TORONTO – A young Toronto team whose previous exposure to the NHL playoffs was largely watching them on TV is looking to make a little post-season history of its own.
Captain Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel scored third-period goals Sunday night as the surging Maple Leafs edged the Bruins 2-1 to send their playoff series back to Boston for Game 7 on Monday.
The Leafs, making their return to the post-season for the first time since 2004, became the 48th team in Stanley Cup history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7. The only time Toronto has come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series was the 1942 Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings when the Leafs trailed 3-0 before reeling off four straight wins.
Sunday’s win also snapped a 54-year stretch of home playoff failure against the Bruins. Toronto’s last home playoff win against Boston was March 31, 1959, when the Leafs won 3-2 in overtime. Nine straight post-season home losses followed in the decades since with Boston outscoring Toronto 38-24.
On Sunday, the Bruins started well but couldn’t beat James Reimer and the Leafs took over the game as it wore on.
Boston coach Claude Julien was critical of his team’s puck management and decision-making.
“We’ve been a Jekyll and Hyde hockey team all year and that’s what you’re seeing right now,” he said. “I think it’s important to us to bring the good Bruins team to the table for Game 7.”
That goes Monday night at the TD Garden. A loss and Boston, Cup winners in 2011, will exit in the seventh game of the first round for the second year in a row.
“We know we’re going to go into a hostile building (Monday) night in Boston,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. “We know the passion in their market and their fans. We’ve been there already, we know what we’re heading to and we just have to make sure that we play the game to a higher level than we did tonight. Because we know they will.”
As if the Bruins did not have enough problems in Toronto, their plane broke down.
“Late during tonight’s game we were made aware that there was a malfunction with our airplane,” Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said in a statement. “As a result we are staying in Toronto on Sunday night and the team will travel to Boston on Monday morning.”
The Leafs will have momentum in their corner when the teams meets to sort out the series once and for all. The Bruins’ companion will be self-doubt after a second failed attempt at closing out the series and a recent playoff history of making life difficult for themselves.
“They’re a good team,” said Boston forward Patrice Bergeron, frustrated several times by Reimer. “We never said it was going to be an easy series. Here we are now and it’s all about one game. Whatever happened in the first six games doesn’t matter. It’s all about showing up (Monday).”
Reimer was again steady in the Toronto net, making 29 saves to earn the win. Tuukka Rask finished with 24 stops in the Boston goal.
Milan Lucic scored for Boston with 26 seconds left in the third with Rask out for the extra attacker.
“If you only score one goal, a lot of times you end up on the wrong side, said Bruins defenceman Dennis Seidenberg said. “Tonight, we just didn’t score enough to win.”
“Being frustrated right now isn’t going to help,” added Bergeron. “It’s about being determined to find ways to put it in. It’s all about (Monday) now.”
For Phaneuf, scoring was sweet redemption after being involved in the play that led to the Bruins’ overtime winner in Game 4.
His goal came at 1:48 of the third period after Nazem Kadri ripped a wrist shot that was tipped in by Phaneuf, who had made his way to the front of the goal after continuing his rush. Boston had lost the puck in the Toronto end on an attempt at a flash pass by David Krejci.
Kessel then added to the lead at 8:59, picking up the puck after James van Riemsdyk occupied two Bruins in front of goal and backhanded it past Rask. Kadri beat Bergeron on the faceoff to start the play.
“When you play as many minutes and you’re the focus of your hockey club, when a lot of things don’t go the way they’re supposed to go, being the captain, that C becomes pretty heavy,” Carlyle said of Phaneuf, whose decision to pinch in and hit Nathan Horton resulted in an odd-man rush that led to the OT goal in Game 4.
“And when you make a mistake, which he did, your teammates want to rally around you and you want to try and correct that as quickly as possible.”
Said Phaneuf: “I felt that I owed it to the guys and luckily I was able to tip that (shot). It definitely felt good.”
After some anonymous outings, Kadri produced his A game Sunday.
“Much more noticeable,” was Carlyle’s assessment. “Much more movement as far as moving off the puck. He skated with the puck and he skated when he didn’t have the puck … When he skates and he can make room, he can create plays and that’s what you saw tonight. And that’s been absent but he delivered in a big way tonight.”
Van Riemsdyk was also effective, earning assists on both goals.
After combining for 170 shots in the last two games, the teams battened down the defensive hatches in what started as a much tighter contest but opened up as the game wore on. Boston came out skating hard and it wasn’t until the second period that Toronto seemed to find its feet.
Reimer and Rask were unbeatable the first two periods, adding to the value of that first goal. The third period felt like overtime, at least until Phaneuf scored.
The tight game made for a tense atmosphere inside where 19,591 fans, wielding giveaway blue or white towels, cheered every Leaf hit or shot. Outside, another amped-up crowd packed Maple Leafs Square to watch the game on a big screen, despite chilly five-degree temperatures at game time.
First-line Leafs centre Tyler Bozak took the warmup but was an unexpected scratch, quickly joining the worldwide tending list on Twitter.
“We waited right until warmup where he told us he couldn’t go,” said Carlyle.
“We’ll continue to reassess and re-evaluate and see what (Monday) brings,” he added.
Bozak, who scored shorthanded in Game 5, had missed the final two games of the regular season with what was believed to be a shoulder injury.
Joe Colborne, making his playoff debut, came in for Bozak. He told reporters he had been given the green light after Game 5 but was told not to say anything.
Boston defenceman Andrew Ference did not make the trip to Toronto for undisclosed reasons. But Wade Redden returned to the lineup after missing Game 5.
That prompted Julien to change his defensive pairings, as he did when Ference was suspended for Game 2. Captain Zdeno Chara played with Johnny Boychuk, Seidenberg with Adam McQuaid, and Redden with rookie Dougie Hamilton.
Boston bossed most of the first period, skating hard and pushing the pace. A tentative Toronto had to kill off an early penalty. Carlyle, meanwhile, continued to play mad professor with his forward lines.
The Bruins outshot Toronto 8-7 in a tight first period. With Bozak out, the Leafs won just six of 17 faceoffs in the period. Toronto outhit Boston 19-17.
Boston continued to bottle the Leafs up in their own end for stretches of the second, with Boychuk hitting the post with a shot from the blue-line. A diving Reimer made a wonder stop on Bergeron six minutes in, surfing across the crease on his stomach as the Bruin came from behind the net and tried to stuff the puck in. Reimer did much the same in the second period Wednesday, frustrating Bergeron.
Reimer, who came into the game leading all playoff goalies in shots against (207) and saves (192), stopped Bergeron again seconds later.
After the Game 5 loss, Julien called for more production from the line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, who had 59 shots but just one goal (Bergeron) on Reimer in the first five games of the series.
The trio combined for one shot in the first period but were more active as the game wore on.
The teams had 10 shots apiece in the second period. Toronto led the hit count 42-33 with Leafs defenceman Ryan O’Byrne and pesky forward Leo Komarov leading the way with six apiece.
The final hit count was 58-50 in favour of Toronto.
Smooth-skating defenceman Jake Gardiner was again influential for Toronto, logging 21-plus minutes of ice time.