all worth it for the heroic Game 7 explosion that propelled the Bruins into the second round. Bergeron finished with three points, two goals, a plus-3 and won 16-of-22 face-offs in 20:53 of ice time, but it was the timing of the goals that made it special. Bergeron scored on a rocket from the high slot with Zdeno Chara in front of the net with 51 seconds remaining in the third period to cap off a comeback from a 4-1 deficit, and then scored against in overtime for the game-winner during a wild scramble in front of the net. Bergeron had scored a power play goal earlier in the series, but this was the true explosion.
BLACK EYE: James van Riemsdyk was an effective player in the series and battled in front of the net to create plenty of Toronto goals, but he also tarnished his reputation a bit in the process. The trust falls and head snaps were like something out of the Actor’s Studio, and proved that perhaps JVR missed his true calling in the theatre. Thankfully the refs didn’t fall for many of his lame attempts at drawing penalty calls, including when he got mixed up with Zdeno Chara behind the play and the Bruins captain body slammed him to the ice without a call. He certainly wasn’t the same player as the guy that dominated portions of the Flyers playoff series against the Bruins two years ago, and has brought a different, flimsier element to his game in Toronto.
TURNING POINT: The Nathan Horton goal in the third period opened the door of hope for the Bruins, and made them believe that they had a chance to carve into Toronto’s three-goal lead in the third period. After scoring the goal, Milan Lucic skated by the Boston bench and said “That’s one” as if telling the rest of his Bruins teammates that they weren’t stopping until they had won Game 7 and advanced. It was Horton’s fourth goal of the playoffs, and yet another tally in a productive postseason resume for the right winger. It also made the two pulled goalie scores in the final 90 seconds all the more possible once the Bruins had gathered the momentum while out-shooting the Leafs by a 17-6 margin.
HONORABLE MENTION: Zdeno Chara finished with 35:46 of ice time with his partner-in-crime Dennis Seidenberg out of commission, and did yeoman’s work while helping the Bruins advance past the Maple Leafs. It was Chara that helped set up Boston’s third goal when Milan Lucic popped back the rebound of his booming blast from the right point, and it was the 6-foot-9 defenseman mixing it up in front that led to Patrice Bergeron’s game-tying strike in the third period. Add three shots on net and four hits to his plus-2 rating along with unrelenting physical defense that had him on the ice for only one goal when he screened Tuukka Rask on a Cody Franson blast. Other than that he was airtight in over 35 minutes of grueling Game 7 ice time.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3-0 – Nathan Horton’s personal record in Game 7’s during which he has three goals scored including a pair of game-winners.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “That was unbelievable. That’s one thing you’re going to remember probably for the rest of your life. It was such a comeback that everybody probably thought that we were done and showed what kind of character there is in this dressing. Never say die.” –Johnny Boychuk, on the improbable Game 7 comeback that included two goals with Tuukka Rask pulled 31 seconds apart at the end of the third period.