All the pressure is on Bruins entering another Game 7 vs. Leafs

All the pressure is on Bruins entering another Game 7 vs. Leafs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins never make it easy for themselves. And now they are one loss away from making history in one of the worst ways possible.

If the Bruins lose to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series Saturday night at TD Garden, they will become the first team in NHL, NBA or MLB history to blow a 3-1 series lead in back-to-back seasons.


There's pressure on everyone in a Game 7. But let's be real, almost all the pressure Saturday night will be on the Bruins players and their head coach, Jim Montgomery.

Sure, there's always some pressure on the Leafs. They do play in the largest and most intense market in the sport. They've won only one playoff series in 20 years and their superstar core is facing the possibility of another first-round exit. If that happens, maybe the Leafs consider major roster changes in the summer.

But the fact that the Leafs have extended the series to a Game 7 without their best player, Auston Matthews, playing in the last two games is nothing short of remarkable. This team has shown tremendous fight and resilience. Joseph Woll looks like a legitimate No. 1 goalie. Win or lose, there's something for this group to build on going into next season.

The Bruins' situation is far different.

Last year's collapse was bad. The Bruins set league records for the most points and wins in regular season history, and they had a 3-1 series lead over the Florida Panthers. They lost both Game 5 and Game 7 in overtime at home. They blew multiple third-period leads in Game 6.

However, several key players -- including Patrice Bergeron, Hampus Lindholm and Linus Ullmark -- were nursing tough injuries. The Panthers also won the Presidents' Trophy the year before, reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2023 and won the Atlantic Division this season. They are a very good team. Make no mistake, it was an embarrassing series loss for the Bruins, but there have been worse choke jobs.

Blowing a 3-1 series lead this year would certainly qualify as one.

The Leafs are not an elite team by any stretch. They are hockey's version of the pre-2004 Red Sox -- a franchise that constantly torments its fans with soul-crushing playoff exits. Toronto hasn't played in or won a Stanley Cup Final since 1967. The last time they won a Game 7 was 2004. They haven't won multiple rounds in a postseason since 2002. The Leafs are the team that is supposed to choke in high-pressure playoff moments.

And yet, in the last two games, it's been the Leafs who have looked like the more calm, disciplined and better-prepared team. The Bruins have scored only one goal in each of the last two games. They've been outshot 24-3 in the first period of the last two games combined. Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Pavel Zacha, Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm all have zero points in the last two games. Boston's best players simply have not shown up.

The Bruins are in serious danger of cementing their reputation as the team that always plays well in the regular season but rarely performs when it matters most in the playoffs.

They have won more regular season games than any team since the start of the 2008-09 campaign. They've also played in the second-most playoff games of any team during that span. But they have only one Stanley Cup title in 2011 to show for all of the great players and teams of the last 15 years. And they needed three Game 7 wins and a historic postseason run by goaltender Tim Thomas to win that championship.

Aside from 2011, the Bruins have consistently failed in big moments. Sure, there are some exceptions, but this franchise has won just three of seven Game 7s since winning the Cup, including three consecutive defeats. They've had a series lead in five of the last six series they've lost. The Bruins also have lost six consecutive games in which they could eliminate their opponent, dating back to Game 7 of the first round in 2022.

Home ice hasn't been much of an advantage for the B's, either. They are 6-9 since 2012 in home playoff games in which they could eliminate the opponent. They've actually lost their last four such games, including Game 5 earlier this week.

To be fair, there are some reasons for the Bruins to be confident entering this Game 7.

Matthews might not play again. The Leafs have their own history to deal with, too. They overcame deficits of 3-1 against the Bruins in 2013 and 2018 but lost in Game 7 at the Garden each time. The B's have beaten the Leafs three times in Game 7 of the first round (2013, 2018 and 2019) and all of those victories came at home.

The Bruins haven't generated much offense over the last two games, but the Leafs have scored two or fewer goals in five of the six matchups. Jeremy Swayman has played great in each of his five starts this series with a .932 save percentage overall. Boston's special teams, especially the penalty kill, have been excellent.

You could find plenty of stats to make a case for the Bruins winning this matchup.

But, honestly, this time feels a little different. The Leafs aren't playing scared. They're surprisingly getting great goaltending from Woll. The lineup tweaks made by head coach Sheldon Keefe over the last two games were effective. And the Leafs know the Bruins are under immense pressure after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Panthers last season. They've already admitted to talking about it.

“Obviously, right when we got down 3-1, that was a topic we brought up,” Leafs defenseman Joel Edmundson told reporters after Thursday's morning skate. “It just gave us momentum and some positivity that we needed. Anything can happen.”

Either the Bruins are going to make history by blowing 3-1 series leads in back-to-back seasons, or the Leafs are going to lose their sixth straight Game 7.

One team's season is going to end in excruciating fashion Saturday night. But there's much more at stake for the Bruins. They are one loss away from their reputation and culture taking a major hit.