By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — So, how were you feeling during the second intermission of Wednesday night’s Game 7?
The Boston Bruins certainly could have felt better. In a win-or-go-home game on their own ice, in a game which they led after the first period, in a game when they had allowed just 16 shots on net, they trailed 4-3. They were staring a long, bitter summer in the face if they couldn’t flip the game over the final 20 minutes.
As it turned out, they’d barely need one.
With the two teams skating 4-on-4 after matching minors were assessed to David Krejci and Zach Hyman, the faceoff went to the Toronto end of the ice. Patrice Bergeron — who for once this series was not kicked out of faceoffs — won the draw to his left wing, which was occupied by defenseman Kevan Miller.
Miller twirled and found Torey Krug at the middle of the blue line. Krug didn’t waste a second.
The D-man slapped a one-timer from the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs logo on the TD Garden ice. With Brad Marchand skating past the goaltender for a well-timed screen, Frederik Andersen never had a chance to stop Krug’s missile.
A fired-up Krug skated past the Bruins bench, but Krug’s “Let’s Go!” exhortation was not the first message delivered among Bruins teammates on this night.
It was during that second intermission that Bruins players spoke passionately in their locker room, unhappy with their current situation but unwilling to let their season slip away from them.
“A few things were said. A few guys stepped up. And we went into the third with a different outset, different focus,” team captain Zdeno Chara said, without getting into too much detail. “We were more consistent, and we were driven. I think that was very important for us to go into the third with a different mind-set.”
Chara said he was one of the players who spoke, but when asked to divulge publicly the message he sent to the team, the captain succinctly said, “I’m not going to share that.”
Danton Heinen, who scored midway through the first period to tie the game at 2-2, said the leaders of the team didn’t have to go overboard when delivering their message.
“I think we were pretty calm. The leadership group – Zee, Bergy, [David Backes] – these guys stepped up and kept us calm and said the right things,” Heinen said.
Toronto had played better through 40 minutes, so much so that Leafs coach Mike Babcock admitted that he felt “the game was set up perfect” heading into the third period. But the message in the locker room was clear: That would change over the final 20.
“We knew it was only a one-goal game, so you win a period and it’s either overtime or you win the game. And then we just decided we’re gonna win it,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask, who made just 12 saves on 16 shots through 40 minutes but stopped all eight shots he saw in the third period. “We’re gonna win it — no ifs or buts. We said we’re gonna win it, and we went out there and played like we wanted to win it.”
“Well I think it was on past experiences, really,” Patrice Bergeron said. “This year we’ve done it; we’ve shown some character all year to get back in games and to play the right way in the third and to find a way. And that’s what we said, basically. We said that we believed and that we worked way too hard to this point, and obviously that we needed to execute a little better. I thought the morale was really good and guys were focused to give everything we had.”
No play embodies that spirit better than the one made by rookie winger Jake DeBrusk. He was the one who opened the scoring for the Bruins with a power-play redirection in the first period to tie the game at 1-1. He also exhibited top-level speed on a scoring chance he created in the second period, one which he immediately followed with an aggressive backcheck through the neutral zone.
Clearly, the effort was there from DeBrusk, and it shone through when he took a pass at his own blue line from Krejci with 14:40 left in a tie game. He burst up the right wing, taking it wide around the faceoff circle before getting inside position on Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner. On his edges crashing toward the net and absorbing contact from Gardiner, DeBrusk flipped from his backhand to his forehand and got enough on his shot to muscle it through Andersen’s five-hole.
The goal left Krug a bit taken aback.
“He’s … there’s something inside of him that not many guys have,” Krug said of DeBrusk. “He hounds the puck. he stays on it. We saw it all thruoghout the series, whether it was up in Toronto, that play he made where he’s climbing down the boards and three guys take a run at him and he hits a guy backdoor. It’s … when he wants it, he’s going to get it.”
DeBrusk said the message sent from the team leaders was significant.
“Lots of things. I think we had our leaders talk in the room here, I think they talked about past experiences and how we don’t want to break up this group we have a special group in here,” DeBrusk said. “Just have no doubt and play like our lives depend on it. Obviously you do [that] in a Game 7, but when you’re down going into the third period against a team like that it’s tough to overcome. But character showed through.”
With DeBrusk’s goal, the Bruins had the lead back, and they wouldn’t give it up for the rest of the night. David Pastrnak scored to double the lead, and Marchand did the honors of burying the empty-netter to make the final score look like the game was a laugher.
It may not have been complicated, but a message was hammered home during that second intermission, when a lesser team might have turned the other way. Instead, the Bruins — as they’ve done all year — got to work.
“You’ve gotta just put everything that already happened in a game, those first 40, you’ve just gotta put it behind and go into the last 20 — or possibly 20-plus — with something different. You’re just going to go out there and play, and play with energy, move your legs, start making plays, winning battles, and all that,” Chara said. “It just starts [mentally]. The physical will take over. But I think our mind-set, like I said, was different. We regrouped, refocused, we said a few things going into the third and made sure that we would play the way we can play — the way we showed and proved that we can play.”
As a result, they’ll be the ones advancing to the next round, while the Leafs will be the ones with the long summer spent wondering what could have been.