BOSTON, MA - It had never happened before in the NHL.
The Bruins are the first team in the league's 96-year history to win a Game Seven after trailing by three goals in the third period.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," said B's forward Brad Marchand in the locker room, after the Bruins had rallied back from a three-goal deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on Monday night.
Toronto led 4-1 with 10 minutes left in the third period. Nathan Horton's magic made it 4-2 at 9:18. Milan Lucic's will brought it to 4-3 with 1:22 left. Patrice Bergeron, being Patrice Bergeron, forced the overtime with 51 seconds left in regulation.
The belief was intoxicating. Six minutes and five seconds into the sudden-death OT, Bergeron completed the historic comeback, winning it 5-4 for Boston, and sending the Garden faithful into an absolute frenzy.
"Unbelievable" doesn't even begin to touch the surface.
When Nazem Kadri gave Toronto its 4-1 buffer at 5:29 into the third period, every ounce of air was sucked out of TD Garden. The, "here we go again" thoughts crept in. Not because there wasn't belief. But because belief is a funny thing - sometimes it has to be earned. And the moment Horton scored to pull the Bruins within two, the video board zoomed in on his jubilant face, and you knew. There was a chance.
The Bruins knew it, too.
"Very," said Marchand, on how dejected the group felt, down 4-1, holding on for their last breath of the playoffs.
"It was tough being on the bench getting booed and looking up at the time clock watching those seconds count down."
"After Krech’s [David Krejci's] line got that first one for us, it started the climb back. We could see the emotion on the bench and guys starting to believe. That’s what we needed."
"I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a game that was anything like that," said Lucic, who willed the puck into the back of the net on a rebound from a Zdeno Chara shot from the high slot to bring the Bruins within one, and put the belief in full force. It was his second extra-attacker goal in the past 24 hours.
"They come out and they score two goals and I think you can tell from halfway through the first until halfway through the third they really frustrated us and we couldn’t get much going," added Lucic.
"And it just felt like one play on Horty’s [Nathan Horton’s] goal kind of turned things around and made us believe."
"Well, you have to stay in the moment," said Coach Julien, on what was said on the bench, down by three.
"Once we scored the second goal and we looked at the clock, we felt that we still had time," added Coach Julie, on what he called an emotionally "draining" night. "It was just a matter of staying composed and the experience we talked about throughout the whole series, that’s when it’s got to come through and it did."
They made the city believe again too, as fans reportedly scurrying to their cars with a season winding tried to get back into the TD Garden, as they saw the comeback taking place.
Meanwhile, on the ice, the boys in the spoked-B were about to break through.
"Honestly, even though it’s not a good feeling, I thought the guys stayed with it, stayed on the task at hand," said Bergeron, of the 4-1 deficit. "That second goal, like I said, really lifted the bench and the guys. Two goals and we knew we could do it at that point with the time we had left."
"I thought the guys showed a lot of character coming back in it. We definitely made it interesting for us and for the fans, also. We’d like to do it a better way, but at the same time, like I said, it builds character and confidence."
"I know two minutes is not much for two goals, but we really felt like we had enough time to do it. We did that in Toronto as well, getting that goal. We moved the puck real well," added Bergeron, of having the extra attacker on. "We opened up a lot of plays by staying poised with the puck and knowing where guys were going to be around us. It was a great play by all of us there."
Bergeron, the calm, determined Bruin on and off the ice, let his emotions break out at the postgame press conference podium for a brief moment, letting out a smile as he looked down and called it the "one of the craziest ones I've been a part of." The dozens of media sitting and gathered in front of him nodded involuntarily, as if to say, "you can say that again."
It was no surprise, of course, for every Bruin and fan who appreciates what the relentless alternate captain brings every shift, that Bergeron scored the game-tying and series-clinching goals.
"For him to come up big like that when it really counted, I think is fitting for Patrice Bergeron," Coach agreed.
But Bergeron - and his line, who all factored into the winner - knew they had faced criticism heading into the night. The centerman had played most of the game alongside Marchand and Jaromir Jagr as the line was separated. Some line juggling and situations saw Tyler Seguin first playing with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, and then David Krejci for a period of time. But on the winning goal, right wings Horton and Jagr had skate issues, so it was back to the regular trio - and they didn't disappoint.
"You know what, I have high expectations of myself. I’m probably my hardest critic. Whatever pressure is outside of me, I don’t really worry about it because I know I bring higher expectations than anyone else," said Bergeron. "It’s about finding a way and showing some character, and I thought we did that tonight."
"Everyone has to step up in the playoffs and tonight was my turn to do it for my team."
Heading into the overtime, the Bruins felt the game on their side.
"We knew we had the momentum," said Marchand. "Obviously, we had a great finish to the third there and we had the momentum. It can be a killer when you give up a lead like that and we’ve been there before. We know what it’s like. So we wanted to make sure we jumped on that and came out hard."
"We stayed resilient—I guess that’s what I can say," said Bergeron, before offering up the Bruins' tagline of the night, which sounds oddly familiar to the group early in the regular season that kept putting up wins, despite the nature of the games.
"We found a way."
"Not necessarily the way we would’ve liked to play the whole game, but like I said, we showed some character coming back in the game and we found a way."
At the press conference podium following the series-clinching win, Coach Julien was drained from his "Jekyll and Hyde" club's performance, but he was also proud of their resiliency.
"There was a lot of emotion throughout the whole night and there was a lot of emotion from last night to tonight, a lot of things happening," said Julien, referring to a strange 24 hours that saw the B's grounded in Toronto for the night after their 2-1 defeat, from an airplane malfunction.
"I give my players a lot of credit for handling what happened last night, from the loss to after the game, to getting here today and being able to handle that and push those distractions aside enough to find a way to win a real important hockey game."
For the Bruins now, as one reporter referenced to Lucic, they have somewhat of a new "lease" on the season.
"There’s lots to look forward to and what could have been disastrous here tonight ends up going in our favor and we’ve got to build some momentum off of that," said a brooding, exuberant Lucic. "So, lots to look forward to and just happy to get past this round, which was another tough round, and hopefully we can keep it up."
But before they move on to the New York Rangers Thursday night, the men in the Black & Gold deserve a day or two to let the historic comeback sink in.
"That was unbelievable," said Johnny Boychuk, who had a front-row seat from inside the blueline to the winning goal.
"That’s one thing you’re going to remember probably for the rest of your life, because it was such a comeback that everybody probably thought that we were done. And showed what kind of character there is in this dressing room."
"Never say die, more or less."
The more seems more likely moving forward.
You can watch the highlights again, and again, and again - it's still hard to comprehend.
"I think I’m in shock a little bit," said the 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton. "I just skated around after the game with the fans, and I don’t think they sat during overtime."
When you turn something "unbelievable" into "believable," well, you give the fans a reason to never sit back down.
Lucic, sitting on the bench postgame, looking up at the frenzied crowd of gold rally towels waving and fans chanting "Loooooch," had a few words for the Boston faithful.
"This is for you."
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