Whatever happens from here on out, it’s important that we take some time — and that we do it now, while the memories are still fresh — to put last night’s epic playoff game between the Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs in its proper historical perspective.
The Bruins’ 5-4 overtime victory over the shocked Leafs in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals was, is, quite simply, one of the greatest single-game playoff comebacks in Boston sports history. While no attempt will be made here to resort to power rankings — even though we, as sports fans, are list crazy — it is right up there with Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and California Angels.
It is right up there with the Celtics’ comeback against the Lakers in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals at the Staples Center.
And let’s not forget Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, Red Sox against the Yankees, the night Dave Roberts stole a base and changed about a century’s worth of history.
The Patriots. The Snow Game. The Tuck Rule.
And while it wasn’t a “playoff” game per se, we do have to include the 29-29 “Harvard beats Yale” game in 1968.
And on and on and on . . .
But it wasn’t just that the Bruins roared back last night with three third-period goals to tie the game. It wasn’t just that two of those goals — by Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron — were scored with under two minutes remaining in regulation after the Bruins had lifted goaltender Tuukka Rask in favor of an extra skater.
And it wasn’t just that Bergeron, silent for much of the series, scored the game-winning goal at 6:05 of sudden death, with assists going to two others who had been AWOL for much of the series: Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand.
All of that is important stuff for the historical record, but we should never forget that the Bruins once held a 3-1 series lead, only to fall back as the Maple Leafs rallied for victories in Games 5 and 6. The Bruins were so demoralized after Game 6 on Sunday night that only a handful of players showed up for the postgame media session, and the malaise seemed to carry over to Game 7 as the B’s fell behind 4-1.
The big talk during the day yesterday: What happened to the Bruins’ charter flight out of Toronto after Game 6?
Think about that. In one news cycle we went from Flygate to the gates of hockey heaven.
So, what happened?
Amid the postgame bedlam of the locker room, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara put it best: “When you really look at it realistically, you’re down 4-1 and you have nothing to lose at that point. You just gotta take some chances and you gotta be more aggressive. Willing to take some risk. And it worked.”
Surely there are hockey analysts who will devote the rest of the week to breaking down the game and showing us all the pertinent X’s and O’s.
Psychologists, real ones and fake ones, will make grand speeches about how the playoff-hungry Maple Leafs got too tight too late.
The callers to the talk shows will want you to know that the Bruins “wanted it more.”
As we await all this, I’ll stick with what Chara said: They had nothing to lose and they took some chances.
“After that first one (by Nathan Horton to make it 4-2), we could see the emotion on the bench and we started to believe,” Marchand said. “That’s what we needed.”
Ahh, yes, the Horton goal . . .
“The fans got into it after that one and they stopped booing us,” Johnny Boychuk said. “It helps when they’re cheering for ya.”
Both good points: With the Bruins trailing 4-1, and with about half the third period already spent, the Garden had turned into a place in which the customers were either silent or they were grouchy. And it’s likely that more than a few folks had exited the building, because that’s what they do when a ship is sinking: They abandon said ship.
But if you always walk away from a rout in the making, you’ll never see the great comebacks. And that’s what the customers got for their money last night: They saw the very team they were ready to hate became the team they loved.
They saw Tuukka Rask make the big saves down the stretch.
They saw those third-period goals. By Nathan Horton, by Milan Lucic, by Patrice Bergeron.
And they saw Bergy win it.
“Everyone has to step up in the playoffs,” Bergeron said. “Tonight was my turn.”
And the Bruins’ turn to make Boston sports history.
Did we mention Flutie’s pass against Miami? OK, not a playoff game, but still . . .
Yikes, forgot about Fisk and Carbo in ’75 . . .
What a night.