Why Boston won: When most of your roster is just two years removed from a Stanley Cup and is playing its sixth Game 7 in the last three seasons, you simply don’t flinch in the face of adversity the way a young, inexperienced team does - and Boston proved that Monday night. In what will live on as one of the great playoff comebacks in NHL history, the Bruins rallied from trailing 4-1 almost halfway through the third period, chipping away at a Leaf team that shrunk into a terrified defensive shell. Absolutely dominating faceoff possession was a huge help. The Bruins won 43 of 61 draws and set up a multitude of quality chances from the point.
Why Toronto lost: It looked like Toronto had finally slain the dragon, the boogieman, the Bruin team that humiliated it time and again. The Leafs overcame a 1-0 deficit and early jitters to play two and a half poised periods, matching the Bruins’ physicality and taking the crowd out of the game. But Boston’s second goal planted the seed of doubt. Seeing Boston unafraid seemed to make Toronto suddenly afraid – none more than goaltender James Reimer, who retreated deep into his crease and began coughing up rebounds. What got Toronto back in the series was playing aggressively, pushing the action, attacking the middle of the ice and not showing fear. But, let’s face it, this was still the far less experienced team and it let the fear back in. Toronto stopped skating and simply watched Boston come back and pepper its net with 17 third period shots. As much as the Leafs deserved their 4-1 lead, they deserved to lose. They committed the classic cardinal sin of falling back in the late stages.
Play of the game: During a wild scramble early in overtime, Mikhail Grabovski and Cody Franson couldn’t clear the puck and a trailing Patrice Bergeron buried the loose puck into an open cage past a down-and-out Reimer.
1. Patrice Bergeron: Scored the tying goal, scored the series winner in overtime, added an assist, was a plus-3 in a 5-4 game and won 16 of his 22 faceoffs. If there was an honor higher than a first star, he’d win that.
2. Milan Lucic: Became a real handful around the Leaf net and keyed the comeback with Boston’s third goal. Threw a team-high seven hits.
3. Cody Franson: Two goals and eight hits for a guy who established himself as a legit top-four NHL blueliner in this series.
What’s next: Boston’s fate could really go either way moving forward. Is this an exhausted team with a banged-up blueline that barely got past a green Leaf team and is ripe for a beatdown at the hands of a Ranger team peaking late? Or has the Bruins’ epic comeback turned them into a team of destiny? As for the Leafs, losing the way they did probably stings worse than if they lost Game 7 by a 10-0 score and it will take a while to get over. But 2012-13 was a great learning experience and a successful year for a team that hadn’t played playoff hockey since 2004. Advice for the Leafs and their fans: remember, one year before their 2011 Cup win, the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers. They matured because of it. – Matt Larkin
Why Rangers won: Surprising to see this much offense from the Rangers, but they did in fact lead the league in scoring from the trade deadline to the end of the regular season. When New York did get up a couple goals, coach John Tortorella's tight defensive system kept Washington's chances mostly from the perimeter or long range. And that is when the Rangers weren't blocking shots.
Why Washington lost: Braden Holtby didn't get any offensive support, but laying an egg on home ice in Game 7 will be what's remembered most. Sure, a couple goals were a result of some bad bounces, but Holtby was sketchy all night. The Rangers even clanged a few off the post. And once the Caps trailed by a couple, they had to throw caution to the wind defensively.
Play of the game: It was still early in the second period when New York's Taylor Pyatt shovelled the puck into a empty net to make it 2-0. But the real back breaker came just two minutes later when Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto's shot grazed the leg of Washington's Troy Brouwer and found the back of the net behind Holtby. That made it 3-0 and though no lead is insurmountable in this year's playoffs, the air went out of Verizon Center and the Rangers didn't even bend the rest of the way.
1. Ryan McDonagh: His assignment was to shut down Alex Ovechkin and even though the Caps had home-ice advantage, McDonagh stuck to him like gum on bad dentures. Ovechkin doled out a game and series high number of hits on the evening – many of them plastering McDonagh – but the Rangers rearguard was largely responsible for keeping Ovie off the scoresheet.
2. Henrik Lundqvist: TSN color analyst Mike Johnson said it best. It's almost as though when the Rangers lost Game 5 to trail 3-2 in the series, Lundqvist said 'OK boys, I'll take it the rest of the way,' and made it his mission to win Games 6 and 7. Washington outshot the Rangers by a large margin (35-27), but Lundqvist handled it like a cool pro. He didn't have to make any spectacular saves, but he was rock solid all night for his second straight shutout.
3. Derick Brassard: More of a playmaker than a finisher, Brassard was skating and creating chances for Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello all game. He came out of it with a pair of assists.
What's Next: The Rangers travel to Boston to take part in an Original 6 second-round series. And it'll be an Original 6 series to be sure – physical and tight checking. Both teams are coming off emotionally draining series so chances are the opener will come down to goaltending. For the Caps, another disappointing Game 7 loss surely means cosmetic changes are in order. - Brian Costello
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey