To win in the playoffs, the best players need to play like the best players.
Secondary scoring, of course, helps.
The bottom six forwards contributed the offense as the Bruins beat the Maple Leafs, 5-1, in Game 7 of their first round series at the Garden for the second straight season. The Bruins advanced to face the Columbus Blue Jackets — sweepers of the top-seeded Lightning — in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“We proved it during the year, we played with numerous people out of our lineup, numerous high-end players we rely on,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Plug different people in this series, Steven Kampfer, Connor Clifton, different guys contributed. … Our team defense got us through those tough times, and at the end of the day you look around the room at (Zdeno Chara) and (Patrice Bergeron) and (David) Krejci and those guys, that’s the reason this team is resilient.”
The Bruins struggled in the second period, with the Leafs earning the majority of offense looks, but Tuukka Rask stood tall, shutting down chance after chance to give the B’s offense a chance to extend the lead.
As it would turn out, the secondary scoring came alive at the right time.
“We talked about the start of the series, we felt we needed a certain type of lineup to beat Toronto,” Cassidy said. “We finally found it late in the series. I thought Games 6 and 7 we skated well, a guy like (Joakim) Nordstrom is a big part of that, (Karson) Kuhlman. (Sean) Kuraly, obviously.”
The Bruins came out flying early, firing three shots on net in the first couple of minutes, before slowing to two shots in the next nine. The Leafs had a couple of opportunities off of Bruins icings but didn’t capitalize.
That gave the Bruins a window.
After Noel Acciari kept the puck in the offensive zone during a possession, Matt Grzelcyk kept the play alive and found Joakim Nordstrom just underneath the left circle. He wristed it through Frederik Andersen’s pads with 5:31 to play to put the Bruins ahead 1-0.
Rask bailed out some troubling clearing issues in the B’s defensive end, keeping the Bruins ahead before they could double their lead.
Marcus Johansson, seeking his first postseason goal with the Bruins, cycled from around behind the net and into the left circle, beating Andersen on the far post to give the Bruins the 2-0 lead with 2:14 to go in the opening frame.
The second period was a chance to start anew for the Leafs, and they kicked it off exactly how they wanted.
A John Moore turnover right on the stick of John Tavares just 3:54 in gave the Toronto center an open look on Rask, and he fired it past the B’s goalie to cut their lead to 2-1.
Then, the floodgates appeared to open.
The Leafs pummeled Rask for the rest of the frame, including a power play that came with 11:38 left when Brandon Carlo was called for a cross-check in front of the net.
The Bruins survived the power play, and the rest of the second, and went into the third holding on by a single tally.
They needed 2:40 to retake a two-goal lead, and once again, it came from an unlikely source.
Kuraly, who just returned in Game 5 from broken right hand surgery at the end of March, skating past the blue line and wristed a shot past Andersen from the top of the right circle to give the B’s an insurance goal.
“I think any time you can contribute offensively, it feels great,” said Kuraly. “A lot of times we contribute in different ways, but to be able to do that was a good feeling and something we hope to continue.”
With 14:41 to go, the Bruins were assessed a too many men penalty, giving the Leafs their second power play. The disjointed man advantage struggled to get chances, leaving the Bruins ahead.
Toronto pulled Andersen with three minutes to go, and Charlie Coyle iced it with an empty-netter with 2:34 left in the game. For good measure, Patrice Bergeron added another into the empty net with less than one second remaining. It was his third of the series.
Brandon Carlo, in his first Game 7, played 20-plus minutes while Charlie McAvoy totaled more than 20 himself in a dominant defensive performance while the Leafs tried to pepper Rask.
Nordstrom was scratched in Game 5, while Johansson missed two games with illness and Kuraly returned to the series late, meaning all three even-strength goal scorers missed time during the series.
Their contributions, though, are all that’ll count in the big picture.
“It’s huge for us to get the goal, and get the crowd into it,” said Rask. “We managed to do that, it was a great atmosphere. It was rocking. You like to see that.”
The second round will open on Thursday night at the Garden.