Bruins on the Brink of Reliving a Nightmare After Game 6 Loss to Maple Leafs

TORONTO, ON - MAY 2: William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs scores a goal against Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins during the third period in Game Six of the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on May 2, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

After Game 4 in Toronto, Bruins captain Brad Marchand was adamant about how last season’s disappointment in blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Florida Panthers had no bearing on this year’s team because, as he said, it’s an all-new group and that their only focus was the next day and being ready for that. It was all about living in the moment and doing what’s right for right now.

Three days later, the Bruins lost Game 5 to Toronto 2-1 in overtime. Two days after that on Thursday night, the Maple Leafs took Game 6 2-1 to force a Game 7.

History has a way of repeating itself, but watching it unfold like this in back-to-back seasons is the kind of thing that can drive a team mad. Watching the Maple Leafs smother and shut down Marchand and regular-season leading scorer David Pastrňák has the Bruins staring long and hard at another potential early playoff exit.

“Your best players need to be your best players this time of year,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said following Game 6. “I think the effort is tremendous. They need to come through with some big-time plays in big-time moments. Marchand has done that in the series, Pasta needs to step up.”

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“Pasta needs to step up.”

Jim Montgomery on Pastrnak needing to come through in big time moments.

The tactic of calling out, arguably, the team MVP right now might seem like Montgomery is throwing his job on the line. It also could look like a desperate move from a coach hoping to not become the leader of a team to lose a series in back-to-back seasons in which they held a 3-1 advantage.

It’s a frightening possibility for the Bruins and one in which the Maple Leafs relish the chance to get the negativity microscope shifted away from them at last.

“I think everyone is frustrated over there,” Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bertuzzi said.

Bertuzzi would know what that’s all about since he was on that Bruins team. Boston is trying to maintain its focus, knowing full well what it’s like to lose a Game 7 on home ice. They’ve been through it, they know what the pain feels like, and there’s no doubt they don’t want to go through that again, different group or not.

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“I think everyone’s frustrated over there.”

Tyler Bertuzzi on the Bruins after Game 6.

After coming back from down 3-1 to force a Game 7 this year, the Maple Leafs have gotten some practice at saving their own skin. Only this time on Saturday night, they’re dragging the Bruins into the pit with them.

“In my mind, we just played two game sevens,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It’s an elimination game…it feels like what we’ve just gone through where every single play matters…For the first time now we’ll go into Boston and everything’s all the same in terms of both teams facing elimination.”

Since Game 4, the Leafs have made life miserable for the Bruins. The Maple Leafs’ defense has stiffened up and since they switched to goalie Joseph Woll, Toronto has snuffed out more of Boston’s high-quality opportunities. The difference is more than noticeable.

“(Woll) hasn’t made mistakes, you know,” Keefe said. “Because of that, we’ve stayed in games. Nothing’s gone in that shouldn’t have. So, it’s given our group confidence, and we need that right now.”

The Maple Leafs playing with confidence, speed, and proper tact is something we saw out of Boston in the first four games of this series. Now that the roles have switched, the results are playing out as you’d think they would. The Bruins have had miserable first periods in the past two games and getting off to a bad start is a good way to make the game miserable for yourselves.

“It’s unacceptable, our start again,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to find a way to start on time and we’ve just got to be better. Toronto, starting on time, they’re getting the advantage and getting the momentum. I thought the last 30 minutes we pushed back really well, but it shouldn’t take that long.”

Coach Jim Montgomery and the Bruins face a do-or-die Game 7.

Coach Jim Montgomery and the Bruins face a do-or-die Game 7.
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Bruins gave the Leafs fits with their forecheck early in the series, but they weren’t staring into the abyss in those games. Toronto has and they’ve used that as motivation. Maple Leafs players said they found their games because they had nothing to lose.

It’s a funny way to look at things while being on the brink of being bounced out of the postseason. It’s the mentality the Bruins will need to tap into unless they want to be haunted by last year’s collapse and do it all over again.

“We’re not living in the past, we’re not living in the future either,” Montgomery said. “We’re living in the present. Right now, we’re not happy with our game. We’re going to get ready for Game 7 starting tomorrow.”

The past is brutal for the Bruins and the present is ominous, but the future if they drop Game 7 once again could be downright horrifying.

After all, another blown 3-1 lead could lead to massive changes for a team that’s already likely looking at a summer that could see them trade goalie Linus Ullmark and potentially lose forward Jake DeBrusk to free agency. Delaying those hard conversations would be ideal, but Toronto is also trying to delay similar conversations about Keefe’s future as well as potentially that of Mitch Marner.

No one wants to have postseason discussions before the season is over, but for one of these teams, playoff pain will linger achingly into the summer and beyond.

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