The Toronto Maple Leafs were so close to winning their first Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2004 that they could taste it. Toronto led the Boston Bruins 4-1 midway through the third period and 4-2 with less than 90 seconds remaining in regulation in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series -- only to see Boston score a pair of sixth-attacker goals to force overtime. Patrice Bergeron's goal 6:05 into overtime gave the Bruins a stunning 5-4 victory, making the Maple Leafs the first team in playoff history to lose a Game 7 after leading by three goals in the third period.
It was an agonizing finish to what had been the best season in Toronto in nearly a decade. Here are five reasons the Maple Leafs are going home for the summer:
1: (Not so) Home Sweet Home
The 19,000-plus fans who packed Air Canada Centre for Games 3 and 4 had high hopes after the Maple Leafs split the first two games in Boston. But the Bruins dominated in their 5-2 victory in Game 3 and rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to beat Toronto 4-3 in overtime, putting the Maple Leafs in a 3-1 hole in the series. Toronto won Game 5 in Boston and held off the Bruins 2-1 in Game 6, but Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle pointed to the first two losses at home as a turning point.
2. Problems in their zone
James Reimer turned in an excellent effort in his first trip to the postseason, but he faced far too many shots. Boston finished the series with 272 shots on goal, an average of 38 per game. Reimer finished with a save percentage of .923 but allowed 21 goals in the seven games because he saw so many shots. In two of Toronto's three victories, he had to make more than 40 saves, and the Maple Leafs allowed a pair of sixth-attacker goals in Games 7; the inability to clear the puck ultimately came back to bite them.
3. Inability to close out games
This goes along with having problems in their zone. The Maple Leafs blew a two-goal lead at home and lost Game 4 in overtime, then couldn't get to the finish line in Game 7 after taking a 4-1 lead in the third period. Successful teams find ways to turn leads into points; Toronto had trouble with blowing leads during the regular season and those problems continued in the playoffs. Maybe it was inexperience, but whatever the reason, Toronto had its chances to win the series and couldn't do it.
4. Top-pair struggles on D
It was a tough series for Toronto's top defensive pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson. They were on the ice for both of the sixth-attacker goals by the Bruins that sent Game 7 into overtime, and a mistimed pinch by Phaneuf in Game 4 led to the overtime goal by Boston's David Krejci. For the series, Phaneuf had a goal, two assists and was minus-6; Gunnarsson had two assists and was minus-7.
5. Bottom six bottoms out
Toronto's big guns were able to generate offense -- Phil Kessel scored four goals and James van Riemsdyk was tops with seven points. But the combination of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin had a bad series at both ends of the ice. Grabovski had two assists and was minus-10 while averaging more than 19 minutes of ice time; he lost his check on Patrice Bergeron's overtime winner in Game 7. Kulemin had one assist and was minus-9 in more than 18 minutes per game.