BOSTON — The home crowd was heading for the exits. The folks who stayed weren’t very happy, letting their team know they weren’t thrilled with the way the season was about to end. There were plenty of boos.
Then, after a goal midway through the third period that made things a bit more respectable, the Boston Bruins staged one of the more incredible comebacks in hockey history, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 Monday night at TD Garden.
Boston scored twice late in regulation, and Patrice Bergeron’s goal 6:05 into overtime lifted the Bruins to a 4-3 series win and a date with the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Bergeron, who assisted on Milan Lucic’s goal with 1:22 left in the regulation (just Bergeron’s second point of the series), scored the tying goal with 50.2 seconds remaining, both with Boston goalie Tuukka Rask pulled. In overtime, he beat Toronto goalie James Reimer off a scramble to give the Bruins a wild win.
Boston’s rally prevented the young Leafs from completing a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
“It’s one of the craziest ones I’ve been a part of,” said Bergeron, who scored his second postseason overtime goal. “We stayed resilient; I guess that’s what I can say. We found a way. Not necessarily the way we would’ve liked to play the whole game, but like I said, we showed some character coming back in the game, and we found a way in overtime.
“We had the momentum, I thought, and our legs were back. It felt good.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bruins became the first NHL team ever to rally from a three-goal, third-period deficit to win a Game 7.
“Pretty crazy,” Lucic said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a game that was anything like that.
“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?’ Because 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.”
The Bruins advance from one Original Six matchup to another. Next up is the Rangers, who eliminated the Washington Capitals in another Game 7 Monday night. The series opens Thursday in Boston.
It will be the first playoff meeting between the fourth-seeded Bruins and the sixth-seeded Rangers since 1973. Boston faced Toronto in the postseason for the first time since 1974.
The Bruins and Rangers met three times in the regular season, New York winning twice, once in overtime and the other in a shootout.
After the tying goal Monday, the Bruins had a chance to win in the closing seconds of regulation with the building going crazy. The noise never died down during the intermission prior to the overtime. A source said security was reporting hundreds of people were trying to re-enter TD Garden.
The Bruins, who played their 13th game in 24 days, had plane trouble and didn’t return to Boston until Monday morning, and then were outplayed for most of the game. They finally woke up after registering only 13 shots the first two periods.
They had 22 after that. That’s why they were able to win Game 7 of the first round in overtime, something they also did two years ago, when they went on to the Stanley Cup.
“It just seemed like we ran out of gas,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “When you build a 4-1 lead, you want to check, check, check, and as I said, I thought we just ran out of gas as far as our group.”
Defenseman Cody Franson, whose giveaway led to rookie defenseman Matt Bartkowski giving the Bruins a 1-0 first-period lead, scored Toronto’s first and second goals. Former Bruin Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri both had a goal and an assist to give Toronto a 4-1 lead early in the third period.
Kessel, whose trade to Toronto brought the Bruins Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, came into the series with three goals against his former team. He had four in this series.
“I don’t know what happened to us,” Kessel said. “Four-one, you can’t lose that game.”
Seguin didn’t have a point until the series winner. Brad Marchand, Boston’s top goal scorer in the regular season (Seguin was second) also failed to score a goal, but he also assisted on the overtime goal.
Rask forced Matt Frattin wide on a breakaway after the Bruins climbed within 4-2 on a Nathan Horton goal with 10:42 to play.
The Bruins, already without injured defenseman Andrew Ference (on crutches with a foot injury), scratched Wade Redden, though it was unclear if he was healthy, and dressed rookies Bartkowski and Hamilton. Then, Dennis Seidenberg went down early with a leg injury. There was word on his status going forward.
Rask made 24 saves. Reimer stopped 30 shots.
NOTES: Toronto was trying to win a series when down 3-1 for the second time in its history, the other time coming in 1942. … Anyone who thought Bruins coach Claude Julien would stand pat for Game 7 was wrong, as the slumping Seguin was dropped off the line with Bergeron and Marchand and was replaced by Jaromir Jagr. Seguin moved down a line. … Toronto’s Tyler Bozak, who also missed Game 6 due to an undisclosed injury, didn’t make the trip to Boston. … Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk had two assists Monday and seven points in the series. … Eight of the 11 Bruins playoff series under Julien have gone seven games, the Bruins 4-4 in the deciding games. … In Games 4-7, the Bruins went 2-2 and led for a total of four minutes, 40 seconds. … The Bruins are 13-11 in seventh games, the Leafs 12-10. … The all-time playoff games ledger between the teams is 34-34-1, 18-18 in Boston. This was the third all-time seventh game between the two Original Six teams. … Jarrod Clowery, injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, was the Bruins’ pregame honorary banner captain.