GAME 7: BRUINS 5, LEAFS 4
BOSTON -- The Bruins were under no illusions their team would avoid changes if it lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 on Monday night. A second straight first-round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs after winning a Stanley Cup two years ago would have simply been unacceptable. Expectations have been raised, big-dollar contracts handed out.
On some level it might still be unacceptable if the Bruins can’t get past the New York Rangers and into the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Bruins clearly understood what was on the line against Toronto on Monday night.
“[Winning Game 7] feels really good right now,” said Milan Lucic, who finished with two points and a goal that made it 4-3 with less than 90 seconds to go in the third. “When you’re looking at the clock wind down with half a period left at 4-1 you start thinking to yourself, ‘Is this the end of this group here?’ It probably would have been if we didn’t win this game. But you’ve got to have bounces. You’ve got to have luck. You’ve got to have everything go your way and that’s what happened there in the last 10 minutes of the third period.”
Clearly, Claude Julien and the Bruins coaching staff would have been under the microscope just as they were two years ago. The B’s head coach jumped on the bench when Patrice Bergeron slammed home the game-winner in overtime, and he admitted that he was drained after such a stressful, roller coaster playoff series.
“That was the most draining I would say, to be honest with you," Julien said. "There was a time halfway through the second there was a lot of frustration on the bench. At the 10-minute timeout, we kind of regrouped our guys and talked to them about having to switch our frustration to more of a determination and a focus. There was a lot of emotion throughout the whole night and there was a lot of emotion from last night to tonight, a lot of things happening.
“I give my players a lot of credit for handling what happened last night, from the loss to [the plane trouble] after the game, to getting here today and being able to handle that and push those distractions aside enough to find a way to win a real important hockey game.
So many of those frustrated Bruins players could also have been in danger had the Bruins not pulled Game 7 out against the Leafs. Players like Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin were afforded comfort and stability with big contracts prior to the NHL lockout, and any one of them could have been among the many unavoidable organizational changes after a disappointing end to the season.
Unrestricted free agents like Andrew Ference and Nathan Horton, and a restricted free agent like Tuukka Rask could have their fortunes affected one way or the other by the team’s playoff fate. It’s difficult to tell exactly where the blame would have been placed by Bruins President Cam Neely and the B’s ownership group, but it’s clear the players and coaching staff know there’s a demand for excellence.
The Bruins finally provided it in the final 26-plus minutes of Game 7 in becoming the first NHL team overcome a three goal deficit in the third period of a Game 7.