2013-bruins-leafs TUNE IN

For retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, there will forever be an asterisk beside his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2013 Game 7 heartbreak against the Boston Bruins.

After all, if your team collapses while you’re in a communications blackout, knifing through the ionosphere on your way back to Earth, out of radio contact, did it really happen?

Commander Hadfield is safely on terra firma today, a best-selling author, motivational speaker and still a die-hard Maple Leafs fan.

Now, with Toronto set to meet the Bruins in Boston on Saturday in Game 7 of their First Round Stanley Cup Playoff series (8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC), he’s hoping for a better outcome than asterisked 2013.

This is the 17th postseason series between these two “Original Six” rivals, dating to 1933. They’re even at eight wins each; one of Toronto’s victories was in fact a 1-1 tie in games, that 1936 win coming by virtue of an 8-6 advantage on the total goals format.

1959 Bruins Leafs

From left: Toronto Maple Leafs’ Frank Mahovlich, Gerry Ehman, Bob Pulford and Billy Harris celebrate Ehman's overtime goal against the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup semifinal on March 28, 1959 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Down 2-0 in the best-of-7 series, Toronto would go up 3-2 before finally winning in Game 7.

The Maple Leafs won eight of the first 10 series, from 1933 through 1959. The Bruins, 8-4 head-to-head in a best-of-seven format since 1939, have been rolling undefeated since 1969 with six consecutive series wins. The three straight seven-game victories, all on Boston ice, have shattered Maple Leafs’ hearts piece by sudden-death piece.

The Bruins hold a 4-1 record against Toronto in series that have gone seven games, outscoring them 21-13. They won a 1941 semifinal, lost a 1959 semifinal (the last time the Maple Leafs defeated Boston in the postseason), then won a 2013 Conference quarterfinal and back-to-back First Round series in 2018 and 2019.

Commander Hadfield was preparing to return to Earth from the International Space Station on May 13, 2013, undocking in the Soyuz capsule one minute after puck drop in the deciding game. During his re-entry, Toronto would go up 4-1, early in the third period, but ultimately lose 5-4 in overtime.

Hadfield, American astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romaneko touched down in the steppes of Kazakhstan 26 minutes after Patrice Bergeron’s winning goal was scored.

leafs chris hadfield

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield sings O Canada at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 18, 2014, and seen as commander of Expedition 35 to the International Space Station.

“The Leafs also went down in flames that night,” Hadfield joked in a chat with NHL.com a few months after Toronto’s 2018 Game 7 First Round loss to Boston, a few months before their Game 7 First Round loss to the Bruins in 2019.

As commander in 2013, buckled into the Soyuz capsule, Hadfield was too busy with science and gravity to worry about how his team was doing. But he was flying the colors, so to speak, wearing a Maple Leafs T-shirt under his spacesuit, “completely against the rules.”

The reentry was flawless; the Maple Leafs not so much.

“We came thumping down on a windy day into the plains of Kazakhstan, the vehicle rolls to a stop, I’m hanging from the ceiling and they roll it the right way,” Hadfield recalled. “I’m the third and last to come out, after Tom and Roman. … They plunk me down in a chair, give me a cup of tea, loosen my collar and then they hand me a satellite phone to talk to my wife and tell her I was okay.

“I said, ‘Helene, how are you? I’m back, it all worked out great.’ She said, ‘That’s wonderful.’ I said, ‘How did the Leafs do?’ And she said, ‘Ohhhhhh, I’m sooooooo sorry…’ ”

1941 Bruins Leafs

Boston goalie Frank Brimsek in action against Toronto’s Bob “Red” Heron during Game 7 of the 1941 Stanley Cup semifinal.

Hadfield had found humor in the disaster as he related the story. Now, like the rest of Leafs Nation, he’s hoping that Toronto will finally end a six-series losing streak against the Bruins, who have been a black hole in their playoff lives.

Their run of Game 7 sudden death began on April 3, 1941, in Boston, Bruins goalie Frank Brimsek outduelling Maple Leafs’ Turk Broda in a 2-1 clincher.

“Frank Brimsek, grim and cold as the steppes of his parental Croatia, beat Toronto Leafs back from the Stanley Cup threshold, tumbled them homeward in abysmal disappointment,” wrote Andy Lytle in the Toronto Star.

“Leafs sharpshooters proved again in this match that they could gain an edge but they could not hold it. They’re still the bridesmaids, never the bride. … So ends another Leafian bid for Cup and kudos.”

Eighteen years later, the Maple Leafs and Bruins again went seven games in a semifinal, Toronto losing Games 1 and 2 before winning twice in overtime. A Game 5 win put Boston on the ropes, but the Bruins forced Game 7, Toronto finally winning 3-2 on the road.

2018 Bruins Leafs

Patrice Bergeron (wearing the “A”) and his Boston Bruins teammates celebrate a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff series.

Boston’s current run of six straight series victories began a decade later, 4-0 quarterfinal sweeps in 1969 and 1974 bookending a 4-1 win in 1972.

And then, 2013:

“All signs were pointing to this series as a shiny new beginning (for the Maple Leafs), not a nightmarish end,” wrote Damien Cox in the Toronto Star. “Instead, the end came with a stunning, mind-blowing 5-4 overtime loss with defeat snatched from the jaws of victory in the most painful, shocking and unforgettable way imaginable.”

And then, 2018:

“It was insane,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after Boston’s 7-4 Game 7 win. “You could barely hear yourself think out there the whole game. … It was an incredible atmosphere to be part of. We really fed off that energy and it really pushed us to be a little bit better than we needed to be.”

2019 Bruins Leafs

Boston Bruins players salute TD Garden fans following their 2019 Game 7 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And then, 2019:

“We believed in this team,” Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner said following a 5-1 Game 7 loss. “We had a lot of confidence in this team. When the seasons ends early, it (stinks). It’s the same (bad) feeling as last year.”

Echoed forward Auston Matthews: “It’s sad to see it end the way it did. This is a feeling we’ve experienced two years in a row and it’s not a good feeling for any of us. It’s something that we want to not experience again.”

Now, five years down the road, Toronto and Boston come to sudden death once more.

Only this is certain on Saturday: 60 or more minutes of hockey between two old rivals will end with handshakes, bragging rights and perhaps even tears, another chapter written in an 89-year-old playoff history.

Top photo: Patrice Bergeron (37) celebrates his goal in overtime in Game 7 of the Boston Bruins’ dramatic come-from-behind Game 7 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 13, 2013.