Bruins pull off epic turnaround

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins made history -- again.

The past few years this team has been on both sides of the historical spectrum. It's been devastated by defeat in 2010, when it blew a 3-0 series lead, and rose to glory with a Stanley Cup championship in 2011. Boston was a favorite to possibly repeat a season ago, but lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That seemed inevitable again this season, as the Toronto Maple Leafs staved off elimination twice in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series and forced a Game 7. The Bruins trailed 4-1 midway through the third period, and their season was on the brink.

But Boston never stopped and mounted one of the greatest comebacks in NHL history.

In fact, it was the first time a team has overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period of a Game 7 in Stanley Cup playoff history, and fortunately for the Bruins, they were on the winning end.

When Patrice Bergeron scored the winning goal at 6:05 of overtime, the fans remaining in the building had witnessed one of the most dramatic comebacks in Stanley Cup playoff history. It was pure bedlam. It had the feel of what the Garden would have been like had the Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup on home ice instead of hoisting it in Vancouver.

It's almost hard to believe that image, given the fact that this is only the first round of the playoffs, but with the team's inconsistent play and the having lost a chance to eliminate the Maple Leafs when Boston had a 3-1 series lead, this comeback will be remembered for the ages.

"It's one of the craziest ones I've been a part of," Bergeron said. "We stayed resilient. We found a way. Not necessarily the way we would've liked to play the whole game, but we showed some character coming back in the game, and we found a way in overtime. We had the momentum and our legs back. It felt good."

Because the Bruins lost Games 5 and 6, and it appeared that Game 7 would end in defeat too, some thoughts had turned to the changes the organization might make this offseason to its personnel, including the coaching staff and roster. Those thoughts weren't only being considered by the media and fan base; they were on the players' minds, too.

"You're looking at the clock with time winding down with half a period left at 4-1, you start thinking to yourself, 'Is this the end of this group here?' because it probably would have been if we didn't win this game," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "But you've got to have bounces, you've got to have luck, you've got to have everything go your way, and that's what happened in the last 10 minutes of the third period."

A comment like that, given the team's situation all season, is a true testament to just how inconsistent the Bruins have been, that it got to a point where that sense was present on the Bruins' bench.

"You guys know what it's been like here for the last two years since we won," Lucic said. "Like [coach Claude Julien] said, it's been like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of team. He said that after yesterday's game, and it was no different in tonight's game.

"It's a special group, and we don't want it to change. Everyone has a lot of fun coming to the rink and being around each other and playing for each other. We need to keep stepping it up and hopefully push for another good run here, because the Rangers [the second-round opponent] are going to be just as hard or even better."

That Jekyll-and-Hyde persona has been present all season, especially in this series. Julien made that statement after the Game 5 loss in Boston and followed it up again after Game 6.

Even before Game 7, Julien's future with this team was a topic of discussion. If the team lost, should he keep his job? Could he still motivate this team and its players? He was asked after the win what he thought about this team giving itself a stay of execution.

"Well, they certainly keep you in check," Julien said with a sigh. "I'm a tired coach, I can tell you that much, trying to really find a way to get these guys to give us what we want out of them. We make it tough on ourselves, and we're being honest here, not being able to close it in Game 5, we've always had trouble with that killer instinct.

"That's maybe a fault of ours, but the strengths of ours is the character you saw tonight. There's that fault and there's that character, and somewhere along the way you try to fix the faults and hopefully keep that character going. That's the biggest challenge for me right now."

Another major aspect of this series was the play of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. He answered the critics with his solid play during the regular season, but questions remained as to whether he could be the same kind of playoff goaltender as his predecessor, Tim Thomas, who led Boston to the Cup title in 2011.

While the Bruins played inconsistently against the Maple Leafs, Rask did his job every night, including Game 7. When he needed to make the timely saves, he was there.

After the victory, he gave his teammates all the credit for the historic victory.

"I've always felt the same way: If we play as good as we can, as we've shown in the past, we're good enough to beat anybody," Rask said. "Then again, if we're not playing at our level, and not everybody is pulling the load, it's kind of frustrating for everybody, and the management, too, to watch.

"At times this series, it was frustrating to watch because we couldn't create anything and we just got scored on, but then again, a comeback like this I'm sure builds confidence and trust for everyone."

It was a tense moment for Rask, who stood on the bench for the final two minutes as his teammates tried to complete the comeback, which they did by scoring two goals with the extra attacker on the ice.

"You just cross your fingers and hope for the best," Rask said. "We managed the puck, we weren't rushing the plays, we were making good passes, and when we had a chance we took the shot, and it paid off."

That it did.

And in overtime, when Bergeron scored, the Bruins proved to themselves, despite all their inadequacies during this series, they are still a team built to succeed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This moment, this game could be just what the Bruins need to realize their potential.

"That was an unbelievable feeling," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "It looked pretty bad there for a little while, but it showed the character of our team, and it shows what playoffs are like and you can't quit, not even if you're up for a few goals. Guys did a great job tonight.

"It's huge. You look at Game 7 a few years ago against Montreal, being down 2-0 and coming back and winning in overtime. It really gives your team a lot of confidence. It gives you the opportunity to know that we can carry this thing the whole way. We've got a great team in here, but we know there are a lot of great teams in this league, and we have to prepare for the next battle."

And that battle will be against a fellow Original Six member, the New York Rangers, beginning Thursday at TD Garden.

The Boston Bruins were undermanned. They were on the ropes, but the Bruins proved to be Boston Strong.