BOSTON – Larry Tanenbaum raised a hand to his chest while snaking through the crowd outside the visitor’s dressing room at TD Garden.
“My heart,” said the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
One could surmise it was beating steadily on Saturday night while the roof was caving in on his Toronto Maple Leafs. Ahead 4-1 in this building and facing possible elimination, the hockey Gods appeared to be playing a cruel joke when the Boston Bruins snapped back to life.
It would not have been a surprise to see another Leafs season end here.
Not with the way the Bruins top line was creating chances. Not with how gassed Toronto’s best defensive players were on a night where they took seven minor penalties. Not with the 29-8 advantage in even-strength shot attempts Boston racked up in the third period alone.
“We just survived,” said veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey, while chewing on a piece of pizza after the horn sounded on a 4-3 Toronto win.
On now to Game 6 at Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs must win again Monday just to get the chance to come back here and do it all over again. They still have a steep hill to climb against an elite hockey team.
It took everything they had just to get through this one.
They built a 2-0 lead on goals from reshaped lines – first Auston Matthews created a rebound that Connor Brown batted home and then Nazem Kadri slid a delicate pass through to rookie Andreas Johnsson – before the Bruins really got skating.
A huge shift in momentum arrived when David Backes got a member’s bounce off the stanchion to score on a Boston power play in the second period, only to see Tyler Bozak counter on the very next shift. His goal came after a great outlet play by Kasperi Kapanen and a nice setup from Morgan Rielly and was scored against the lethal Patrice Bergeron line.
We’ve all seen this movie before.
Toronto was taking all kinds of penalties and slowly retreating into a shell. Hainsey wound up playing more than 26 minutes in total, including 3:22 of the final 4:35. He also handled virtually all of the penalty-killing duty, something he’s done frequently this season but described as “not ideal” while standing on heavy legs in the dressing room.
“It was not pretty,” said Hainsey. “Way too many penalties, obviously. Way too much time in our own end once we got the 4-1 lead, but we held on. Freddie [Andersen] was great.”
It’s safe to say they wouldn’t have left here victorious without a bounce-back game from the quiet Dane. He absolutely robbed David Pastrnak in the third period – just as he did in a Game 3 victory – and benefitted from a couple posts.
There were an alarming number of scoring chances for Andersen to contend with. No wonder hearts were racing.
If the Leafs are going to somehow win this series, they need to find an answer for the line of Pastrnak, Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Bergeron certainly looked no worse for wear after sitting out Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury – he finished Game 5 having controlled 80.65 per cent of even-strength shot attempts.
At least Leafs coach Mike Babcock will have the option of calling on Kadri for that matchup with last line change, after missing him for the previous home dates because of suspension. He may also go back to Tomas Plekanec, who fared decently there after getting bumped up the lineup while Kadri was out.
The way things have gone, Toronto should feel fortunate to have another game to play.
Babcock lamented how the penalty differential impacted the flow of his bench – causing the likes of William Nylander (12:31), Mitch Marner (15:05), Matthews (15:25) and Travis Dermott (9:36) to each see a huge dip in ice time while Boston enjoyed a 7-1 advantage in power plays.
That left Hainsey and Roman Polak to grind their way to the finish as Boston pressed hard for the tying goal.
“The hardest part for us was we couldn’t get anybody on the ice, they just sat there and froze to death,” said Babcock. “Half the group was dying and half the group was freezing.”
“It’s playoff hockey and it doesn’t matter how you do it – if it’s not pretty,” said Zach Hyman. “We just got the win. It’s a hard building to win in and we got a big road win.”
They dodged a bullet here, no doubt. Their collective hearts continue to beat.