An entertaining tilt between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs turned into a crazy affair during the final 20-plus minutes.
For the second straight meeting, the Leafs bounced back from a 2-0 deficit against the Bruins after Max Domi notched Toronto’s first third-period equalizer 2:11 in for his first goal of the season. The following events turned a high-quality Hockey Night in Canada tilt into one of the more chaotic endings of the season.
Trent Frederic took advantage of a bounce on Derek Forbort’s initial shot attempt to give Boston a 3-2 lead with 6:50 left in regulation.
With the Toronto net empty, the final minute presented yet another set of challenges for Jim Montgomery’s bunch.
This time, the Bruins cleared the puck out of harm on a couple of occasions. But they couldn’t keep Linus Ullmark’s crease clean on Toronto’s final entry as Auston Matthews took advantage of another structural breakdown with 5.7 ticks remaining to force overtime.
The 3-on-3 overtime was pure mayhem. Ullmark and Joseph Woll produced highlight reel saves. Both teams each encountered broken sticks in inopportune situataions. And neither team could cleanly establish puck possession for extensive periods, yet traded scoring chances off the rush.
Down but not out, the Bruins took advantage of one final bounce as Brad Marchand followed through after Woll denied David Pastrnak on a breakaway to secure the game-winner.
The sting from Matthews’ equalizer hadn’t worn off at the beginning of the extra session. But the Bruins didn’t waste much time engaging in bedlam.
Heck, the Bruins put themselves in similar positions this season after relinquishing a tying marker in the final minute. But the Bruins regrouped and stayed the course after relinquishing two third-period leads against a highly-skilled Leafs bunch.
“Today was a big game,” Pastrnak told reporters following his three-point night. “It’s a hard team that we beat today. [They have] a lot of talent, they’re playing well and they score a lot of goals. To be up 2-1 at the end of the second is really good. Unfortunately, they got the late one, but we got [the job] done.”
The Bruins responded to Domi’s equalizer with a hard-nosed effort from Frederic at the net-front, resulting in his sixth goal of the season. Little did they know that they would need another bounce after a patient Mitch Marner fed Matthews in the closing seconds to force overtime.
The Leafs and Bruins combined for 16 shots on goal during the 4:52 of 3-on-3 play. The chances ranged from routine to quirky, with Pavel Zacha earning a breakaway bid after breaking a stick and the Leafs getting a chance of their own after McAvoy lost his lumber a shift or two earlier.
As the shootout approached, Pastrnak had one more trick up his sleeve. His second effort after Woll’s breakaway save ultimately set Marchand up for the thrilling conclusion.
“I just saw the goalie going back, so I tried to shoot it at Marshy and hoped he was going to handle it, which he did,” Pastrnak said of Marchand’s walk-off tally. “Maybe he was yelling [at me], I wasn’t sure. But I saw him.”
Pastrnak’s shooting and dishing paying dividends
He continues to draw attention from opposing defenses. Yet few teams, if any, have found any formula to stop Pastrnak’s otherworldly talent.
Coming off a 60-goal campaign a year ago, Pastrnak entered a transitional centennial season with an even bigger target on his back.
Through their previous heated battles in the regular season and playoffs, the Leafs know all too well of Pastrnak’s skillset. And this year, the dynamic Czech added a passing touch to his arsenal.
Pastrnak displayed both his shooting and dishing prowess during his three-point night. And every one of his points from Saturday could wind up among the NHL’s year-end highlight reels.
The first impressive moment came at 10:44 of the first when Pastrnak went top corner on Woll’s blocker side from about 50 feet out to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
As he fired a game-high 10 shots on the net, Pastrnak hardly hesitated to get his teammates involved in the attacking end. An aggressive Kevin Shattenkirk benefited from Pastrnak’s offensive instincts in the second, taking an impressive cross-ice feed from the 2014 first-rounder and promptly notching a slick backhander past Woll to give Boston a 2-0 cushion with his first of the season.
“Coach has been encouraging me to be more aggressive, so I just went down to the back door and David makes a great play there,” Shattenkirk said to NESN’s Sophia Jurksztowicz. “I get to an area that I’m not too familiar with, but I felt like I had him on the short side and I’m happy to contribute tonight.”
The Leafs began their comeback bid after Shattenkirk’s tally. Matthews cut the Toronto deficit to 2-1 with his first of the night at 12:06 of the second, 4:35 after Shattenkirk’s marker.
The Bruins didn’t have the cleanest outing. But they received timely offense from Pastrnak and others to overcome their latest blunder.
What can the Bruins do to clean up the final-minute mishaps?
The limited practice time presents fewer opportunities for teams to sort out some of their deficiencies. In the case of late-game scenarios, however, game experience trumps any on-ice training session.
But boy, do the Bruins need to find a remedy for their struggles in securing a win in the final minutes.
“It’s honestly something you can’t practice; it’s something you have to go through during the season in games,” Shattenkirk told NESN. “They’re a team that obviously has a lot of skill out there. That play that Marner makes is poise, and not a lot of players can do that. But we’ve got to keep working through those situations. [We’re] getting the experience there, and I think it’s only going to make us a better team in the end.”
Saturday marked the third instance where the Bruins relinquished the tying marker within the last 15 seconds of regulation. But unlike their prior encounters against the Ducks and Lightning, the Bruins stayed composed.
Indeed, the Bruins picked up where they left off from their slump-busting win over the lowly Sharks on Thursday with one of their better outings of the past several days against their Original Six foes.
“This was maybe the best game we’ve played in a while, maybe two weeks,” Montgomery told reporters. “Sometimes you need to face some hard time to realize that it’s not going to come easy.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
Bruins Daily is a NHL credentialed media organization that is dedicated to being the leading provider of Boston Bruins news, analysis, and commentary, by focusing exclusively on the Boston organization. Bruins Daily provides written content, studio produced video, and on location video, all with a unique voice that fans can relate to. Complete coverage is provided through all of the latest NHL/AHL news, updates, scores, injuries, transactions and fan events.