Pressure mounts on Bruins, who fail to put away Leafs once again

Mitch Marner scored a goal and added an assist as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Boston Bruins to force Game 7.

TORONTO – The Boston Bruins’ inability to finish on both a small and large scale has put their entire season in peril. And if they don’t punch through on their final chance, they’ll have more than enough material to haunt their dreams all summer.

While it’s extremely tough to dispute the notion that Boston has been the superior team through six games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, all either side cares about at this point is the fact the series — once led 3-1 by the Bruins — is all square now following the Leafs’ 3-1 victory on home ice in Game 6. Boston had a chance to finish Toronto in its own building on Saturday and rather than deliver the knockout blow, it surrendered two goals in the first half of the opening period, creating a hole it could never dig out of.

Game 6 brought another opportunity to bury the Buds and Boston once again failed to take advantage, despite carrying the play for long stretches. Forty-eight hours ago, the Bruins took too long to wake up, the offence only really stirring after the team fell behind 4-1. On Monday night, Boston outshot the Leafs 17-10 in the first period, opened the scoring 1:02 into the second thanks to Jake DeBrusk and still couldn’t find a way to squeeze out a victory in a contest where it basically posted twice as many attempts on goal as its opponents.

“We have to score, is what we have to do different,” said Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. “I don’t think we’re going to overthink this one or the previous one at home. We didn’t play well enough in the first period the other night. Tonight, I thought we played better from start to finish.”

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Fair. The problem, though, is that finding the net has become a much tougher task for the Bruins over the past four periods as Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen has fully regained the form that made him Toronto’s MVP in the regular season. Since the start of Game 5’s third period, Boston has outshot Toronto 53-35, but beaten Andersen just twice. Still, Boston’s shooters swear the big Dane isn’t in their heads.

“He’s making some good saves,” said Bruins left-winger Brad Marchand, who’s been held pointless in his past two outings. “He’s a good goalie, that’s bound to happen.”

So too is Boston’s Tuukka Rask, though he’s been the second-best stopper by a fairly wide margin recently. Rask was yanked in Game 5 after surrendering four goals on 13 shots and while nobody would pin the Game 6 setback on the Finn, Rask simply couldn’t deliver on the same level as Andersen. He really had no chance on the first goal, a rebound deposited by William Nylander after the Leafs had taken advantage of a breakdown in the Boston zone. Mitch Marner’s game-winner, though, was a spin-around backhander Rask might get to on another night instead of seeing it glance off the far post and in.

“He played well,” Cassidy said of his goalie. “You see the other guy making save after save and they come down and don’t spend a lot of time in your end and they score; it’s always discouraging. Yeah, I’d love for him to make that save [on Marner], match [Andersen] save for save, but Tuukka kept us [in it] in the third.”

That meant the game was still there for the taking, even as the Leafs stiffened defensively. “I thought they did a good job defending their house, they were more willing to block shots tonight than maybe earlier in the series,” Cassidy said.

Boston’s best chance of the final 20 may have come off the stick of David Krejci in the form of a power-play one-timer that was denied in the dying minutes of the frame. Had it gone in, who knows, maybe the Bruins would already be elbow deep in Tampa Bay Lighting footage for their second-round series. Instead, they’re face-to-face with the reality that the cushy margin for error they possessed a short time ago has been completely stripped away.

“You can’t think about it,” said centre Patrice Bergeron. “Right now, that’s the position we’re in. We’ve got to be better, we’ve got to find a way, we’ve got to put some more traffic [in front of Andersen], find a way to get those goals. It’s all about the next game. Bottom line, we need to be better as a team and we need to step up.”

Hosting the Leafs for a Game 7 will of course trigger all kinds of talk about what happened the last time these two hooked up in a Massachusetts-based, winner-take-all showdown five years ago. Those tales tend to focus on Boston’s miraculous comeback. It should be remembered, though, that the last-minute heroics wouldn’t have been necessary had the Bruins not frittered away a 3-1 series lead in that matchup, too.

Since going to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final the year they crushed the Leafs’ dreams, the Bruins have just one series victory, a first-rounder in 2014. Yes, this remains a team chalked full of seen-it-all players — they won three Game 7s in 2011 on route to a championship — but whether you’re talking about the past two days or the past four years, surely some pressure is mounting.

“It’s tough given the position we’re in, but we’re going to look forward to the next game,” Marchand said. “It’s all we can control, same with them. Whatever has happened the last six games really doesn’t mean anything.”

That’s only true if you win Game 7.

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