And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why we watch hockey.
The Boston Bruins victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night epitomized everything that makes hockey the single most entertaining sport on the planet. Though conspicuously void of fisticuffs, there was plenty of hard hitting, naughty words and blood…
…from dazzling stick work, blazing speed and blood to brutal board battles and impossible saves – and did we mention blood? – if you weren’t thoroughly entertained by this epic battle, then you don’t like hockey.
And in the end of game four of this Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Bruins looked like something out of an old Jim Croce song, but even though they looked like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone, the 4-3 overtime win at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto made all of those stitches and bumps and bruises hurt a little less.
David Krejci scored from point blank range with just under seven minutes remaining in the first overtime period capping a comeback from two goals down at the end of the opening frame, completing Krejci’s second career playoff hat trick and giving the Bruins a perhaps insurmountable three games to one lead in their best of seven series, which now shifts back to Boston for Friday night’s Game 5.
Milan Lucic was bleeding when he staggered off the ice at the end of the 1st period, his Boston Bruins facing a 2-0 deficit at the hands of a hard hitting Toronto Maple Leafs team that had controlled the entire period with physicality and superior speed.
Joffrey Lupul and Cody Franson scored easy goals in the period, Lupul and Phil Kessel executing a textbook give and go, Lupul giving up the puck to Kessel who curled around the back of the goal and fed the puck back to Lupul who defeated a shocked Boston Goalteander Tukka Rask with only two and half minutes gone in the frame – then Franson took advantage of a screened Rask to fire a rocket into the net with under two minutes to play before intermission.
Little did the Leafs or their rabid, noisy fans know at the time, but the Bruins had them right where they wanted them.
Thanks to a charging penalty on Leo Komorov, the Bruins would start the second period on the power play – and they took all of 30 seconds to take advantage.
Patrice Bergeron snapped in the rebound of a Zdeno Chara shot from the high point to make the score 2-1, then Krejci crashed the net and poked in a fluttering puck behind Leafs’ netminder James Reimer to tie the score at 2-2. Just over three minutes later the Bruins got their first lead, Krejci winding up and firing a shot past Reimer from the left circle and a 3-2 Bruins lead…
…that lasted all of 44 seconds, Toronto’s Clarke MacArthur finding the back of the net with a slap shot from point blank.
The third period was a blur, both stoppers besieged by a volley of wicked wristers as the action went quickly from end to end – and both were clutch, making sprawling saves – Rask stopping all 14 shots he faced in the period while Reimer turned away nine…
….and Krejci’s game winner was just a means to an end, something that had to happen sooner or later, but until 13:06 of overtime the game was anyone’s – it was a heavyweight fight, with a cut man busily sewing up casualties in each corner.
Lucic received a few stitches during the first intermission and returned for the second period. Johnny Boychuck had some leg issues in the second but reurned for his next shift after spending a few minutes in the locker room, then in the third Chris Kelly took a nasty gash under his right eye from the stick of Nazem Kadri and Toronto’s Mark Fraser took a Lucic slap shot to the forehead…all players left the ice bleeding, and all returned with the exception of Fraser.
So both teams are hurting heading into Game 5 on Friday night at TD Garden, but the Bruins are buoyed by the knowledge that they can close out the brutish Leafs with a win and give themselves a chance to rest and recover – and the Leafs will just try to delay the inevitable.
A win in Boston on Friday night to force a game 6 back in Toronto would make things a little more interesting – and downright uncomfortable for the Bruins and their fans, as they know from first hand experience that the physical Leafs are fully capable of skating with the more experienced Bruins…
…but if Boston skates, hits and scores on Friday night in Boston like they did on Wednesday night in Toronto, they can move on with the knowedge that they just earned a trip to the conference semifinals over a Maple Leafs team whose time will eventually come – and probably faster than anyone in Boston is comfortable thinking about.