On a night that saw Toronto fall short with a chance to close out their first-round clash, the Boston Bruins forced a Game 7. Seems like a bad omen for the blue and white, but thankfully for the Maple Leafs faithful, the B’s resilient comeback came not against the Canadian club, but against the Canes.
For the sixth straight game, the Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes came together for a shellacking, Boston’s win on Thursday night marking the fifth time through these six games that the winning team’s put up a five-spot.
Another constant through this series so far: the ongoing battle between Brad Marchand (slash Boston in general) and Tony DeAngelo.
In the first minute of the second period of Game 6, Marchand got the better of the Canes defender once again, DeAngelo opening up a lane with a badly-timed change, and the Bruins exploiting it with a crucial goal from Marchand. It marked the first time this series that the B’s have managed to get the first goal of the game. Carolina couldn’t recover, the Bruins never relinquishing their lead from there and eventually finishing the night with a 5-2 win.
And who else would it be for Boston?
Marchand’s goal in Game 6 was his 10th scored in a game where the Bruins faced elimination, now a franchise record for the Original Six club. Simply put, no other Bruin's been as clutch when the team's season is on the line. It was also the 49th playoff goal of his career, putting him level with longtime linemate Patrice Bergeron for second-most in team history, just a handful behind all-time leader Cam Neely.
It’s an opportunity missed for Rod Brind’Amour’s side. But considering how the pendulum of this series has swung so far, the Canes seem to have a decent enough chance to close it out — through each of the first six games, the home side’s won every time. Game 7 goes Saturday in Raleigh.
Coming into this series, the Wild might’ve seemed to have the edge, the club finishing with the better regular-season record, and housing the best player in this first-round matchup: Kirill Kaprizov, who finished the year with the fifth-most goals (47) and points (108) in the league.
But these Blues entered the spring with the look of a team that could make more noise than most had them pegged for, bringing a combination of veteran pieces that helped them lift silver a few years back and a new identity grounded in a high-octane offence.
These aren’t the Blues we used to know. In 2019, when they reached that Cup summit, St. Louis entered the post-season with the second-fewest goals per game in the league. This time around, they entered with the third-most. That's held up in the playoffs, the Blues finishing their first series with the fifth-most goals per game among the 16 teams battling it out so far.
Full credit goes to GM Doug Armstrong for knowing what exactly his team needed heading into the post-season, too.
Looking to shore up the left side of his blue line, Armstrong went out and added veteran defender Nick Leddy in a five-piece deal in March. On Thursday night, in the most important game of their season so far, that move came up clutch when Leddy picked up the puck in his own zone late in the first period, cruised up ice calmly, and fired one from the top of the left circle to break the deadlock, giving St. Louis an early 1-0 lead.
All-time, the Blues are 22-8 when they score first in a series-clinching game. They added to that total Thursday night, as they went on to roll over the Wild 5-1.
The Blues’ big boys have been crucial throughout this series, too. With five goals apiece through the first-round bout, Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko and David Perron became the first trio of teammates to record five-plus goals in one series since 1991, when the Montreal Canadiens had three players achieve the feat.
But the path ahead gets much tougher now, with the well-rested Colorado Avalanche up next.
MCAVOY, LINDHOLM MAKE THEIR MARK
It’s been a tumultuous series for the Bruins' top defence pair, Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm.
Between some up and down performances, a brutal check that took Lindholm out of the series early, and a bout with COVID-19 protocols that removed McAvoy for a spell as well, it’s been a whirlwind for head coach Bruce Cassidy’s blue line.
But Thursday night, it all seemed to line up when the team needed it most.
Cleared to make his return, Lindholm looked excellent for the black and gold, playing over 24 minutes and bringing some poise to the club’s power play, which tallied early to help build up the B’s lead in the second period. Count him as another crucial deadline pickup coming up big in these playoffs.
“He’s been such a great player for us,” Boston’s Charlie Coyle said of Lindholm post-game. “Just how poised he is with the puck, the way he can shield. Break out, enter their zone and transition that way, make those plays. He makes some plays where you’re sitting on the bench and you don’t even see it. He sees it while he’s got the puck on his stick and bodies in front of him. He makes it look easy.”
McAvoy, too, was flying.
After returning to the lineup last game, only to see his club get rolled and put themselves on the ropes, No. 73 was all over the ice in this one, throwing his weight around (including a controversial hit on Carolina’s Sebastian Aho) and making a fantastic play on the eventual game-winner:
GAME 7s FOR EVERYONE
The 2021 post-season saw two first-round series hit the seven-game mark. This year’s playoffs have already surpassed that, with Tampa Bay, Boston and Edmonton all forcing Game 7s on Thursday night.
And we’re not even done yet. With Flames-Stars, Panthers-Capitals and Penguins-Rangers all currently sitting at 3-2, we could still see three more potential Game 7s coming our way before this first round is said and done.
If Dallas, Washington and New York do manage to pull out the type of theatrics Thursday night’s squads did, the 2022 playoffs could match an NHL record for do-or-die tilts: The most Game 7s ever seen in one playoff round was six, back in 1992 — that was also the last time any round saw five more Game 7s.
If even one of those next three teams forces a Game 7, we’re still looking at one of the most thrilling rounds in over a decade, as the 2011 playoffs were the last to feature four Game 7 clashes.
Bring on the fireworks.