It truly was an amazing game. When writing up the script for a Game 7 between two division opponents, one couldn't have asked for anything more than what the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs delivered in Monday night's deciding game in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.
Of course, if you were cheering for the Maple Leafs, you'd probably have liked a different outcome, which speaks to the unfortunate reality that one team was going to go home disappointed. However, from an entertainment perspective, there were few things left wanting.
The first period opened straight out of a cannon. Both teams were physically engaging during a twenty minute stanza with frenetic pacing. Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson helped the Bruins get on the board first after he sent a perfect no-look, between the legs pass to Boston defender Matt Bartkowski.
Franson had already begun the game on a rocky note after an aggressive pinch resulted in an odd-man rush for Boston, which goaltender James Reimer turned away. Combine that with the turnover-assist to Bartkowski and it appeared as though the Maple Leafs defender was in for a long night.
However -- like basically every other event in this game -- Franson redeemed himself by knotting the game at one during a Toronto power play. He then took a step further away from the role of goat and closer to that of playoff hero, when he put the Maple Leafs ahead with a fluttering point shot that sailed through the arms of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and past Tuukka Rask.
As the second frame came to a close, the Maple Leafs were 20 minutes away from overcoming a 3-1 series deficit and winning the franchise's first playoff series since 2004.
While the first period was fast and the second period was tempered, the third was utterly insane.
Boston appeared to be coming undone at the seams. Entering the regular season as a favorite to win the Eastern Conference, many believed the team's path to the finals was solely impeded by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Following a dominating showing in Game 1 against Toronto, it appeared as though the upstart Maple Leafs were no match for the Bruins.
Fast-forward to the 49-minute mark of Game 7 and the Eastern Conference's second seed found themselves down three goals with elimination staring them in the face after two failed attempts --and a third on the way -- at advancing to the semifinal round.
As the clock neared the final 10 minutes of the Bruins' season, Nathan Horton scored his fourth goal of the series to bring the team within two. While it appeared to be too little, too late, the tally was the first of four unanswered goals by the Bruins, which propelled the team to one of the most improbable comebacks in recent memory.
The most astonishing dynamic of the turnaround was that Boston recorded two of those four goals in the final 90 seconds of the contest. Milan Lucic cut the deficit to a single goal with 1:22 left in the game, followed by the game-tying goal from Patrice Bergeron 31 seconds after.
Bergeron had received a considerable amount of criticism throughout the quarterfinal. Having registered a single goal through the first six games of the series, many questioned the top-line center's lack of production. However, after tying the game in the waning seconds of the contest and then scoring the game-winning goal in overtime, no one is talking about his first six games any more.
When looking at the game in a critical sense, a difficult conundrum presents itself:
Did the Bruins win the game, or did the Maple Leafs lose it?
In the coming days and weeks, arguments will certainly be made for both scenarios. But in light of a fantastic contest with a Hollywood finish, appreciation for an amazing game can't go unnoticed. Regardless of personal rooting interests, Game 7 between the Bruins and Maple Leafs was one of the most diverse hockey games a fan could ever ask for.
A fast-paced, tight-checking first period transitioned into a slow-paced tactical second period, which culminated in an offensive track-meet topped off with an epic comeback.
It's hard to think of a better finish for a Game 7.
Often times, the do-or-die game of a playoff series is hyped to a level where it's impossible for the two teams to live up to expectation. On Monday night, the Bruins and Maple Leafs not only met expectations but exceeded them. That's not something viewers always get to say they receive when tuning into a game of this magnitude.