I'm not going to lie, I had already started writing an embittered recap after the Bruins fell behind 4-1. I wrote a few paragraphs, even lamenting that we may have seen Nathan Horton's last goal as a Bruin.
Then an empty Bruins net. An extra attacker. Two minutes left in the game. Lucic scores. A glimmer of hope. Flashbacks to two goals in twenty seconds against the Rangers with an empty net, also at the Garden. Bergeron buries a wrister from the high slot with 50 seconds left. From 4-1 down with 15 minutes to go to 4-4 and almost a series ender on the stick of Rich Peverley with 20 seconds left in regulation.
In the past three days, no Bruin had been safe from the scapegoat moniker. Seguin and Marchand had been invisible. Lucic has been ok but needs to get to the net. Jagr is playing like a baby. Chara needs to shoot the puck. Claude should be fired. All these things have been said. Even a call to sit Seguin and start Carl Soderberg in the biggest game of the year.
People lose their minds. It's sports. I get it. Boston is so fanatically bi-polar that it makes my head spin. I've been known to defend some less popular sports figures in the Hub, because if you aren't awesome, you suck. No one player sucked on this Boston squad. Everyone was good and a couple were outstanding. Krejci, Bergeron, and Rask come to mind. The problem is, being good isn't good enough for the Stanley Cup. Individually you can be good, but as a team you need to be great.
That brings us to Game 7. Sure, it's only the first round and you can make the argument that the Bruins should have closed out the Leafs. Without trying to sound like a Hollywood sports cliche, Boston tried to play with skill, Toronto played with heart. It also doesn't hurt that the Leafs have more gifted, natural scorers than Boston, but the Bruins have always had the toughness and attitude to fight to the end. They were outplayed in two of the three games they won and vastly outplayed for the majority of Game 7.
Boston started off with a bang, controlling play and striking first on Matt Bartkowski's first goal of the playoffs. Up and down play ensued, culminating with a power play goal from Cody Franson. Then another goal by Franson in the second. Follow that up with two quick goals by Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri to start the third and the Garden started to empty. It should be noted that Tuukka Rask, who is often the scapegoat in these situations, was really beat cleanly on every goal. There was no soft stuff that got by him.
So there they were. Down 4-1 with 14:30 left in regulation and a stagnant offense. Nathan Horton reappears in this series and buries a shot past Reimer with 11 minutes left to solidify that the first line was not the problem in the playoffs. I'm nearly done my original piece by that time, just waiting for the specifics. If watching Boston teams has taught me anything it's to watch. Watch until the last minute. Get emotionally involved, but don't get angry. I've seen too many relatives reach for the antacids late in games to calm their “sports ulcer the goddamn Sox/B's/Pats/C's have given them.”
Things can happen in an instant. A crazy bounce of the puck, playing prevent defense when you have a lead. These are things that we as Bruins fans have seen all season. Giving up two and three goal leads in the third by sitting back and letting the net minders get peppered for twenty minutes. It was finally time to turn the tables on that little ditty and one of the most polarizing figures in the Hub touched it off when Lucic scored in front of the net. Then the true captain in most fans eyes, Patrice Bergeron, who was able to forgo his defensive duties and just worry about offense picked his spot and hit his mark, sending a wave of emotion throughout the Garden, in which people were trying to return to their seats as fast as possible.
Jagr walks down the runway with an issue and Seguin rejoins the Bergeron line. The second unit dominates for their shifts on the ice, Seguin slinging the puck on net and not off high glass, Marchand being the Little Ball of Hate and Bergeron winning faceoff after faceoff. Ultimately it was Bergeron again in the OT, firing a rebound over a sprawling Reimer that sent the B's onto the Rangers in the second round.
And now what? What of all that talk for the past three days? Does it go away? How many people want to fire Julien now? How many people are going to ride Lucic out of town? How far does this team have to go to prove themselves and not be the underachievers? They've been accused of playing without urgency or maximum effort, which has been true. They couldn't close out Toronto in the previous two chances and nearly let this one slip away too. What they did do is prove that there is no quit in the Bear. They may not play the full 60, but goddamn they play the best 10 minutes of hockey I have ever seen.