BOSTON -- When push came to shove in Game 7, the Bruins were exactly the hockey club we thought they were.
Clearly they were the better team in the divisional playoff matchup with the Maple Leafs. That became apparent Wednesday night as they erased a 4-3 deficit with four third-period goals in a 7-4 win in Game 7. When it mattered most, all three members of Boston's Perfection Line scored goals; Jake DeBrusk netted a pair while outshining all the highly heralded young players on the Toronto roster, and the Bruins survived some truly concerning moments with their defense and goaltending over the first 40 minutes.
For the fans at TD Garden it was remarkably entertaining playoff hockey. For the Leafs, it was a sobering, painful dose of reality (and their second third-period Game 7 collapse in Boston in the last five years). And for the Bruins, it was confirmation of all that we saw over the course of 82 regular-season games. After all, they were the NHL's best third-period team all year.
In a very vocal dressing room between the second and third periods, with the Bruins trailing 4-3 and sitting a mere 20 minutes from elimination, their three most experienced veterans -- Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who combined had more Game 7 appearances on their resumes than the entire Toronto roster -- drove that point home to their younger teammates.
"It didn't matter how long it was going to take. We were going to do the job," said Torey Krug, who scored the game-tying goal just 70 seconds into the third period. "It's kind of how we were all season long. Coming back, you know, in games and losing guys to injury, it was just kind of like the definition of our season.
"So it didn't matter. We were going to break them, and we were going to out-will them, and we did."
They did so against a goalie, Freddie Andersen, who had confounded them earlier in the series. They did so under the intense pressure of a Game 7 situation. And they so despite things not breaking well for them earlier in the game, as Patrick Marleau and Kasperi Kapanen scored soft goals against Tuukka Rask.
But the Bruins made it through waves of injuries and a hellacious final six weeks of the NHL regular season. In that spirit, they just kept grinding Wednesday night. And it's clear to see why they're regarded as a hockey team that won't be easily taken out in any series.
"That was one of the most incredible games I've ever been a part of," said Brad Marchand, who closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal in the final minutes of the third period. "It was so back and forth. The intensity from the crowd and the emotion was a lot of fun to be part of. But, even after they got the lead a couple times, we just . . . we knew that we have the resiliency in the room to continue to come back. We've done it all year, so we just try to draw on that. It doesn't always go your way, but luckily tonight it did.
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"We've done it all year. [We were trailing by] only one goal. We didn't have to cheat to win. We just wanted to continue to play our game. We were getting opportunities and we just figured it was a matter of time and luckily, again, it went our way."
Well, strong third periods and hard-to-believe comebacks were definitely something the Bruins have done all year. Krug, Jake DeBrusk, David Pastrnak and Marchand helped author another one with four consecutive goals in the third period, stunning the Maple Leafs.
Toronto, with skilled young players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and others, was no easy opponent, as evidenced by its 3-1 record against Boston in the regular season. Getting past the Leafs was no easy task.
Up next are the high-wattage Tampa Bay Lightning, with the next series starting Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena. The Bruins might not be the better team in this matchup, but they're playing with house money now after making a tremendous step forward in both an entertaining regular season and certifiably insane first round.
The one thing we know for sure: All is possible with a Bruins team that can come back from just about anything.