BOSTON -- When the Boston Bruins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference First Round last season, they were led by their top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
This time -- at least in their 5-1 win in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs at TD Garden on Tuesday -- they were led by a far less heralded group of players: the fourth line of Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari, and third-liner Marcus Johansson.
The fourth line combined for five points, quite a turnaround for a unit that had appeared to be a black hole earlier in the series, one that spent full shifts in the defensive zone. Not so in Game 7. Nordstrom gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 14:29 of the first period and, after Johansson scored at 17:46 to extend it to 2-0, Kuraly provided all the breathing room Boston would need by making it 3-1 at 2:40 of the third period.
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Nordstrom, Kuraly and Acciari each had an assist, and the Bruins showed their depth in finishing off the Maple Leafs in the best-of-7 series to reach the second round, where they will find the Columbus Blue Jackets waiting for them in Game 1 here Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN TVAS).
"We talked about missing him the start of the series," coach Bruce Cassidy said of Kuraly, who missed the first four games recovering from hand surgery. "You look at a depth guy and think, well, how much can you miss him? But we use him in a lot of different ways for us. He's a valuable playoff guy. The last couple years he's scored some big goals for us in playoffs."
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm7: Kuraly pots one top shelf on the rush
Kuraly, who had played eight NHL regular-season games at the time, scored two crucial goals in Game 5 of the 2017 first round against the Ottawa Senators, including the game-winner in the second overtime to keep the Bruins alive. He scored two more goals in 12 games in the 2018 playoffs. That makes five goals in 18 NHL playoff games, and 14 in 154 regular-season games.
That and the performances by Nordstrom, Acciari and Johansson also demonstrate that Boston is no longer a one-line team. While the Bergeron line was occupying the Maple Leafs' top line of John Tavares, Zach Hyman and Mitchell Marner, and holding it to a goal by Tavares, the Bruins needed someone else to score.
They got that.
"It's huge," Bergeron said. "You rely on everyone in the playoffs and that's how teams are advancing, and I thought tonight was a perfect example. Everyone's got a job to do, and obviously contributing offensively is great, and you take away those goals, they were in their zone for most of the night creating some momentum for us and got things rolling basically."
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm7: Nordstrom sneaks shot past Andersen
And as for how that goal by Kuraly felt? Kuraly, who came flying in from beyond the red line and split two Maple Leafs players before ripping off a shot that both Bergeron and Boston goalie Tuukka Rask said they saw going in all the way, celebrated with a leaping, pounding celebration against the glass.
"I think you can see by the way I reacted how I felt about that goal," Kuraly said. "So, if you want to know, you can watch it again."
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