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When the Bruins are going good, they’re terrifying

Sometimes, teams get rewarded for pushing hard.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins didn’t change a lot to close out the Maple Leafs.

In Games 5 and 6 of their first-round playoff series, the Bruins had two chances to close out their Canadian rivals. Boston badly outshot and out-changed the Leafs in both games, but amazing goaltending by Frederik Andersen and leaky work by Tuukka Rask swung both games toward Toronto. So the Bruins’ backs, like the Leafs’, were to the wall on Wednesday.

But Boston came through in the end. The Bruins trailed, 4-3, after 40 minutes, but they collected themselves in time to win, 7-4, and reserve a second-round date with the Lightning. They’re underdogs in that series, and they have their problems, but they’re as dangerous as anyone left in what appears to be a wide-open Eastern Conference.

The Bruins have enough scoring depth to beat anybody.

Some of that depth is revealing itself in real time. Other parts of it have been here all season. All of it makes the Bruins a brutal team to play defense against.

Jake DeBrusk, a 21-year-old rookie left winger, has been a contributor all year. He had 16 goals and 43 points in the regular season. He scored five against the Leafs, including the game-winner 5:25 into the third period on Wednesday.

These seven games saw DeBrusk go from “good young player” to “dude the Bruins absolutely need,” and he came through for them with a brilliant goal when they needed it most. A few minutes after Torey Krug tied the game with a long slapper that Andersen had to stop, DeBrusk took matters into his own hands. He picked up the puck inside his own blue line, hustled down the right side, turned Jake Gardiner inside out, flipped the puck from his backhand to forehand, and put another puck on Andersen. It went in:

That was DeBrusk’s second of the night. I’m highlighting him because he was particularly good in this series, with two assists to go with his five goals.

But the Bruins got offense from all over. Nine different players had at least three points in the series, and 14 guys scored at least a goal. The headliner these days is David Pastrnak, who had 13 points and made it abundantly clear that he’s in the top echelon of NHL scorers.

Pastrnak announced himself in this series, to some degree, but he was great all year. The man had 35 goals and 45 assists, which is about as much balance between finishing and playmaking as an 80-point scorer can have. Brad Marchand’s still present and scoring, too, and this doesn’t even mention the game’s best defensive center, Patrice Bergeron.

The Leafs gave the Bruins trouble, and the Lightning are great. But the Bruins are a difficult matchup for Tampa because of their relentlessness.

The Bruins are serial hoarders of the puck. They’re one of hockey’s best teams at gaining control of the biscuit and not giving it up, and they demonstrated it all series against Toronto. Even when the Bruins were losing, they were giving themselves a chance by holding the puck and firing it toward the net with abandon.

In Game 5, when they lost at home, they had a 90-39 advantage in shot attempts and a 52-19 edge in scoring chances, according to the analytics tracking site Natural Stat Trick. They controlled smaller but solid majorities of the shots and chances throughout the series. During the year, they were the league’s third-best team by shot attempts controlled (53 percent) and second-best team by scoring attempts controlled (54 percent). It’s not a coincidence that they were the fourth best team by scoring differential, at plus-56.

For the Bruins to fail, they usually need to lose the game in net — either by Rask struggling or the other goalie having a great night. Rask fights the puck sometimes, like he did in each of the last three games of the Leafs series. That’s an issue. But the Bruins are so forceful with the puck that their own goalie’s bad games often coincide with opposing goalies faltering at the same time. The Lightning have a great net-minder in Andrei Vasilevskiy, and they’re loaded with high-end scorers who might flummox Rask. But they’re not a dominant possession team, which raises the possibility that the Bruins give them fits.

The Bruins played better than a team that needed seven games.

The first round was a slog. But they were better than the Leafs by such a margin that it’s kind of incredible they trailed going into the third period of a Game 7. The same problems that hurt them in this series could always be fatal in another, but the Bruins are so strong on the puck and have so many scorers that it’s hard not to be excited about them.