BOSTON - It was supposed to be Boston's night. But thanks to a desperate performance by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins merely added to their recent history of making life difficult for themselves.
After losing 2-1 to the Leafs on Friday night, Boston now has to come back to Toronto for Game 6 of their playoff series. The Bruins still lead three games to two but they will be taking a long look at themselves in the mirror before they get on the plane.
It wasn't until Toronto went ahead 2-0 some two minutes into the third period Friday that the Bruins hit high gear. And the fashionably late offence had coach Claude Julien steaming.
"This is something we have to take the blame for. It's of our own doing," said Julien. "They were a desperate team. They showed it at the beginning of the game and we were down 2-0 and all of a sudden we became the desperate team ... If there's anything they have to understand from this, it's that we need to play three periods like we did in the third if we expect to close this off."
Julien was blunt in his assessment of the squandered chance to put the Leafs away.
"Every once in a while the hockey gods will take care of the people that deserve it," he said. "Obviously they played 40 strong minutes and they deserved to win tonight. We have to lick our wounds and get ready for the next game."
Game 6 is scheduled for Sunday in Toronto, giving Leaf Nation another excuse to party. Game 7, if needed, Monday in Boston.
I'm sure that we've poked the Bruins," said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. "They're going to be a very desperate hockey club come Sunday night and we better be equally as desperate."
Toronto survived a shaky opening minute before buzzing the Bruins for two periods.
"Our hockey club was prepared to play. We skated," said Carlyle. "And that's what we ask them to do. Go out and skate and work. And when we do that, we can be competitive."
The Leafs did more than skate. They added 46 more hits to their ledger, pushing their series total to 246 (compared to 39 and 204 for the Bruins).
"A huge bounce-back game for our team," said captain Dion Phaneuf.
Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur scored to ensure the Leafs live to fight another day. For MacArthur, who had talked of scoring on the night, it was his second goal in as many games after being a healthy scratch for two games.
The hard-skating Leafs probed Boston from all angles to quiet the yellow-and-black crowd of 17,565 - the Bruins' 156th consecutive sellout. But down 2-0 two minutes into the third period, Boston charged back to threaten the Leafs and pepper James Reimer.
After Chara's goal, a Bozak penalty for delay of the game with 3:48 remaining further cranked up the tension. Toronto killed it off, only to see the Bruins pull their goalie for the extra attacker.
"They kept coming," said Phaneuf. "But we did a good job of keeping most of the stuff to the outside. And when they did get the through, Reims was huge for us."
The Bruins outshot Toronto 19-4 in the third period and 44-33 on the night. It would have been more lopsided had the Leafs not blocked another 27 shots.
"It takes courage to get in those shooting lanes but you have to be able to have the people that are prepared to do it night in and night out," said Carlyle, who called Chara's booming shot "a lethal weapon."
"That's what the playoffs are. That separates people."
Tuukka Rask, who had faced 95 shots in the previous two games, was immense in the Boston goal but could not get all of Bozak's shot after a Bruins miscue at the Toronto blue-line allowed the speedy Leaf to race in midway through the second period for a short-handed goal.
An opportunistic MacArthur padded the lead at 1:58 of the third, taking advantage of a Boston turnover before racing past defenceman Johnny Boychuk and beating Rask.
At the other end, Reimer was as reliable as a Swiss watch. He ranged from quietly efficient to spectacular, especially as the desperate Bruins tried to get back in the contest. And he got some help from his crossbar and goalpost in the third.
"He was unbelievable," Phaneuf said of Reimer.
"He's been great all year for us and tonight he was the difference," he added.
Reimer was finally beaten at 11:12 of the third when Bruins captain Zdeno Chara snapped in a shot after the line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton bottled the Leafs up in their own end. Boston had been pressing hard and Toronto could not clear the puck. It was Krejci's 11th point in four games.
The goal brought the crowd alive. A Bozak penalty for delay of the game with 3:48 remaining further cranked up the tension but Toronto killed it off.
The Leafs were hanging on by the end. Phaneuf, pilloried for his role in the Bruins' winning overtime goal Wednesday night, looked exhausted and possibly playing with an injury.
The Leafs have now won two of the three games at TD Garden and will be looking to bring some of that success home.
Boston, meanwhile, will be looking for a way to stop the Leafs from dictating the pace. And to refocus its offence.
Krejci, who came into the game with five goals and five assists, did not manage a shot on goal in the first two periods. Neither did linemate Lucic. Along with Horton, the trio managed just two shots in total although they often had the Leafs running around in their zone.
Julien pointed to the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin as underperforming, with just a combined three assists in three games.
"That has to come for us to be successful, starting next game," he said. "It's called accountability. We have to have more of that from that line, as far as being a difference-maker, or at least something positive."
But he offered a long shopping list of deficiencies from his team.
Coming into the game, history was against the Leafs.
Toronto was 1-13 all-time in best-of-seven series in which it trailed 3-1. Boston, meanwhile, was 15-2 lifetime in best-of-seven series in which it had held that lead.
Plus the Leafs came into the game with a 2-12-1 record in their last 15 games in Boston.
But the Bruins have had difficulties closing out series in recent years, although it did not stop them winning the Cup two years ago.
In 2011, they were beaten in possible Game 6 clinching games against Montreal and Tampa Bay but went on to win Game 7. In 2010, they needed six games to dispose of Buffalo (after being up 3-1) before blowing a 3-0 lead and losing in seven to Philadelphia.
Boston's record in non-Game 7 elimination games under Julien is now 3-7.
After being penned in their own end for the opening minute of the game, the Leafs came at the Bruins hard.
Toronto was outshooting Boston 10-4 at the 10-minute mark, using its speed to come at the home side from all angles - largely silencing the fans in the process. The Bruins, meanwhile, looked to slow the Leafs down with hits. Lucic and Krejci treated defenceman Carl Gunnarsson like a Swedish crash test dummy on the same shift, sending him flying into the boards.
With a little more than three minutes remaining, Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski pulled out one of his party tricks. Stationed behind the goal, the slender Belarusian flipped the puck over the goal and then sidestepped Boychuk on the edge of the crease, looking to bat the puck into the net from mid-air. Rask caught it, however, to end the magic act.
Toronto outshot Boston 19-8 in the first period and the Bruins were lucky not to leave the ice trailing. It helped that Boston won 18 faceoffs and only lost three in the period.
Fourteen Leafs had shots on goal in the first period, compared to seven Bruins. The red-hot Krejci and linemate Lucic weren't among them.
The question was how long Boston would stay dormant if the Leafs didn't turn their pressure into goals.
Bergeron had several chances in the second period, most notably when he came out from behind the goal and tried to stuff the puck into what seemed like an open goal, only to see Reimer somehow manage to get a toe to it.
"I'm not quite sure," Reimer said when asked how he made the save.
Toronto finally solved Rask shorthanded at 11:27 of the second period, when Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference was unable to keep the puck in the Toronto zone and the speedy Bozak beat him to the puck. His shot trickled through Rask, who almost had it.
Boston outshot Toronto 17-10 in the second period, trimming the Leafs' overall edge to 29-25.
Defenceman Jake Gardiner, growing in stature, led the Leafs with 24:05 minutes of ice time. Chara logged 28:06 for the Bruins. Phaneuf played 21:38.