BOSTON – From his perch on the ninth floor, Peter Chiarelli looked down on the ice at what he feared were the last few minutes of the Bruins’ season.
Boston’s general manager saw his team fall behind by three goals with less than 15 minutes left in Game 7.
“I was angling for disappointment,” he said Tuesday, “preparing the next few days what I was going to do.”
Getting ready for the Eastern Conference semifinals probably wasn’t high on his list.
Then the Bruins scored three goals in the last 11 minutes of regulation. And when Patrice Bergeron, who had scored the tying goal, fired home the game-winner at 6:05 of overtime, disappointment turned to delirium.
Boston beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 on Monday night, becoming the first team in NHL history to win a Game 7 after trailing by three goals in the third period, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“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.
Not in the previous two games when Boston scored just two goals as Toronto turned a 3-1 series deficit into a 3-3 tie. And certainly not for most of Monday’s game.
But the Bruins refocused, finally got traffic in front of Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer and relentlessly pressured Toronto’s defence. Now a series that seemed so improbable is a reality. The Bruins open another best-of-seven series at home against the New York Rangers on Thursday.
“I think you could really look on what these guys did during the last bit in the third period and overtime as a building block and you hope that they seize it,” Chiarelli said. “My belief is that playoffs are about momentum. I know people say that they’re not, but I mean you can get what I call ‘mojo.’ You can get it, and you can carry it and have it and that’s how you get on a roll.”
The Rangers are on a pretty good roll themselves. They lost three of the first five games to the Washington Capitals, then goalie Henrik Lundqvist posted consecutive shutouts, 1-0 and 5-0.
The Bruins and Rangers last met in the playoffs in 1973 when the Rangers won the first-round series in five games. The previous year, they faced each other in the Stanley Cup finals where the Bruins won in six games. Both teams won their last championships in seven-game series against the Vancouver Canucks, the Rangers in 1994 and the Bruins in 2011.
This season they met three times in the first 12 games, with the Rangers winning twice, but none in the remaining 36.
The Rangers aren’t as fast as the Maple Leafs but are more physical, Chiarelli said.
“These guys,” he said, “they play like us.”
But the Bruins could be without three veteran defencemen. Andrew Ference missed the last two games against Toronto with a lower body injury, Wade Redden sat out Game 7 with an undisclosed injury, and Dennis Seidenberg played just 37 seconds in that finale before hurting his left leg.
Chiarelli provided no updates and said that if there was a game Tuesday night Redden wouldn’t play.
Rookie defencemen Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski played well on Monday night, and the Bruins recalled defenceman Torey Krug from Providence of the AHL on Tuesday.
But there were plenty of bright spots, finally, among the Bruins forwards.
Nathan Horton cut the deficit to 4-2 at 9:18 of the third period. Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin had struggled all series, neither scoring a goal, but were instrumental in setting up Bergeron’s winner.
“We didn’t have the best series,’ Marchand said of his line, “but it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Milan Lucic had a poor season but was solid in the playoffs and scored the goal that cut the deficit to 4-3 with 1:22 left in regulation. Then Bergeron tied it with 51 seconds remaining, Boston’s second goal in 31 seconds with an extra skater replacing goalie Tuukka Rask.
What changed? How did the Bruins score three goals in 10 minutes after getting just three in the previous eight periods?
“There’s no flipping the switch,” said Chiarelli, who had seen his team play well at times during the series. “This is about focusing.”
He also saw “some terrific coaching on the empty-net goals” and players creating traffic near the crease.
Bergeron tied the game with 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara in front of Reimer. Then he won it with Seguin there.
“That’s one thing you’re going to remember probably for the rest of your life, because it was such a comeback,” defenceman Johnny Boychuk said. “Everybody probably thought that we were done.”
Down 4-1, the Bruins were desperate, but remained poised.
“If you’re just running around like chickens with your head cut off, you’re not going to accomplish anything,” Chiarelli said. “Net-front presence is all we talked about the whole series behind closed doors. Net-front traffic. We saw that in three goals.
“Desperation, yes. But a desperate composure also, which is what you saw.”
And, of course, Bergeron at his best.
He was the best faceoff man in the NHL, winning 62.1 per cent of them in the regular season. On Monday night, he won 73 per cent (16 of 22), led the Bruins with six shots and had four hits.
“We hadn’t seen a performance like last night in a long, long time, if ever, just clutch performance what he did,” Chiarelli said. “He just had that extra drive (Monday) night, and you can see it. You can see the fire in his eye. You can see him on the bench. You can see the plays that he was making. He was always in on that forecheck in the last” part of the game.
“He was special,” Chiarelli said. “He just a reliable, terrific player.”
One that has another round now to play in.