BOSTON – For the past two playoff series between the Bruins and the Maple Leafs, it always proved true that the B's needed offense from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak if they expected to win. So, it stood to reason that the B’s would again need offense from their big three on Tuesday night in Game 7 if they expected to eliminate the Maple Leafs and advance to the second round.
But that trend came to a definitive stop with a 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs where the third and fourth lines ruled the day for the Black and Gold and finally made Toronto pay for the absence of suspended center Nazem Kadri. Joakim Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly kicked in goals from the fourth line, Marcus Johansson provided the eventual game-winner in the first period and Charlie Coyle got an empty-netter late in the third period.
“We have four lines that can contribute, that’s one of the strengths of this team,” said Johansson, who scored his first goal of the series at the biggest time in Game 7 on a curl toward the net after stealing a puck from Jake Gardiner behind the Leafs net. “Everyone’s ready to go and everyone is doing what it takes, and we’ve got a lot of guys who can score and score big goals.”
So, it wasn’t about the star players for the Bruins in the most important game in the series, it was instead about the role players stepping up to be Stanley Cup playoff heroes in Boston’s time of need.
“You rely on everyone in the playoffs and that’s how teams are advancing and I thought tonight was a perfect example,” said Bergeron. “Everyone’s got a job to do and obviously contributing offensively is great and you take away those goals, even though I thought they were in their zone for most of the night creating some momentum for us and got things rolling basically.
“I think [our depth] kind of creates some problems as far as matchups and stuff for other teams. But, you’re playing some good teams also and teams that have also that same depth. But I think it’s always about outworking and finding ways to compete and try to beat the matchup that you’re up against. And you don’t have to rely all the time on the perfect matchup because you know you have the confidence in all the lines that are jumping over the boards; it makes a big difference.”
Sure, Bergeron also picked up a meaningless empty-net goal in the final second of the third period, but Game 7 was effectively won by Boston’s bottom-6 forwards. That’s a far cry from a fourth line that struggled at the beginning of the series without the injured Kuraly, and a third line that was pretty much nonexistent all season until Coyle arrived at the trade deadline.
Certainly, the goals from Coyle and Johansson highlighted the trade deadline moves engineered by Don Sweeney a few months ago, and it also underscored Bruce Cassidy’s decision to ice a speedier lineup vs. Toronto while scratching Chris Wagner and David Backes.
“We talked about it at the start of the series that we felt we needed a certain type of lineup to beat Toronto, and we finally found it late in the series. I thought Game 6 and 7 we skated well. A guy like [Joakim] Nordstrom is a good part of that, [Karson] Kuhlman, [Sean] Kuraly obviously,” said Cassidy. “The odd thing about this series for us is we actually got healthier as the series went on. Usually, in the playoffs it’s the opposite, so for us to get guys back, John Moore, [Marcus] Johansson was the other one who got hurt, [Sean] Kuraly, I think helped us a lot.
“Donny [General Manager Don Sweeney] has done a great job with depth, so we know we can use different players because of injuries.”
The Bruins will again need that depth beginning Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team clearly more well-rounded than the dangerously skilled Maple Leafs. So, it’s a good thing they got rolling at exactly the right time in the series and powered the B’s to a massive Game 7 win.
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