For two periods, the Toronto Maple Leafs had all the luck and the momentum but David Krejci and Zdeno Chara had the experience to stun them in overtime.
Then again, you could say in the end they also had the good fortune to be on the ice at the same time as Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, whose decision to pinch at the Bruins blueline and go for the big hit 13 minutes into overtime – playoff overtime for crying out loud – was something you would expect from a clueless rookie. Phaneuf’s brilliant move wiped out two of his teammates and rewarded Krejci and Chara, who patiently kept working despite some terrible luck in the first half of the game, with a two-on-one rush.
Krejci, the hands-down leader for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the NHL playoffs, finished off a hat trick with the winning goal in a 4-3 Bruins decision that gave them a 3-1 lead in the NHL playoff series. Netting his fourth assist of the game was Chara, who seemed destined in the first period for a terrible evening.
“You know what?” Krejci said. “We know we have so much experience on this team. But how you use the experience is very important. I think we used it well.”
The Bruins used it so well they were able to come back in the second period after falling behind by two goals and then again in overtime when the Leafs were playing inspired hockey. The Leafs were every bit as good as the Bruins in the third period and overtime and deserved better, but they could not overcome Phaneuf’s brain cramp and some inconsistent goaltending by James Reimer. The latter should have known Krejci was going to shoot all the way on that final rush because the passing lane to Chara was closed off.
“That made my decision a little easier,” Krejci said. “I was really thinking about going to [Chara] for a one-timer. They took him away as well so I decided to shoot it. In overtime there are no bad shots. It wasn’t a perfect shot but it went in.”
Such are the rewards for those who persevere in the face of bad luck. Both Krejci and particularly Chara had some of the worst luck imaginable in the first period. Chara made a couple of goofs that led to two Leaf goals, but was rewarded in the second, piling up three assists as the Bruins reeled in the Leafs.
In the first period, all of the bounces went the way of the Leafs, although to be fair they did have their legs moving, particularly Phil Kessel. He was flying in the first few minutes and set up the first Leafs the net goal when he zipped into the Bruins zone, circled the net and hit Joffrey Lupul with a nice pass in front of.
But there was lots of luck here, too, as Chara knocked down fellow defenceman Wade Redden to create all the room and time Kessel and Lupul needed.
Lady Luck put in an appearance in the Leafs’ zone a little later, much to the relief of them and their fans. At the end of a Bruins power play, Krejci wound up with yet another Reimer rebound in the slot and faced a wide-open net. But his shot rang off the post, and just try to remember the last time that happened to this guy in the playoffs.
It was Chara’s turn again for the hex as the period wound down. Leaf defenceman Cody Franson took a shot from the point just as Chara skated by Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. Chara passed quickly in front of his goaltender but it was just long enough to block Rask’s vision and the puck sailed into the net at 18:32.
Then, for good measure a minute later after Leafs winger Leo Komarov took a dumb penalty for charging in the last minute, Chara flipped the puck. It was deflected and then hit Bruins winger Milan Lucic, a Leaf killer so far in the series, on the face and left him bleeding at the intermission.
At that point, with the Leafs carrying a 2-0 lead into the second period and the Bruins seemingly snake-bitten, the party was in full swing at the ACC.
Things were so good the suits in the platinum seats reverted to regular-season form and lingered in their private boxes over sushi and Chablis as the second period started. They should have seen that Komarov penalty as an omen, though, and most of them missed the turn of the screw, as Reimer served up another of those rebounds on a shot by Chara. That allowed Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron to finally get his first goal of the series 32 seconds into the period.
And so it went, even though the Leafs went hard at the Bruins over the first half of the period. The Bruins used the benefit of their experience to weather the storm and keep working. Of course, it really helped that Rask stood on his head to hold off the Leafs.
“It all starts with him. He played well,” Krejci said of his goaltender.
Then Krejci and Chara went to work to create their own luck. The tide slowly started flowing the Bruins’ way. By the middle of the second, the Leafs had dominated the Bruins but could not increase their 2-1 lead. Not a good sign.
Finally, Reimer delivered a rebound (sense a pattern here?) as Krejci ran into Leaf centre Mikhail Grabovski in front of the net. The puck bounced off Krejci and into the net. One of the assists went to Chara.
Chara struck again when Leaf winger Colton Orr took a penalty. Seconds later it was Chara to Nathan Horton to Krejci for a beautiful one-timer and the Bruins had the lead.
The Leafs, though, saw their luck return 44 seconds after Krejci’s goal, which saved them from the abyss. Rask showed he was human by kicking a rebound into the slot for Leaf winger Clarke MacArthur to tie the score and set up the drama over the last 33 minutes and six seconds.
“Sometimes things are happening on the ice you really can’t control,” Chara said. “We fell behind by two goals and especially on the second one I was trying to find a player on the side and at the last second I shifted, and [Rask] didn’t see that puck. I was one second too late to move and it ended up in our net.
“But you can’t be sitting on the first 20. It’s a 60-minute game. You have to put that behind you.”