TORONTO — Captain Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel scored third-period goals as the surging Toronto Maple Leafs edged the Boston Bruins 2-1 Sunday night to send their playoff series back to Boston for Game 7.
Not only did the win keep the Leafs alive, it snapped a 54-year period of home playoff failure against the Bruins. Toronto’s last home playoff win against Boston was March 31, 1959, when the Leafs won 3-2 in overtime.
Nine straight post-season home losses followed in the decades since with Boston outscoring Toronto 38-24.
Game 7 is Monday night in Boston.
Milan Lucic scored for Boston with 26 seconds left in the third.
The only time Toronto has come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series was the 1942 Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Leafs trailed 3-0 in that series before reeling off four straight wins.
Toronto’s last Game 7 win was in 2004 — the last time the Leafs made the playoffs — when it beat Ottawa 4-1 to wrap up their first-round series.
The Leafs will have momentum in their corner this time. The Bruins’ companion will be self-doubt after a second failed attempt at closing out the series and a recent playoff history of making life difficult for themselves.
James Reimer was again steady in the Toronto net, making 29 saves to earn the win.
For Phaneuf, scoring was sweet redemption after being involved in the play that led to the Bruins’ overtime winner in Game 4.
It came at 1:48 of the third period after Nazem Kadri ripped a wrist shot that was tipped in by Phaneuf, who had made his way to the front of the goal after continuing his rush. Boston had lost the puck in the Toronto end on an attempt at a flash pass by David Krejci.
Kessel then added to the lead at 8:59, picking up the puck after James van Riemsdyk occupied two Bruins in front of goal and backhanded it past Tuukka Rask. Kadri beat Patrice Bergeron on the faceoff to start the play.
Rask finished with 24 stops.
After combining for 170 shots in the last two games, the teams battened down the defensive hatches in what started as a much tighter contest but opened up as the game wore on. Boston came out skating hard and it wasn’t until the second period that Toronto seemed to find its feet.
Reimer and Rask were unbeatable the first two periods, adding to the value of that first goal. The third period felt like overtime, at least until Phaneuf scored.
The tight game made for a tense atmosphere inside where 19,591 fans, wielding giveaway blue or white towels, cheered every Leaf hit or shot. Outside, another amped-up crowd packed Maple Leafs Square to watch the game on a big screen, despite chilly five-degree temperatures at game time.
Moments after Phaneuf finally beat Rask, Reimer was called on twice as the other end. It was another strong game for the Leafs goalie, who switched masks during the game. Rask was equally impressive, showing off a lively glove.
First-line Leafs centre Tyler Bozak took the warmup but was an unexpected scratch, quickly joining the worldwide tending list on Twitter. Bozak, who scored shorthanded in Game 5, had missed the final two games of the regular season with what was believed to be a shoulder injury.
Joe Colborne, making his playoff debut, came in for Bozak.
Boston defenceman Andrew Ference did not make the trip to Toronto for undisclosed reasons. But Wade Redden returned to the lineup after missing Game 5.
That prompted coach Claude Julien to change his defensive pairings, as he did when Ference was suspended for Game 2. Captain Zdeno Chara played with Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg with Adam McQuaid, and Redden with rookie Dougie Hamilton.