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Maple Leafs eliminated from NHL playoffs with Game 7 OT loss to Bruins


Sheldon Keefe told his players hockey history would remember them one way or another.

Down 3-1 in their first-round playoff series a week ago, this iteration of the Maple Leafs — left for dead by fans and media alike — could roll over and book their tee times.

Or push back and fight.

Keefe had no complaints after his group battled injury and illness to stretch a patient, defensively stout opponent to its limit.

In the end, however, that effort still wasn't enough.

David Pastrnak scored at 1:54 of overtime Saturday as the Boston Bruins topped Toronto 2-1 in Game 7 to move on in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"Love how our team fought to put us in this position," said Keefe, whose high-powered attack produced just 12 goals and finished 1-for-21 on the power play. "You don't love the hole that we dug ourselves. That's a big reason why we're here, but loved the fight of our team.

"Tough circumstances."

Hampus Lindholm scored in regulation and added an assist on the winner for the Bruins, who avoided becoming the first club in NHL history to blow back-to-back 3-1 series leads after losing out to the Florida Panthers at the same stage of last spring's post-season.

Jeremy Swayman made 30 saves. Boston will take on the well-rested Panthers in the second round in South Florida beginning Monday.

Boston Bruins' Justin Brazeau (55) watches as the shot by Hampus Lindholm goes into the net behind Toronto Maple Leafs' Ilya Samsonov (35) during the third period of Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)"Huge moment," said Pastrnak, who scored his fourth goal of the playoffs after being called out by head coach Jim Montgomery after Game 6.

"A little relief, as well … couldn't be more proud of ourselves."

William Nylander, who missed the first three games with a migraine headache that blurred his vision, replied for the Leafs. Toronto battled back to force Game 7 with two straight wins minus ailing star sniper Auston Matthews.

"It sucks," Nylander said. "Empty feeling."

Ilya Samsonov stopped 29 shots after Joseph Woll, who was outstanding in Games 5 and 6 to help drag his team back into the series, suffered an injury late in the third period of Thursday's victory that pushed the Original Six matchup to seven.

Matthews was pulled from the lineup in Game 4 because of an illness and then missed the last two contests with Toronto facing elimination before returning to the action at far less than 100 per cent Saturday.

Pastrnak clinched the series after Lindholm fired a puck off the end boards. The winger won a race and then deked Samsonov to the ice and send the Leafs home.

"We were right there," Matthews said. "It didn't go our way."

Nylander took a pass from Matthews, who led the NHL with 69 goals in the regular season, with 10:59 left in regulation to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.

But Lindholm tied it 1:21 later on a shot shortside following some intense pressure around Toronto's crease to set TD Garden alight before the teams took it to extra time.

"Tough to talk right now," Samsonov said. "Season is over for us."

Woll replaced the Russian to start the third period of Game 4 and proceeded to give up just two goals in more than 140 minutes of action as Toronto, which is now 1-17 all-time when trailing a series 3-1, roared back to even the Original Six matchup.

"Very difficult not to be moving on," Leafs captain John Tavares said. "Especially with the type of team that we have, the type of character that's in here, and just the belief in the locker room.

"Very proud of the group."

The Bruins had a much better start than in Games 5 and 6 before Leafs defenceman Joel Edmundson crushed Pastrnak with a clean hit.

Toronto's best chance of the period came when Matthew Knies outmuscled Jake DeBrusk for a 50/50 puck and found Nylander, who scored twice in Game 6, in the slot for a chance Swayman snagged.

Boston got the evening's first power play in the second, but Mitch Marner had the best chance when the Bruins netminder gave the puck away.

The Leafs then dropped to 1-for-21 on a fruitless man advantage of their own before Toronto winger Connor Dewar had a short-handed breakaway.

Knies then got another break out of the box only to see Kevin Shattenkirk take the puck off his stick and send the Toronto rookie crashing into Swayman.

Toronto battled back to force Game 7 despite being without Matthews for a pair of 2-1 victories, including an overtime road triumph in Game 5.

The Leafs, who won a post-season series for the first time in two decades last spring, were also minus Nylander for those first three contests with that migraine and what was to potentially be a concussion.

The Swede took two games to get his legs before putting up those two goals Thursday that helped tie the series and send the teams back to Boston.

"It's hard to explain exactly what it is," Nylander said. "My vision goes, I can't really see out of my eyes, it gets messed up. It's hard to play."

Despite the valiant attempt, Toronto has now lost six straight Game 7s — including four straight to the Bruins (2013, 2018, 2019 and 2024).

There will also be questions about Keefe's future after a fourth opening-round exit in five seasons, along with Marner, who has one year left on his contract and can sign an extension July 1.

The Leafs — as a whole — will now pick up the pieces and reflect as the franchise's Cup drought now sits at 57 years.

"The group pulled together to give us a chance," Keefe said. "Love and appreciate that part of our group.

"It's a tough one to lose, tough way to go."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2024. Top Stories

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