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May 3, 2024 7:03 pm

Maple Leafs try to complete comeback against stumbling Bruins

william nylander

It all comes down to this, again.

For the second consecutive year, the Boston Bruins have let a 3-1 series lead slip away and will now face the pressure of an Eastern Conference first-round Game 7 on Saturday against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.

Only one other team in NHL history — the original Winnipeg Jets — has been pushed to Game 7 after surrendering a 3-1 lead in two consecutive series. The Bruins, though, are the first to have those series occur in consecutive years after their Presidents’ Trophy run ended abruptly against the Florida Panthers a season ago.

“We’re not living in the past. We’re not living in the future, either. We’re living in the present,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said after Toronto’s 2-1 win on Thursday. “Right now, we’re not happy with our game. We’re going to get ready for Game 7.”

Boston managed a single shot in the first period — its second straight “unacceptable” start — and drew just one power play on Thursday.

William Nylander scored both Toronto goals and Morgan Rielly assisted on both, while Joseph Woll (22 saves) had a shutout until Boston’s Morgan Geekie tallied with 0.1 seconds left.

The result? The sixth Game 7 between the Original Six rivals and third in the last six years.

“These are the moments you dream about as a kid. Game 7. That’s where heroes are built and made,” Boston captain Brad Marchand said. “We got to be excited about the position we’re in and make the most of it. … It doesn’t matter how you get there.”

The Bruins look forward to the opportunity, but they will need more out of key players like David Pastrnak, who has gone consecutive games without a goal despite taking a team-high four shots on Thursday.

“Your best players need … to come through with some big-time plays and big-time moments,” Montgomery said. “I think Marchand has done that in the series. Pasta needs to step up.”

Without star winger Auston Matthews (illness) for a second straight game, the Leafs got a star-caliber performance from Nylander to send the series to an ultimate game.

No determination has been made regarding Matthews’ Game 7 availability, though coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledged that “there’s been progress.”

Nylander, who had been on a 13-game goal drought dating back to the regular season, is the first Maple Leaf to score multiple goals in an elimination game victory since Joe Nieuwendyk in 2004.

“He’s a heck of a game-breaker,” Leafs captain John Tavares said of Nylander. “He gets the puck on his stick, he can make things happen any time. Two elite finishes. Came at a great time.”

It was hardly a one-man show, though. Twice over, the Leafs have found a way to win with a true team effort backed by Woll, a former Boston College standout.

With one more complete effort, the journey will continue.

The winner’s next best-of-seven will begin Monday at Florida.

“I think it’s a reflection of the character of the group,” Keefe said. “I challenged the group and talked to the group about it. When your back is against the wall and you’re facing elimination, you’re going to be remembered one way or the other. So, how do you want that to be and to look?”

However, the power play — just 1-for-20 in the series — is the one major area with room for improvement.

Should Toronto win, this would mark the fourth straight postseason in which a team overcame a 3-1 series deficit to advance.

The coach knows that this upcoming do-or-die scenario is familiar.

“In my mind, we just played two Game 7s,” Keefe said.

–Field Level Media

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