Bruins/Leafs. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
It ran long at times, but Saturday night at TD Garden had it all.
It was past 8 p.m. before the first period came to an end. The third period did not begin until 9:30 p.m. the home crowd didn’t wanna leave. In an Original Six matchup with meaning — the Maple Leafs came to Boston on a three-game losing skid and three points behind the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division — the Bruins and Leafs called back to the days of old with the blood feud of a near century-long rivalry. They countered with goals, agitation, and a fight.
The Leafs even blew a 4-1 lead. Playoff hockey? Yeah, it’s here.
As close as it can be in February for these desperate clubs.
The Bruins came into this game with desperation team because, well, everything seemingly working against this club. On top of their massive games in hand deficit, the Bruins looked bad in their Wednesday loss to the Capitals, and the fact that they entered play with two losses in as many games against the Leafs didn’t necessarily help. The same could be said for the Leafs, who on top of their aforementioned slide, skate with a chip on their shoulder as an underdog status needing to prove they’re a real threat.
Neither team wasted time showing that side of their situation off, too.
Bruins winger David Pastrnak scored on the first shot of the game. Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock immediately challenged it.
When it was deemed inconclusive, the Leafs took matters into their own hands and answered behind a beautiful William Nylander goal scored off a brutal David Backes turnover. What followed a three-zone commitment from each club that blocked and stymied every shot that wasn’t missed, and the two were tied up through 20 minutes of action.
But when the speed of the energetic Leafs met the brain-cramps of the Bruins in the second period, the B’s scrambled.
First came a James van Riemsdyk goal scored without a Boston defender with 25 feet of him and the Leafs’ scorer all alone in front of Tuukka Rask. William Nylander capitalized on a Kevan Miller fall in the attacking zone just 38 seconds after that, and the Leafs were up by two. Adam McQuaid was then penalized, and Nylander jumped on his third goal of the game and chased Rask.
It felt like it happened in one massive blur (it actually happened 1:46, to be exact), and the Bruins needed a response.
First came a second Pastrnak goal, and then McQuaid atoned for his penalty with a massive TKO on Matt Martin.
Just as quick as life exited the Garden, it was back, and at the loudest it’s been all year.
The Bruins cut the Toronto edge to one before the end of the second behind a Torey Krug power-play goal — complete with stick assists to the B’s equipment staff that allowed Pastrnak to keep the puck in and further gas the Leafs’ penalty killers on an attempted clear — and the stage for a furious third was upon each club.
And as the script wrote in 2013, the Bruins found the game-tying goal, this time on a Ryan Spooner net-front putaway at 10:06 of the third period. But five minutes later, and with the Bruins struggling to get back on the forecheck, Connor Brown made it 5-4.
The Bruins again responded, on a power-play goal from Patrice Bergeron with just 2:54 left in the third period.
But again, and even quicker than they did the time before, the Leafs regained the edge behind a van Riemsdyk goal 1:18 later.
It would hold as the final goal of the game, and the Bruins dropped yet another one that seemed to be theirs. It was just another night where an impossible-to-ignore inability to play mistake-free hockey when the games are at their tightest had it’s say.
If this was a playoff primer, the Bruins did everything but get the win.
And unfortunately for the Bruins, there’s no playoffs in Boston without those.