The Toronto Maple Leafs, in their first Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance in nine years and trailing the Boston Bruins 3-1 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, looked dead and buried. Their return to the playoffs would be short-lived and the fans that packed the Air Canada Center and streets or Toronto would have to grasp the memories of this one series tightly. After all, who knew how long it would be before the Leafs next returned to the postseason.
But Toronto did not go quietly. They went to Boston in Game 5 and won their second game of the series at the TD Garden then beat the Bruins again in Game 6. The arena and city was electric as the Leafs ran off with a 2-1 win that kept their season going. Now they return to Boston, this time for Game 7, still alive and kicking.
Game 7's are nothing new for the Bruins, who have played four of them in the last two years. In 2011, they won all three they played in, including Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but last season they went out in the first round when the Capitals upended them in Game 7.
Now it's take five on Game 7's for the Bruins and take three on their attempt to eliminate the Maple Leafs. The Garden will be full of energy -- nervous energy in particular -- while up north Toronto will gather in the streets and hold their breaths. After tonight, one team will be dead.
Who has gas left in the tank?
This has been a tough, physical series and now both teams will have to play Game 7 without a days rest. The Bruins were dealt an extra hurdle when they had plane troubles on Sunday night, too, and couldn't get to Boston until this morning. Boston looked tired in Game 6, but they will be back in front of their home fans, while Toronto has had to empty their gas tanks in the last two games just to avoid elimination. Game 7 could come down to who has the most left in their legs.
Will Tyler Bozak play and win draws?
The Leafs' center battled a shoulder injury in the final week of the regular season and as a late scratch for Game 6, although it is unclear whether it was because of his troublesome shoulder or another injury. Bozak has struggled in the face-off circle in this series, winning just 43% of draws against the NHL's best face-off team, but he was 52% during the regular season. Draws have loomed large in this series, as evidenced by the Leafs' second goal in Game 6 which came off of a face-off win, and without Bozak, the Bruins have an even bigger advantage on draws than they already have.
Can the Bruins get anything from their fourth line?
Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille are the only players on the Bruins getting outshot outright, and they are on the fourth line going against the Leafs' fourth line with regularity. Not only are they getting outshot, but they are getting outshot by double digits and the lone goal to come from the trio was a short-handed tally by Paille, so that doesn't even count as a goal for the line. Boston can't afford to play three-line hockey and while Claude Julien will almost certainly play his fourth line as little as possible, Thronton, Campbell and Paille need to give the Bruins something when they are called upon.