TORONTO – After intense, scoreless hockey through two periods Sunday night, it appeared that the first mistake from either team was going to decide whether or not a Game 7 in Boston was going to be necessary.
That mistake happened in the opening minutes of the third period as David Krejci couldn’t connect with Milan Lucic on a pass in the offensive zone, and that turned into a Nazem Kadri wrist shot from the high slot tipped by Dion Phaneuf in front of the net.
For good measure, though, the B's made a second mistake . . . and that proved to be the difference in a 2-1 loss to the Maple Leafs that evened their best-of-seven series at 3-3. Game 7 will be played tonight in Boston.
An attempted clearout pass by Zdeno Chara missed connections and went for an icing call that forced a faceoff in the Boston zone, with the B's unable to take the tired Patrice Bergeron line off the ice. The Leafs took advantage of the slow reaction by the weary forwards and Phil Kessel netted their second goal roughly seven minutes later off a James van Riemsdyk shot for a 2-0 lead.
The Bruins scored with 25.5 seconds left in the game with a 6-on-5 advantage after they'd pulled Tuukka Rask, as Jaromir Jagr found Lucic in front of the net on a well-executed play, but it was too little too late.
The Bruins are now 3-8 in non-Game 7 elimination games under coach Claude Julien.
The first two periods were scoreless, with both goaltenders putting on a show of glove-tastic ability. Rask let loose with a flashy glove save on a Kessel wrister off the right wing in the first period, and then similarly swallowed up a Phaneuf one-timer from the right point with 1.7 seconds remaining in the second period. James Reimer was just as good for Toronto. He was doing a better job of controlling the rebounds and staying away from the dangerous loose pucks in front of the net that have hurt him in the series. On one shift he dove head-first to stuff Bergeron on a wraparound attempt, and then seconds later managed to kick away a Bergeron one-timer from the high slot through heavy traffic.
GOLD STAR: Dion Phaneuf was the goat earlier in the series, but he scored Toronto’s first goal when he paid the price in front of the net to tip home a Nazem Kadri shot from the high slot area, and played a team-high 25:16 of ice time while helping hold down the Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton line. Three shots, two hits and three blocked shots helped Phaneuf stabilize the Leafs’ blue line, and hold the Bruins offense down.
BLACK EYE: The entire Bruins team was a major disappointment in Game 6 with another chance to close out the Maple Leafs. They were outhit by Toronto (58-50), the Leafs blocked more shots (20-17) and had three times as many takeaways (17-5); they simply didn’t spill enough out of the effort bucket. One has to hope that the Bruins are saving it all for a winner-take-all Game 7, but they clearly don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt after so many inconsistent performances this season.
HONORABLE MENTION: James Reimer made 29 saves, and has suddenly turned into the goaltender that people in Toronto were raving about as their team’s MVP down the stretch this season. Granted, the Bruins did a lot of shooting the puck straight into the crest of his Maple Leafs sweater, but Reimer also made the two stops on Patrice Bergeron in the second period that kept it a scoreless game, and bailed out the Leafs offense until they could find a way to break through Tuukka Rask. Amazingly, Reimer and Rask both have a .932 save percentage after six playoff games.
TURNING POINT: The Bruins appeared ready to burst through offensively when Patrice Bergeron had a pair of scoring chances on the same shift in the second period. With the Toronto defense and James Reimer scrambling in front of the net, he wheeled around the back of the net for a wraparound chance that Reimer stopped with a head-first dive. Then seconds later Reimer got back into the position, and executed a kick save on Bergeron from the slot with heavy traffic in front of the net. After that it seemed the Bruins lost their legs for the rest of the second period, and Toronto upped the ante until they finally scored on Dion Phaneuf’s tip in the third period.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 – the number of goals for Phil Kessel in the series, including the third period game-winner in Game 6 that prompted a “Thank You, Seguin” chant from the Air Canada Centre crowd.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “We’ve been a Jekyll-and-Hyde hockey team all year, and that’s what you’re seeing right now. It’s important for us to bring the good Bruins team to the table for Game 7.” –Claude Julien, clearly losing patience with an inconsistent and erratic Bruins hockey club.