BOSTON — The Bruins needed performances from up and down their roster to outlast the Toronto Maples Leafs in yet another seven-game slugfest between the Original Six franchises.
Boston will literally have just a day to enjoy its 5-1 win over Toronto in Game 7 on Tuesday night, with their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with Columbus set to open at TD Garden on Thursday night.
But that’s just fine with Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
“I don’t mind the quick turnaround necessarily when you’re playing well,” Cassidy said. “Our last two games we have played well. I thought the start of this series we had time off, we rested players. We had a couple of practices and all of a sudden maybe it’s too much information. I think they were overloading. This way they won’t be able to get so (overloaded).”
Cassidy is giving his players the day off Wednesday while his coaching staff breaks down film and puts together a game plan for the Blue Jackets. The plan is to do just a morning review with players Thursday before taking the ice for Game 1 in the evening.
Though Boston has the home ice-advantage in the series, the Bruins are expecting it to be tough defend against a team that stunned a Lightning team that tied an NHL record with 62 victories in the regular season.
Bruins fourth-line centre Sean Kuraly, who came up big with a goal and an assist in Game 7 against Toronto, is a Dublin, Ohio native and well aware of the buzz Columbus has created around his home state.
“They’re playing really well and probably one of the hottest teams in the league right now after taking down Tampa,” Kuraly said. “They’re going to be a really tough team.”
Boston went 2-1-0 against the Blue Jackets in the regular season with a 7-4 road loss back on March 12, a 2-1 overtime win in Boston March 16 and 6-2 victory in Columbus on April 2.
“The good news is we saw them three times late in the year. That’ll help with our preparation, should help with the players,” Cassidy said. “We know they were physical against Tampa. They came after them. They got key saves. Power play was lights out. So, we got our hands full. Listen, we’re looking forward. I think it’ll be a good matchup for us. I think the teams are similarly built, so it should be a good series.
Part of Cassidy’s optimism about the quick turnaround stems from Boston’s health, which he said may be better than it’s been at any point this season.
Boston was also able to win in different ways against Toronto.
Bruins got eight goals in the first six games from stars Brad Marchand (four), Patrice Bergeron (two) and David Pastrnak (two). But they relied on third- and fourth-liners Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and Marcus Johansson to key their offence in Game 7.
Boston also has been efficient on power plays, going 7 for 16 (43 so far this post-season, while allowing only one short-handed goal. Meanwhile, Boston’s defence has been able to stop opponents’ chances, going 13 of 16 on penalty kills (81%), including a crucial 2 for 2 in Game 7.
And perhaps most importantly, netminder Tuukka Rask is playing some of his best hockey. He had 30-plus saves four times against Toronto, including stopping 32 of 33 shot attempts in Game in the series-deciding win.
“I personally felt good from the start of the series. I felt pretty good all year, obviously the workload hasn’t been too much so I feel fresh,” Rask said. “It’s all about feeling confident, preparing yourself the right way, trusting your teammates. We battled hard all year and it showed again today.”
Coupled with the fact that the Bruins had to fend off elimination in Game 6 at Toronto to force the Game 7 and it adds up to a lot of confidence throughout their locker room.
“Relentless. Resilient. Whatever you want to call it,” Bruins forward Charlie Coyle said. “We were down almost every part of that series and you battle back each game, tie it, pull things over and we pull it out when need be. … There’s never any panic in our game and that starts with our leadership and it’s huge to have those guys lead the way.”
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Kyle Hightower, The Associated Press