BOSTON -- Eighty-two seconds from another painful elimination in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the veteran Boston Bruins found a way to rally for one of the most unforgettable victories in the franchise's already proud history on Monday night.
Patrice Bergeron erased a 4-3 deficit at 19:09 of the third period, then scored the game-winning goal at the 6:05 mark of overtime in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs to earn an incredible 5-4 victory and win the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series in the most dramatic of fashions.
Bergeron's winner capped a furious comeback that saw the Bruins score three goals during a nine-minute, 51-second span of the third period to turn a 4-1 deficit into a 4-4 tie -- and eventually into a victory.
Now, the Bruins advance to play the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in a best-of-7 series that begins Thursday night here at TD Garden.
"We stayed resilient—I guess that's what I can say," said Bergeron, who had just one goal in the first six 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 in overtime. We had the momentum, I thought, and our legs were back. It felt good."
For Toronto, it was a thudding crash back to reality after a flight of fancy about a berth in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs had taken hold during a two-goal outburst in the first six minutes of the third turned a 2-1 nail-biter into an ill-fated three-goal lead.
After Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri scored just three minutes and 20 seconds apart, it seemed Toronto's first trip to the postseason since 2004 was going to result in an unexpected second-round berth, as the club was less than 11 minutes from winning three-straight elimination games.
But, it was not meant to be.
"I thought we ran out of gas," said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. "When you build a 4-1 lead you want to check, check, check, and as I said, I thought we just ran out of gas as far as our group."
Nathan Horton began the comeback with 10:42 remaining in the game -- and potentially Boston's season -- before Milan Lucic and Bergeron scored extra-attacker goals 31 seconds apart to complete the third-period fight back that neither club with soon forget.
"Especially when you are down, you do anything you can to give yourself a chance," said Lucic, who was a burr in Toronto's side all night with his tenaciously physical play. "We were finally able to have a clean break out into a rush, which I don't think we had had in there games until Horty's goal.
"It seemed like we started to play more reckless and taking pucks to the net and things like that. It was just like, (forget) it and leave everything on the line and hopefully everything will take care of itself."
Bergeron's tying goal came at the 19:09 mark of the third period when he snapped a seeing-eye wrist shot from the blue line past Toronto goalie James Reimer, who appeared to be screened by Zdeno Chara, the lumbering Boston defender who somehow found himself planted just inches from the crease.
It was a stunning reversal in form for Reimer, who had been so brilliant for the past eight-plus periods, allowing just three goals in 169:18.
That goal was also just a bit of foreshadowing for Bergeron's role as the Boston hero on this night.
With teams hampered by the need to make long changes in the overtime period, the Bruins were able to keep the Maple Leafs' defenders out for an extremely long shift by keeping the puck pinned in the attacking zone. Bergeron took advantage of that fatigue factor by wiggling free from coverage and pouncing on a loose puck, which he calmly threw past Reimer for the most unexpected win.
"I really was happy for him. He's a hard worker, reliable player that we lean on every game, every year," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "I don't think his stats were indicative of his series so far. For him to come up big like that when it really counted, I think is fitting for Patrice Bergeron."
For the Maple Leafs, it was a stunning end to a season with so many highs.
"We gave ourselves a very good chance to win this series, and we gave it away. It's that simple," said Toronto defenseman Cody Franson, who had the busiest of nights. His miscue in the first led directly to the game-opening goal by Boston's Matt Bartowski, but he responded with two goals of his own to start Toronto's run.
"We gave it to them. Like I said, credit to them. They executed when it counted. You give them credit for that, but it was our mistakes that allowed them to generate those chances."
Capitalizing on the chances that Toronto presented during the miraculous rally allowed Boston to fashion a comeback for the ages, one that will join the pantheon of great rallies fashioned by the sports teams in this city, which was headlined by the rally of the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees in which the Red Sox erased a 3-0 series deficit to defeat their arch rival in a stunning Game 7.
"I know everybody in Boston was out of their chairs, either if you're in the stands or at home," Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "It was exciting to be on the ice and watch. So, you can't really describe it. It's kind of like the [Red] Sox there."