History repeats itself as Leafs eliminated by Bruins yet again
Toronto knocked off by Boston for 3rd time in 7 years
Standing in the same locker room, in the same building, the Toronto Maple Leafs had the same feeling.
Emptiness after another Game 7 loss to a team that has become their unsolvable playoff riddle.
Tuukka Rask made 32 saves as the Boston Bruins downed the Leafs 5-1 on Tuesday to win their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal 4-3.
The post-season script was slightly different this time for Toronto, but in the end no less heartbreaking.
There weren't any record-setting comebacks by the home side — hallmarks of Boston's two previous Game 7 victories over the Leafs at TD Garden — just a sense Toronto had missed a huge opportunity to take a massive step forward in an already-crazy spring that has seen many of the NHL's titans fall by the wayside.
WATCH | Bruins trounce Leafs in Game 7 again:
"You get so used to just being in it every day, competing and keep finding ways to get better and keep pushing forward," said Leafs centre John Tavares, who scored his team's only goal. "It's still sinking in that we won't be doing that.
"That's the hardest part."
Bruins to face Blue Jackets
Sean Kuraly and Joakim Nordstrom, with a goal and an assist each, and Marcus Johansson scored for Boston as the Bruins got production from their third and fourth lines before Charlie Coyle and Patrice Bergeron added one each into an empty net.
Frederik Andersen made 27 stops for the Leafs.
"It was a pretty hard-fought game," Boston captain Zdeno Chara said. "You have to give Toronto a lot of credit. They played hard."
The Bruins also took the Leafs down 7-4 last spring, becoming the first team in NHL history to battle back from three deficits of at least one goal to win a Game 7 in regulation.
"It's the same [crappy] feeling," Toronto winger Mitch Marner said.
That defeat came five years after the Bruins' 5-4 overtime victory in 2013 — the first time a team had won a Game 7 after trailing by three goals in the third period.
This crushing result is another blow to the Leafs, a franchise that's failed to advance to the second round of the playoffs since 2004 and hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1967.
The Bruins will now take on the Columbus Blue Jackets after the conference's eighth seed swept the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. That series gets underway Thursday at TD Garden.
"It's sad to see it end the way it did," Leafs centre Auston Matthews said. "This is a feeling we've experienced two years in a row.
"It's not a good feeling for any of us."
Toronto was also Canada's last hope of ending a 26-year Cup drought following the elimination of both the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.
The series was a back-and-forth slugfest featuring razor-thin margins. Neither team managed to put together consecutive victories until the Bruins won 4-2 in Game 6 on Sunday to stave off elimination in Toronto before taking Tuesday's winner-take-all showdown.
The Leafs had a chance to grab a 3-1 lead at home in Game 4 and wrap things up at Scotiabank Arena over the weekend, but failed on both accounts.
"It sucks," Marner said. "We believe in this team, we had a lot of confidence in this team.
"When the season ends early, it sucks."
Toronto actually started OK on Tuesday after enduring an early Boston flurry. Rask stopped a Matthews one-timer and two quick Marner shots before the roof caved in.
Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott turned the puck over on a clearing attempt, with it eventually falling to Nordstrom, who squeezed his second of the series between Andersen's glove and pad on the shortside with 5:31 left in the first.
Jake Gardiner — Dermott's blue-line partner — then inexplicably played a pass off the boards behind his own net to no one in particular. It was quickly scooped up by Johansson, and he wheeled out in front before beating Andersen on a shot off the far post for his first with 2:14 remaining in the period.
Gardiner, who missed a chunk of the second half of the season with a back injury, was an ugly minus-5 in last spring's Game 7 loss to Boston, falling on his sword and taking more than his share of the blame in an emotional exchange with reporters as the cameras rolled.
The 28-year-old, who didn't speak to the media and along with Dermott finished minus-3, might have played his final game for Toronto with unrestricted free agency looming July 1.
Despite the criticism he's received from pockets of fans throughout his career, Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly hopes that isn't the case.
"He's a really good player," Rielly said. "We want him back next year so that's that."
After falling behind 2-0, the Leafs responded well to open the second period. Tyler Ennis separated John Moore from the puck along the boards and found Tavares, who buried his second beyond Rask's blocker at 3:54.
Power play fizzles out
Toronto kept coming with a number of chances, but Rask held the visitors at bay.
A Leafs' power play that was just 3 for 14 coming into Game 7 got an opportunity midway through the period, but despite a wrinkle that saw Matthews and Marner switch sides, was unable to connect.
The Bruins came with a push to start the third, and Kuraly made Toronto pay when he beat Andersen at 2:40 with his first of the playoffs on a shot the Leafs goalie will want back.
Toronto got its second power play five minutes into the third, but couldn't do anything with the man advantage.
TD Garden then roared its approval as the minutes ticked down towards another Game 7 victory for the Bruins over their rivals before Coyle and Bergeron sealed it late.
"It's got to stay with us," Marner said of the emotions of the moment. "We've got to be hungry for this next year ... make sure we come back pissed off."