- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- With less than 11 minutes to play and their season on the brink of disaster, the Boston Bruins mounted a historic comeback en route to a 5-4 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Monday night at TD Garden.
For a team that produced a total of only two goals in the previous two games and were held to one goal in the first two and a half periods of Game 7, how did the Bruins suddenly find the scoring touch at the most opportune time?
"Net-front presence is all we talked about the whole friggin' series behind closed doors," said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli during a Tuesday news conference at the Garden. "Net-front traffic. We saw that in three goals."
Three goals. Three different goal scorers, but the same game plan. And it worked.
It's not like Bruins coach Claude Julien thought of some magical way of scoring in those final 11 minutes. The philosophy is simple and it's been preached time and again at every level of hockey. A team must make sacrifices in order for it to be successful, but when it pressures a goalie with traffic in front and the inability to see, goals will come.
Like most at the Garden on Monday night, Chiarelli sat and watched in disbelief, thinking the season was over.
"You want to try and chip away at it, so from up above you're just kind of seeing the trend on the ice and hoping that it's a positive trend for battles won, what the forecheck is, those types of things," Chiarelli said. "I wasn't seeing much of it, so my thoughts are I was fairly disappointed with where it was going.
"I never write this team off in my time here because we've had some pretty good comebacks. There's obviously been some disappointments. But I was angling for disappointment, preparing the next few days what I was going to do."
With nothing to lose, the Bruins began to throw everything at Toronto goalie James Reimer. Bruins defensemen, specifically Zdeno Chara, began to pinch more in the offensive zone and Boston started to get chances.
The Bruins began their monumental comeback when Nathan Horton scored at 9:18 of the third period to cut Boston's deficit to 4-2. It was a big momentum swing in the game because the Bruins still had enough time to score again.
With just under two minutes to play in regulation, Julien decided to pull goaltender Tuukka Rask for the extra attacker. The Bruins created a ferocious forecheck, led by Patrice Bergeron, and gained control of the puck. Teammate Milan Lucic was camped out in front when Chara's blast from the point made its way through traffic. Reimer made the initial save, but Lucic was on the doorstep to bang in the rebound at 18:38 and make it a one-goal game.
Rask briefly returned to his net for the ensuing, center-ice faceoff, but he quickly went back to the bench once the Bruins gained control again. Everyone in the building was on their feet. Lucic and Horton battled hard for the puck behind the Toronto net and got the puck to teammate Jaromir Jagr on the half wall.
Boston quickly used four tape-to-tape passes between Jaromir Jagr, Bergeron, David Krejic and back to Bergeron, who took a wrist shot from the point. Thel 6-foot-9, 255-pound Chara was camped out in front of Reimer, who never saw Bergeron's shot. The puck went in at 19:09 and the game was tied at 4-4.
It was an incredible comeback.
Boston nearly scored again in the waning seconds of regulation by crashing the net with reckless abandon, but Bruins forward Rich Peverley couldn't quite get a clean shot off and the buzzer sounded.
"Claude did a good job in those last 11 minutes because -- he did a great job -- because the players have to generate the intensity, but you have to also -- if you're just running around like chickens with your head cut off, you're not going to accomplish anything," said Chiarelli. "That intensity, that desperation, but the composure to make the plays that they made, really the game plan."
Bergeron's game-winning goal was much of the same. Teammate Tyler Seguin, who was criticized for his subpar performance in the series, fought hard for the puck in front of the net and stopped an attempted clear out with his skate. The pressure was too much for the Maple Leafs and Bergeron notched the winning tally at 6:05 of overtime.
"In that last half of that third period, our guys came together and you could see a push that I hadn't seen in a long time," Chiarelli said. "We've seen it a couple of periods in this series and so you know it's there; it's when it comes out. I saw some terrific coaching on the empty-net goals. This group's been criticized for its power play, but what I saw there, what I saw before was terrific for me. Those are clutch recoveries, you're talking traffic; we've been preaching traffic, Claude and his staff, preaching traffic. Three goals were all traffic; Hort's was traffic by net drive with Krech. Looch throws it back through the traffic, there's confusion. Bergy's tying one was traffic, Zee in front. And then the winning one with Segs in traffic."
Even though it's difficult for any team to play that style for 60 minutes, if there's a team that has proven it can succeed in that area it's the Bruins. Boston was too inconsistent with that style in the quarterfinals against the Maple Leafs and will need more of it against the Rangers in the semifinals.
"That's part of our game, our identity," Chiarelli said. "You've heard me talking about straight lines, getting pucks deep; you've heard our coaching staff talk about that. That has to continue."
The B's Game 7 comeback strategy should be a blueprint moving forward.