TORONTO - It's a foreign feeling for the Bruins, to be playing catch-up hockey.
It hasn't happened often throughout the past month, especially in the third period. But on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Bruins found themselves down 3-1 to the Maple Leafs.
They dominated the 20 minutes, outshooting Toronto 17-5 and scoring twice with goals from Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron to even the game at 3-3.
Boston eventually fell 4-3 in overtime to a Toronto squad that desperately needed the two points in continuing their bid for a spot in the postseason, but it was a glimpse at what those in the Spoked-B know they'll face come playoff time. Adversity.
"Shows some character to be able to tie it up against a desperate team like Toronto, and these are the types of situations you can find yourselves in the playoffs," said Lucic.
The Bruins were playing from behind nearly the entire game. The Leafs jumped out to a 1-0 lead just six minutes in, with Paul Ranger putting in the loose puck after a scramble in front of Chad Johnson.
Brad Marchand would tie it up 1-1 just 56 seconds later, intercepting a Leafs' breakout attempt and ripping it past Jonathan Bernier from the top of the right circle.
But back-to-back goals with just 12 seconds left in the first period, and then 52 seconds into the second period, put Toronto up 3-1.
"It’s adversity that we’re going to face in the playoffs and we've got to make sure we realize that," said Bergeron. "We talked about that during the [second] intermission there that we've got to keep pushing - and we found a way."
"We got those two goals that we needed and we've got to find a way to get that extra point, especially on the 4-on-3. We've got to execute better and make the plays, but we got back in the game."
Boston had 46 seconds of carryover on a power play to start overtime, and generated chances, but didn't convert. It was part of the tale of the night, as the Black & Gold had 60 shot attempts, but only found a way to get two past Bernier and then one past James Reimer, who entered the net in relief after Bernier left the game due to injury with 11:38 remaining in regulation.
"I think we had some good bounces there during the last 16 some games - we got some wins there and now, maybe couple bounces here and there going in the net now for the other team," said Johnson, who made 27 saves.
"And that’s sort of how hockey is sometimes - bounces go your way - but I think we can learn from this for sure and realize that if we just play our game like we did in the third, we can just dominate teams, especially teams like the Maple Leafs."
Boston's dominant third-period effort would have led to a win, had the Bruins sustained that throughout the entire game. They outshout the Leafs 10-0 through the first ten minutes of the final frame, not even letting them set up for any time in the Bruins' zone.
"We weren’t great [in the second] but then in the third, we looked a little bit more like our team," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. "And that was the goal going into the third period - 'let’s go play our game here' - and we got an opportunity where, if we got the next goal, to get ourselves back into it, and that’s what we did."
Boston had a chance to notch the game-winner, finishing out the third period on the man-advantage. It could have come a minute sooner, and continued until the end of regulation, as Dougie Hamilton was cut open by a stick up high and had to get some repairs on the bench. A penatly was not called on the play.
Then, during four-on-four in overtime, Torey Krug made a play to move the puck away from Tyler Bozak streaking in. Both players ended up Johnson's net and Krug was called for holding. The Leafs scored the OT-winner on the ensuing 4-on-3.
"I think our guys have done an unbelievable job of keeping themselves poised and going out there and saying, ‘Let’s not let anything that we can’t control upset us and let’s try and win the game our way,’" said Julien. "So that’s where our guys deserve a lot of credit and that showed."
Still, Boston knows full well that, no matter the circumstances, if they impose their game for the full 60 minutes, nights won't end in overtime.
"Too many ups and downs during the game," said Bergeron. "You don’t win games if you don’t play the 60 in this League."
The Black & Gold liked the response from their team, though, matching and sometimes surpassing the desperation of the Leafs.
"That’s what we want to do from here on in," said Julien, of still facing teams pushing to get into the playoffs, with just five games remaining in the regular season, starting with Philadelphia on Saturday.
"That’s what’s going to keep us sharp here: the fact that we still have some games to play against teams that are fighting for positions and playoffs and everything else. So that’s what we want. We don’t want an easy game; we don’t need that right now."