Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli knew what the odds were. He knew the chances that his team could battle back from a three-goal deficit against the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal Monday night were slim.
But he also knew that the Bruins couldn’t be counted out, because he had seen their resilience on many occasions.
“From up above, you’re just kind of seeing the trend on the ice and hoping that it’s a positive trend,’’ said Chiarelli, who spoke to the media at TD Garden Tuesday afternoon, following the Bruins’ stirring 5-4 overtime victory that clinched the series Monday.
“I look for battles won and what the forecheck is, those types of things. And I wasn’t seeing much of it.
“I was fairly disappointed with where it was going. It had been a long couple of days, and at that point in time, never write this team off in my time here because we’ve had some pretty good comebacks. There’s obviously been some disappointments but I was angling for disappointment, preparing the next few days in my head, what I was going to do.’’
As prepared as he tried to be for the abrupt end, he started to see what he and the coaching staff have been preaching for what seems like forever: net-front presence. That is what the Bruins provided in the final half of the third period and that’s what made the difference between advancing and going home.
“In that last half of the third period, our guys came together and you could see a push that I hadn’t seen in a long time,’’ said Chiarelli. “We’ve seen it a couple of periods in this series, and so you know it’s there — it’s when it comes out.
“I saw some terrific coaching on the [extra-attacker] goals. This group’s been criticized for its power play but what I saw there, what I saw before me was terrific for me.
“Those are clutch recoveries. You’re talking traffic. We’ve been preaching traffic. [Four] goals were all traffic. [Nathan Horton’s] was traffic by net drive with [David Krejci], right? [Milan Lucic] throws it back through through the traffic and there’s confusion. [Patrice Bergeron’s] tying one was traffic, [Zdeno Chara] in front, right? And the winning one [by Bergeron] with [Tyler Seguin], traffic.
“There was some good coaching there and a great push by the players.’’
It seemed fitting that Bergeron, who has fought back from a history of concussions, would tally the tying and winning goals.
“We hadn’t seen a performance like [Monday night] in a long, long time, if ever,’’ said Chiarelli. “Just a clutch performance what he did. Game in, game out he does the little things. Watching him carry the puck, he had a little extra drive. You could just see it in him.
“[Lucic] was the same way. [Bergeron], you can see the fire in his eyes. You can see him on the bench. You can see the plays that he was making. He was special, and he’s just a reliable, terrific player.
“He’s reliable and he’s got oodles of talent and the two-way play. He’s a special player.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Looch. He had a terrific game and especially that last part. I know he’s been the object of criticism for a while this year but he certainly has turned his game around.’’
One person whose net-front presence was very noticeable was Zdeno Chara, who fills the entire front of the net, but the captain is also formidable in his own zone — and he had to be, given that Dennis Seidenberg played only 37 seconds before leaving the game with an injury.
“That last little drive, that last little push, he was real good,’’ said Chiarelli. “And you can see when he flips a switch to try and go offensive, and you saw that, and going in to play with five [defensemen], he knew he was going to right from the get-go.
“He knew he was going to play a lot of minutes, so from up above looking down, you could just see. I liked Z’s game.’’
With the Toronto series in the history books, the Bruins now turn their attention to the New York Rangers, and Chiarelli said one challenge will be solving goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“He’s a big goalie,’’ said Chiarelli. “He’s been really good against us. You have to move him around. You’ve got to get traffic. You’ve got to get pucks on him. There’s no magic.’’
Chiarelli said the Rangers are very similar to the Bruins in a lot of areas.
“They play like us, these guys,’’ he said. “Maybe a little different now that they don’t have [Marian] Gaborik. They might be a little deeper but not as dynamic. They play a heavy game like us.’’