BOSTON — Claude Julien stood in front of the media following Game 6 and spoke about his team as a “Jekyll and Hyde hockey club,” saying he hoped the good Bruins would show up in Game 7.
For a good 50 minutes or so, hoping was not good enough, and neither were the Bruins. The B’s found themselves improbably down 4-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the first round. Another early exit and another blown series lead seemed all but certain.
The Bruins’ 2013 obituary was done, and all that was needed was time of death. Bleak didn’t even begin to describe it.
But then the most improbable thing happened, and all it took was one goal. Then things got weird.
Nathan Horton scored at the 9:18 mark, and at the time, all that goal seemed to do was ensure that Phil Kessel‘s goal — Toronto’s third goal of the game — would be the game-winner. It was poetic, perhaps, but certainly not a sign the Bruins would come back.
“Honestly, I knew we had what it took to come back, we just needed that one goal,” goalie Tuukka Rask said. “It was dead out there a bit after the 4-1 goal. I knew if we got one goal, then we might get another one, and then who knows what happens.”
“Honestly, even though it’s not a good feeling, I thought the guys stayed with it, stayed on the task at hand,” Patrice Bergeron added.
While the goal may have given the Bruins some temporary hope, they still found themselves on life support with less than two to play. Rask was pulled for the extra skater with the Bruins almost out of time and certainly out of hope.
Then, Milan Lucic scored with 1:32 to play — a stat-padding goal if nothing else.
But then, just a few seconds later, all hockey hell broke loose, with the hockey gods clearly smiling on the Bruins. With just 50.5 seconds to play in the 2013 season, Bergeron breathed playoff life back into the Bruins. Bergeron scored — thanks in large part to a large screen from Zdeno Chara, and TD Garden nearly had its lid blown off.
“That was unbelievable,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “That’s one thing you’re going to remember probably for the rest of your life, because it was such a comeback that everybody probably thought that we were done and showed what kind of character there is in this dressing. Never say die, more or less.”
Improbably, thanks to three goals in less than 11 minutes, the Bruins had tied the game. Last rites were quickly rescinded, and it was time for overtime. In Game 7.
While some might have looked at the 18 minutes between the third period and overtime as the third intermission, it was really the “first party” of the evening. The 17,565 — or the ones that didn’t sheepishly abandon hope and leave — stood as one. They also came together to sing as one. It was not unlike the moving national anthem performances following the Boston Marathon, but then again, it was completely different. This time around, it was a party, a karaoke concert with tunes like “Living on a Prayer” and “Don’t Stop Believing” echoing around the walls of the barn on Causeway.
However, the Bruins weren’t done yet. The comeback would have been a nice story, no doubt, the Bergeron goal a moment that would never be forgotten, but it would all serve as a footnote if the Bruins didn’t win it in overtime.
“It’s do or die,” Rask said. “Either you’re a hero or an [expletive].”
It took 6 minutes and 5 seconds of hair-raising, fist-clenching madness. Frantic play back and forth, up and down the ice with two teams who were gassed. Just like that, helter-skelter hockey seemed to stand still for a second, just long enough for Bergeron to jump on a James Reimer rebound (of course) and produce one of the franchise’s marquee moments.
A sea of black and gold spilled onto the ice. A team that had been dead an hour earlier, had somehow survived. Bergeron was mobbed by his teammates, a celebration that lasted just a few moments must have felt like a few hours for the Leafs.
“I think my hearing it was about to … I was about to go deaf there,” Rask said. “It’s something you don’t experience too often in hockey and it was just fantastic.”
This is the way it goes for Jekyll and Hyde’s favorite team. The Bruins, especially under Julien, have never made it easy on themselves. With a seemingly insurmountable difference to erase and only a couple of minutes to do so, there were some who even wondered if the Julien era was in its final days.
But once again, as it did in 2011, the team’s undeniable character won the seemingly never-ending game of tug-of-war with the club’s inconsistency.
“They certainly keep you in check,” a drained Julien said after the game. “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, and we make it tough on ourselves.
“We’re being honest here, not being able to close it in Game 5; we’ve had trouble. We’ve always had trouble with the killer instinct. But that’s maybe a fault of ours, but a strength of ours is the character you saw tonight. There’s that fault, and then there’s that character. 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.”
For one crazy night, however, it all worked out just fine.
Photo via Twitter/@mattpep15