TORONTO — Toronto coach Randy Carlyle called it a dagger in the heart. Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf threw himself on his sword.
There was drama and pain aplenty in the Leafs’ 4-3 overtime loss Wednesday night that gave the Bruins a commanding 3-1 lead in their playoff series heading back to Boston on Friday.
David Krejci — with his third goal of the night — administered the coup de grace at 13:06 of overtime, squeezing a puck through James Reimer on a two-on-one created by Phaneuf’s eagerness to pinch in to try and thump Nathan Horton at the other end of the ice.
He got a piece of the Bruins forward but in so doing allowed Krejci and Milan Lucic to head towards the Leafs goal with just Ryan O’Byrne in their way. Krejci used Lucic as a decoy, then snapped a shot past Reimer.
“You can’t afford to make mistakes that lead to odd-man rushes,” said Carlyle. “We turned the puck over deep in the corner and then we pinched and gave them an odd-man rush and they scored a short-side goal to beat us and that’s kind of a dagger, it feels like a dagger after the effort that was put forth by our group.
Said Phaneuf: “I take responsibility for making a bad play. I said that and I don’t know what more you guys want me to say. I made a bad play and it cost us the game.”
The Leafs now face a potentially decisive Game 5 in Boston, where history and the Bruins are against them.
The Bruins are 15-2 when leading a best-of-seven series 3-1. And Toronto is 2-12-1 in its last 15 games in Boston.
“We knew the circumstances coming into this game,” said Lucic. “A lot was on the line and we talked about setting ourselves going into Game 5 so as difficult as these last two games were, it’s only going to get harder and we expect the best out of them again.”
Patrice Bergeron also scored for Boston, with captain Zdeno Chara collecting four assists. The Bruins power play, 1-for-9 coming into the game, was 2-for-5 on the night.
Krejci now has five goals and five assists in the series, combining with linemates Lucic (0-7) and Horton (3-3) for eight goals and 15 assists.
Joffrey Lupul, Cody Franson and Clarke MacArthur scored for Toronto, whose power-play went 0-for-4.
The Leafs have not registered a home playoff win over Boston since March 31, 1959, when Toronto won 3-2 in overtime.
More than a half-century later, goalies Tuukka Rask and Reimer were both busy in an end-to-end overtime, with Toronto’s Matt Frattin hitting Rask’s goalpost some six minutes in.
Toronto outshot Boston 48-45 overall and 11-9 in overtime.
“It really felt like we were putting on a lot of pressure,” said Lupul. “On the bench, we kind of felt like it was just a matter of time before we got one.”
Reimer’s wife and mother were in the stands at the Air Canada Centre, often unable to watch for the tension. Phaneuf’s fiancee, actress Elisha Cuthbert, was one row behind.
“I try to be as calm as I possibly can but inside your guts are churning. Simple as that,” Carlyle said of the overtime.
Reimer got a piece of the puck on the final play, but not enough to stop it from trickling through under his right arm.
“He just beat me,” the goalie said. “I thought I got most of it and I had a good read. I just didn’t get enough of it.”
The Leafs used their speed to great effect and led 2-0 after the first period, only to see the Bruins fight back to take a 3-2 lead in the second before Toronto stopped the slide with a late goal of its own.
“I know that our work ethic was strong. I know we played the game at a pretty high tempo,” said Carlyle. “The one thing that’s disappointing is we had a two-goal lead.”