Mitch Marner's slender shoulders carry Leafs back to Boston
20-year-old forward and goalie Frederik Andersen Toronto's best players in Game 6 victory
Where would the Toronto Maple Leafs be without Mitch Marner and goalie Fredrik Andersen?
The talented Marner bailed out his teammates with a quick-release, game-winning backhand goal with six minutes and 35 seconds remaining in the second period to push the Maple Leafs to a 3-1 victory at home against the Boston Bruins on Monday. Andersen was once again terrific in goal with 32 saves.
Toronto was being badly outplayed in the second period. But Andersen kept his team in the game and then the 20-year-old Marner beat Boston's Brad Marchand to the puck in the slot, whirled around and deposited a pinpoint backhand off the post and past goalie Tuukka Rask.
The timely goal gave the Maple Leafs a massive lift. They were a much more competitive team the rest of the way.
Marner's game-winner and Andersen's stellar netminding set up a seventh-and-deciding match in Boston on Wednesday, the only first-round series to be stretched to the limit this spring.
The way this series has evolved, with the Maple Leafs overcoming a 3-1 deficit to force a seventh game, is reminiscent of the series between the two clubs in 2013.
We all know how that series ended five years ago, with the Bruins authoring quite the comeback in the third period a few weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing.
Five years later, it is the city of Toronto that is reeling. Ten people were killed and 15 others were injured on Monday afternoon after a van driver plowed into pedestrians along Yonge Street in the North York area of Toronto.
"The world is made for loving each other and making each other better," Marner said in his post-game scrum. "The things that have been happening this last year are unfortunate. We have to stop them some way, somehow.
"It was a big win for us after an emotional day."
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock remarked his team didn't need to hold a team meeting to discuss the tragic event in North Toronto because as soon as the first players arrived in the dressing room to prepare for the game the conversation was dominated by what had happened.
The emotional evening almost didn't end well for Marner. He took a delay-of-game penalty in the late going when, because of his remarkable eye-hand-coordination, he knocked a clearing attempt from his new centre, Tomas Plekanec, out of midair, over the glass and into the seats for a two-minute minor.
But Toronto forward Connor Brown had a wonderful penalty-killing shift and Plekanec had a key shot block. Plekanec then scored into the empty net to give the fans inside and outside the Air Canada Centre some relief.
Last fall, Marner began the season slowly. He looked like a young player who was felled by the dreaded sophomore jinx. He even suffered through a spell on the team's fourth line.
But then he found a spot on the second line alongside Nazem Kadri and veteran Patrick Marleau and took off, finishing the season as the team leader with 69 points. He was especially good when Auston Matthews was out for a month with a shoulder injury near the end of the season.
Marner's production has continued in the playoffs with points in each of his past six outings.
As for Andersen, he surrendered a goal to Jake DeBrusk early in the second period but then buckled down to shut the door. His save percentage in this series is only .909, but in the last two games he has stopped 73 of 77 shots. He even had to shake off a David Backes elbow to the head early in the third period.
"He's been unbelievable," Marner said. "It's not just this series, it's been the whole season. He's been our best player for a long time. He keeps us in a lot of games."
Well, Marner has been pretty good, too.