Motivated Maple Leafs return to site of playoff collapse

Saturday, 11.09.2013 / 2:08 PM
Matt Kalman  - NHL.com Correspondent

BOSTON – The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 because of a lot of different factors.

One major motivator was the disappointment of their demise the prior spring. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in their 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals series with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins became the third team in League history to squander such a commanding lead.

There are parallels that can be drawn between the Bruins' downfall in 2010 and that of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013. The Maple Leafs return Saturday to TD Garden for the first time since they held a 4-1 lead with less than 11 minutes to go in the third period of Game 7 of their 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series.

After Nathan Horton cut the lead to two with 9:18 elapsed in the third, the Bruins rallied for goals 31 seconds apart with less than 90 seconds remaining in the game to force overtime.

Patrice Bergeron's goal at 6:05 of overtime ended one of the most stunning comebacks in postseason history.

Five months removed from that loss, the Maple Leafs look no worse for wear. They're 11-5-0 and co-leading the Atlantic Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Obviously it was something that propelled us to move on to the Stanley Cup Final after a huge comeback like that," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who scored the goal that cut Toronto's lead to 4-3 in that dramatic game. "But in saying that, I've been on the other side of things like that. In 2010, we were up 3-0 in a Game 7 in the first period, after being up 3-0 in that series, and I think looking at that, that definitely made us stronger as a team to be able to rebound and recover and come back after that.

"I think if you look at Toronto, they've definitely gotten stronger with the start that they've had and we'll see where something like that can take them."

The Bruins carried their momentum from that Game 7 victory into their next two series. They beat the New York Rangers in five games and the Pittsburgh Penguins in four. But then the win against Toronto became something of an asterisk on their run because the Bruins weren't able to triumph at the end, as they fell in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.

However, Game 7 still lives on in Boston and Ontario sports lore.

"Yeah, [it came up] a couple times when I was talking to some people back home. The conversation comes up a few times, especially when there's a lot of Maple Leafs fans where I'm from," said Bruins forward Daniel Paille, who is a native of Welland, Ontario. "So definitely a lot of disappointments, but at the same time they were happy for our team just because I was part of it. It's definitely a good think to look back on in history. And a lot of people did talk about it. But on the same sense, it's done now. We have to think of other things."

In some ways, the Garden could be a house of horrors for the Maple Leafs. But on the other hand, they won two games in the Bruins' building in the series and showed the resilience it takes to stave off elimination after falling behind 3-1 in the series.

With a valuable two points on the line, Toronto is in the precarious position of trying to use the Game 7 loss as motivation but to not let it detract from the way they've played during their fresh start this season.

"We're excited to go back to Boston," Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri told the Toronto Star. "It was a tough way to end last time and it was tough going all summer and having to deal with it, but it's 16 games into the year and as a team we've put it all behind us ... Still, it's in the back of your mind, for sure."

The 2010-11 Bruins started their season of redemption in similarly fine form, an 11-5-1 record through 17 games. That the Maple Leafs have been hot out of the gates in 2013 isn't a surprise to the Bruins.

"I mean you saw last year, I know it was shortened season, but you could see last year how good they can be," Paille said. "And they were just getting better into our playoffs series. So I don't think it surprises anybody this year. They've also gotten more defensive with some different players, and some grit too. So they're really becoming more dynamic and I think a lot of people consider them a huge threat now, especially this season."

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