By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty
When a Boston-Toronto matchup comes to fruition in the playoffs, it is sure to be a battle — the last two, and now three playoff matchups between the two teams are indicative of that. For the third time in the past six seasons, the Bruins came out victorious in seven games over the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t a squeaky clean series from the Bruins, but they found a way to get it done in the end. Sure, the reasons I state aren’t the only reasons the Bruins prevailed, but they are important ones.
Deadline additions come in clutch
The acquisitions of Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson were orchestrated by Don Sweeney at deadline time. Coyle didn’t light up the score sheet as a Bruin post-trade deadline, but really helped a third line that saw ebbs and flows throughout the season.
Coyle broke out in the first round, big time. With three goals and an assist, his four points were good for fifth on the team in scoring. The stability of his presence on the third line never faded, and his ability to score and push the pace in all three zones really came through and was paramount in the team’s success. His empty netter last night sealed the deal on the series, but his lone assist of the series in the team’s game four wins was a huge one. Coyle’s importance can’t be overstated.
Despite only playing in five of the seven games, Marcus Johansson made an impact as well. Overall, he had a solid series, but he really came through last night with a huge goal to give the Bruins a two-goal lead. Not to mention a big blocked shot late in the second period of an eventual game four win — the Bruins were up by two goals at the time.
The fourth line came up big when it mattered most
Overall this season, the fourth line has seen its share of ebbs and flows, like the third line. They really got a boost when known buzzsaw Sean Kuraly returned from injury in game five. At times, the fourth line looked pretty rough, but they saw a resurgence when Kuraly’s presence and high-energy style was at its peak.
The bottom line’s most notable performance, with Nordstrom, Kuraly, and Acciari making up the line, came in game seven. In combining for two goals and three assists in the game, the fourth line pushed the pace and put the Bruins over the top to win when it all came down to it. Big-time players make big-time plays.
Tuukka Rask, plain and simple
Tuukka Rask was phenomenal in the first round, and has been for much of the season as a whole. He wasn’t perfect, but he made crucial saves when they were needed most in the end. After the game last night, Rask hinted at being his changed workload in the regular season helping, and he sure gave us a glimpse. Credit can certainly be given to the Bruins’ coaching staff and Jaroslav Halak for this, additionally. Rask finished this series with a 4-3 record, 2.31 GAA, and a .928 save percentage. Here’s arguably the best save he made, if you somehow haven’t seen it already.
Brandon Carlo was consistently excellent
A first playoff rodeo didn’t intimidate Brandon Carlo. Injuries in year’s past robbed him at a chance to show what he could do in the playoffs — this year, he got his shot.
In doing so, Carlo gave anyone watching a real glimpse of how much of a legitimate shutdown defenseman and leader he can be. Everything viewers could have expected and then some. He was the team’s best defenseman and got the recognition he deserved from media. Have a gander at this short thread for some more perspective, in a game six sample size.
Resilience shined through
Individual performances obviously shined through, but so did the resilience of this Bruins team as a whole. They had their backs against the wall after a game five loss with a game six in a hostile Toronto environment on the docket. They battled to win an extremely stressful game six, get back to home ice, and clinch the series on home ice.
Game six saw the Bruins down a goal in the first thanks to Morgan Reilly, but they battled back to eventually win 4-2. Scoring the first goal can often be crippling, especially in a must-win game — not this time.
Speaking of scoring the first goal, Nordstrom helped in that regard last night and the Bruins didn’t fall behind once, despite a dominant second period from Toronto. That resilience that was so huge in their success was huge in the end.
Also, I feel obligated to mention the fact that the camaraderie between Boston sports teams is something special. Most recently with Julian Edelman going crazy at the Garden last night, we also saw members of the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens, and prominent Patriots players like Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady, and James White, amongst others showing their support. All of this that we have seen recently, as well as over the years is too cool not to mention, and the players do appreciate it.
As I said, the importance of the Bruins’ stars and other players who didn’t get a mention in this discussion, obviously contributed to the team’s success as well. The lack of a mention isn’t meant to discredit them. But, these were the factors that stuck out to me the most. It was an epic series, and now the Bruins are on to Columbus.