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Leafs, Bruins both have demons to exorcise in latest Game 7 meeting


Entering a Game 7 in their first-round series, both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins have demons to exorcise with their seasons on the line.

Saturday's game will mark the fourth Game 7 between the two teams since 2013, with the Bruins taking all three of the previous deciding matchups. 

The Maple Leafs have battled back from down 3-1 to keep the series alive. A failure to close out is becoming a trend for the Bruins, who are winless in their past five games with a chance to end a series. 

Short-term history appears to be hanging over the heads of the Bruins, while the Maple Leafs are at risk of reverting back to another first-round exit after ending a 19-year series win drought last spring. 

Bruins starring down another shock exit

The Bruins are a year removed from a stunning collapse as the Florida Panthers completed once the most shocking comebacks in recent history last spring. 

After winning the Presidents' Trophy with a record-setting 62-win regular season, Boston blew a 3-1 series lead before losing in overtime of Game 7. 

The loss, which marked the final game in the careers of team captain and future Hall of Famer Patrice Bergeron and veteran David Krejci, left the Bruins in shock.

"The way it ended didn't matter. It's just that the season's over. I guess the words that come to mind right now are disappointment and confusion," Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said afterwards.

This season did not bring the same success for the Bruins, who fell out of the top seed in the Atlantic Division with one win their final four games to set up the first-round meeting with Toronto. Boston finished with a 47-20-15 record, seven points ahead of the Maple Leafs.

Boston was on the verge on knocking the Maple Leafs out of the playoffs after taking a 3-1 series lead with wins in both Games 3 and 4 in Toronto. However, the Bruins came out flat in Game 5 on Tuesday, being outshot 11-2 in the first period of the eventual 2-1 overtime win for the Maple Leafs. 

Montgomery said Wednesday he was "pissed off" by the team's performance as he attempted to set a tone of urgency for Game 6. Thursday's contest, though, was more of the same for the Bruins, who were outshot 12-1 in the opening frame. 

The head coach called the start "unacceptable" as pressure builds on the team to avoid a repeat of last season. 

Asked about the performance of star David Pastrnak, who is without a point in the past two games, Montgomery towed the line between the defending the winger and asking for more.

“He needs to be the dominant player that we’re used to,” Montgomery said. “He’s doing it in flurries. He’s not doing it as consistently as he did in the regular season. His linemates need to help him too. We’re not as good of an offensive team right now as we were in the regular season - neither is Toronto.

“We’ve got to find a way. We’ve got to push through. We’ve got to dig in. We’ve got to win more battles that leads to more odd-man rushes or leads to more opportunities at the net front. There were rebounds laying there. We didn’t get to them. We’ve got to get to them.”

The Bruins were not interested in discussing the similarities to last season after Thursday's loss, with Bruins captain Brad Marchand instead focusing on having home-ice advantage for the crucial contest.

“If someone told us at the start of the season that we’d be [in] Game 7 at home against Toronto, we’d take that all day,” Marchand said. “So it doesn’t matter how you get there. We’re there. Gotta show up.”


Game 7 demons hang over Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have been here before. 

Toronto trailed the Bruins 3-1 in the first-round series in both 2013 and 2018 before battling back to force a Game 7. They lost in both. 

The Maple Leafs also went to Game 7 with the Bruins in 2019 after holding a 3-2 series lead, but again came out on the losing end of the do-or-die matchup. 

Toronto's last Game 7 victory came in 2004, with the team going 0-5 since with a myriad of heartbreaking defeats. Toronto led 3-1 in their first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens in 2021 before dropping Game 7 and led 3-2 in their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2022 before losing Game 7 in front of a sold-out crowd at the Scotiabank Arena. 

Since their infamous 4-1 collapse against the Bruins in 2013, the Maple Leafs have been outscored 17-6 over four Game 7s during their current eight-year playoff streak. 

ContentId(1.2114767): SC Express: Game 7 history between the Leafs and Bruins

The Maple Leafs finally won a first-round series last season, eliminating the Lightning in six games, and have a chance to change the Game 7 narrative this year on Saturday night.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe believes playing with their season on the line will be familiar territory for his team.

“In my mind, we just played two Game 7s,” Keefe said Thursday of the team's back-to-back 2-1 victories. 

Toronto improved to 2-0 against the Bruins in the series with star Auston Matthews out of the lineup. The 69-goal scorer has not played since exiting a 4-1 loss in Game 4 with illness. His status for Game 7 is unknown, though the signs have not been promising as he's yet to take part in a team skate. 

"The guys have competed and worked incredibly hard," Keefe said of his team's effort. "They've pulled together. They fought."


History a mixed bag after 3-1 leads

Battling back from down 3-1 has led to a coin flip in NHL history.

Entering Saturday's game between the Bruins and Maple Leafs, teams who have fought back from the 3-1 brink are 32-32. That number includes the four teams who battled back from down 3-0 to win Game 7, and the five teams to lose Game 7 after being down 3-0.

The Bruins are the most recent team to be eliminated after being up 3-1 after last year's first-round exit. The Pittsburgh Penguins blew a 3-1 lead and lost in Game 7 to the New York Rangers in the 2022 playoffs. 

The last team to win a Game 7 after previously holding a 3-1 lead was the Vegas Golden Knights, staving off a comeback from the Minnesota Wild in 2021.