Maple Leafs blow lead to Bruins, lose Game 7 in overtime
Phil Kessel (81) and Tyler Seguin (19) shake hands as the Boston Bruins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference playoff series at TD Garden in Boston on Monday, May 13, 2013. (Michael Peake/QMI Agency)
It was like a car crash at slow motion speed.
Super slow motion, make that.
You can rewind it, destroy it, let it fester over the summer and still the carnage will be unsettling to watch.
With a 4-1 lead and roughly half a period left to protect it, the Maple Leafs were that close to making their nine-year wait to taste playoff success that much sweeter.
With just 82 seconds left it was a two-goal margin, but this couldn’t really happen could it?
Then, in the infamous words of former general manager Brian Burke, the 18-wheeler drove off the cliff.
It plunged so fast and so hard that it had to turn the stomachs of those on the Leafs bench and those fans who had invested so much emotion in this team over the past few weeks.
Ultimately, the Leafs fell 5-4 to the Bruins in overtime on Monday night at the TD Garden, as dramatic an end to a best-of-seven series as you are going to find.
Ultimately, it was a game playoff run for the vastly improved Toronto team, a seemingly fragile franchise for so many years that now at least has a foundation.
On this night, though, it crumbled.
“One minute, we’re winning the game 4-1, then 20 minutes later, it’s all over,” said Toronto defenceman Jake Gardiner, the words spilling out slowly and as if in disbelief.
“I thought we were good until the second (Bruins) goal. Then it went downhill from there.”
Inexplicably so, really. Not only did the Bruins tie it, they did so with two desperation goals with goaltender Tuukka Rask on the bench for an extra attacker.
In reality, the game was slipping away long before Patrice Bergeron beat Leafs goalkeeper James Reimer 6:05 into the extra period, an inexplicable conclusion to the three-games-in-four-nights stretch to end the series.
The Leafs had seemingly done everything right in the closing strides. From a big Game 5 win here on Friday to the joyous victory at home on Sunday to the big lead on Monday, all against against a veteran-heavy Bruins team that coach Claude Julien conceded had come unravelled by the third period.
But even in overtime, the Leafs had a chance to get it back, a big save by Tuukka Rask on Joffrey Lupul being the best opportunity. Lupul would leave the game after blocking a shot and the Bruins’ late surge in regulation just continued.
“We let a team that was down and out back in the game,” captain Dion Phaneuf said succinctly. “That shouldn’t happen.”
And there wasn’t a player in the Leafs room who would disagree.
Thing is, they weren’t cashing in their chips or looking ahead, either. But when the Bruins were able to muster one final surge and the Leafs held back just a little, it all came undone.
First there was the Nathan Horton goal at 9:18 to make it 4-2. No big deal, right?
Then Julien yanked Rask and Milan Lucic, who played so big all night, did the dirty work behind the net to set up Nathan Horton.
Now the lead was 4-3 and 1:22 remained on the clock.
A timeout for both teams to regroup but this still wasn’t happening, was it?
When Bergeron let a wrist shot go from the point with Zdeno Chara screening Reimer like a towering oak, the damage was done and, in its own way, had to feel as bad or worse than nine consecutive years not being in the playoffs at all.
“It’s one of the craziest (games) I’ve ever been a part of it,” said Bergeron, the undisputed hero for both forcing and finishing OT. “We found a way. Not necessarily the way we would have liked to play the whole game, but we showed some character.”
The benefit of sober second thought eventually will ease the feeling of devastation. On Monday, as in the series itself, there was much that was good about the Leafs.
There was James van Riemsdyk playing like the playoff-tested big man he was brought in to be. There was Phil Kessel, once so badly dominated by the Bruins that he was the butt of jokes, scoring a big goal and an even bigger assist to establish the the 4-1 lead.
And in the bigger picture and the brighter light of day, it was a season and a series of growth for a team at least now pointed in the right direction.
“You’ve got to give us a little bit of credit,” said forward Nazem Kadri, who had the first playoff goal of his career and was a much more effective force in the final two games.
“You can’t just take all the negative. A lot of people, the predictions were we would finish 14th or 15th in the Eastern Conference this year and now look what we did.”
Kadri is right, of course. There will be a time when the team and it’s long suffering supporters won’t want to look away from the lasting image of Monday night. It may just take a while.
Here's a replay of the Game 7 chat: