Who would have thought there'd be the opportunity to write this story?
With the Boston Bruins down 4-1 and nearly half the third period salted away in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night, it looked like the Maple Leafs would be the team in this space.
But the Bruins authored a miracle comeback win worthy of joining many of their greatest victories to eliminate the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime and set up a second-round showdown against the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It's almost impossible to put into words how the Bruins got past Toronto. Still, here are five reasons the Bruins advanced to the second round for the first time since 2011:
1. Never say die
The core of the 2011 Stanley Cup championship team is still in place. Remember, in that amazing postseason, the Bruins trailed the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in the first round and the Vancouver Canucks 2-0 and 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final. When all the comebacks were done, the Bruins raised the Cup. Even last season, the Bruins staved off elimination in Game 6 before losing to the Washington Capitals in Game 7.
With even-keel veterans Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Chris Kelly and Shawn Thornton leading the way, the Bruins never press the panic button. When they trust in one another and play to their individual strengths, a successful result typically occurs.
2. The mark of Z
Once upon a time, Chara averaged nearly 30 minutes a game. Those were the days when he was younger and the Bruins lacked depth and a championship pedigree. These days a typical night sees him log less than 25 minutes in a game -- but Game 7 wasn't any typical night. With Andrew Ference and Wade Redden scratched and Dennis Seidenberg shut down after two shifts, Chara had to skate for 35:46, a season high. He not only played his typical solid defensive game, he recorded an assist on Milan Lucic's goal that cut the score to 4-3. Then he screened goaltender James Reimer on Patrice Bergeron's game-tying score. Chara, 36, showed again that despite his age he's one of the most remarkable athletes in the League.
3. The kids are all right
Chara didn't make up for Boston's missing bodies on defense alone. Matt Bartkowski was forced into action and he skated 24:51 with barely a single major mistake. He added his first Stanley Cup Playoff goal on top of his solid defensive-zone play. Dougie Hamilton, the 19-year-old rookie, also had to step in for 21:08 of ice time. With Bartkowski and Hamilton filling in for the missing veterans, the Bruins were able to get back into the game. This year's team might actually have more depth on the back end than Bruins clubs from recent years.
4. Bergeron brings it
He had scored one goal through six games, but Bergeron knew he should have scored more. Twice he was robbed by James Reimer in key situations in Game 5 and 6, and there were other times he just missed finding the back of the net. But Bergeron never seems to squeeze his stick. He just keeps putting his nose to the grindstone and working. He wins faceoffs, he backchecks then hopes his offensive game catches up to the rest. It did that in a big way with the tying and winning goals -- one with a wrist shot from the high slot and one with some net drive to bury a rebound.
5. Krejci line dominance
Although they seemingly went on hiatus for Game 5 and 6, David Krejci, Lucic and Nathan Horton were nearly unstoppable when it counted the most. Horton's goal at 9:18 of the third delivered the wakeup call the Bruins needed to start their comeback. Lucic cut the lead to one with 1:22 remaining in regulation. For the series, they combined for 29 points, including 11 goals.
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