Kalman: Bruins’ Game 7 win made sure nothing went to waste

Matt Kalman
April 24, 2019 - 12:34 am

Never mind wasting one of the last prime years of Bruins pillars Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

Had the Bruins not prevailed in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round against Toronto on Tuesday, they would have wasted a really great beer chug.

Even coach Bruce Cassidy enjoyed Julian Edelman’s mass consumption of an alcoholic beverage during the first period.

“Julian Edelman chugging a beer was awesome,” the coach said after the Bruins won 5-1 at TD Garden. “Probably got everyone fired up, including us. Good for him. We’ll return the favor at some point down the road, but I thought it was outstanding. That’s Game 7 playoff hockey for you right there.”

All kidding aside, four days ago the Bruins were letting everything slip through their fingers and it seemed like their veteran core was headed for an extra-long offseason. The Tampa Bay Lightning, seemingly their only obstacle in pursuit of an Eastern Conference title, bowed out in four straight games in the first round to Columbus. The Bruins were relatively healthy, missing just Sean Kuraly, Marcus Johansson and Sean Kuraly from their regular lineup. They had home-ice advantage.

Yet they woke up last Saturday morning down 3-2 to the Maple Leafs after a 2-1 loss in Game 5. They looked tired and old and unable to take advantage of the glory that was sliding their way. Although they were playing, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk seemed like they’d been ground to sand. Cassidy couldn’t find more than five or six forwards he could trust for more than a period and a half.

There was only one way the series and the season could be saved. The Bruins had to exploit the one advantage they had over the Maple Leafs that couldn’t be measured on any spreadsheet or stats column, couldn’t be quantified on sports radio or on a message board. The Bruins dwarfed the Maple Leafs in terms of experience. The core players of this Bruins team have won the Stanley Cup. They’ve been ahead in series and behind in series and they’ve learned all the different ways a team can close out or come back. They know how to raise their level to stave off elimination.

The thought of going home after Game 6 brought that out in these Bruins.

“I think you don’t win the series until you win it. You don’t win the series in a Game 4 or 5, you win the series in the last game and that’s what we did tonight. We won the series in the last game, which was Game 7. But I think the big game for us besides obviously tonight [being> the biggest game, I think the place where I could point that kind of gave us a little bit more confidence was Game 6 in Toronto,” Chara said. “I think that’s obvious that we were facing elimination and we were desperate and that was a tough game and we found a way to win it. Came home for Game 7 and battled through until the end. So it’s not just obviously Game 6, there were a lot of things that were happening in the series, but I think that was huge for us.”

The Maple Leafs clearly haven’t learned their lessons about closing out. They had a one-goal lead heading into the third period of Game 7 last season and lost to the Bruins. They had two chances to finish the Bruins this year and were outplayed for much of the three periods played in Toronto, and then were outscored in Game 7. They may have dictated play for long stretches in the final game, but it seemed as though they weren’t ready to pay the price and do every little thing it takes to win a series.

The Bruins on the other hand found the recipe that has carried them through so many times, not just the past two years, but for much of the Chara-Bergeron era. Stellar goaltending from Tuukka Rask. Strong defense by every five-man unit that climbed over the boards. And timely scoring, even when the big guns weren’t firing. This time the big goals came from Joakim Nordstrom, Johansson and Kuraly, guys that often carry the day in the postseason. The Maple Leafs barely got anything similar from its supporting players later in this series.

“Well I think we’ve been there before,” Bergeron said. “I think a lot of guys, we try to rely on our experiences, try to share that with other guys. Most of the young guys were with us last year and lived it also. So I think it’s definitely a great character win for us tonight against a really good team.”

It helped that in a Bruins season that was marked by them seemingly losing a player to injury every week and going long periods of time without some of their best players, they got healthy at the most important time. Kuraly came back, DeBrusk and Krug became revitalized, Johansson got over his illness. Suddenly Cassidy had more players than he could use, so he had to scratch veterans David Backes and Chris Wagner.

Bruce Cassidy may want to return the favor and chug a beer for or with Edelman someday. With the Bruins finding their game and getting healthier when it matters most, and always holding an edge in intangibles regardless of who they play, they might be able to exploit this wide open road and finish this season where they dreamed they’d be when it began. And then Cassidy can chug a beer or whatever he wants out of the Stanley Cup.

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