Not again? The pressure is on the Boston Bruins with Game 7 at home against the rival Maple Leafs

No team in the long histories of the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball has blown a 3-1 lead and lost a best-of-seven series in back-to-back post-seasons.

The Boston Bruins have put themselves in that conversation. They will play a Game 7 on Saturday night (8 p.m. Eastern, ABC) against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in seven years.

The Bruins won the previous two showdowns, including a similar situation in 2013, and the Leafs falling short at this time of year has become a rite of spring. But the pressure is on Boston after losing two in a row against a team that has been missing star forward Auston Mathews since late in Game 4.

“We all understand that in playoffs every game is a Game 7,” said goaltender Jeremy Swayman, who stopped 24 of 26 shots in the latest loss that pushed the Bruins to the brink. “That’s the intensity that we want to bring every night, and when we do get to an actual Game 7, it should be another day in the office for us because we prepared the right way, we’re expecting their best and we’re expecting our best.”

The Bruins are a year removed from setting league records for wins and points in a regular season, then going up 3-1 on the eighth-seeded Florida Panthers in the first round before losing in seven games.

“We’re not worrying about (last year),” said Jim Montgomery, the 2023 Jack Adams Award winner as coach of the year whose job could be in jeopardy if things go sideways again. “We’re not living in the past. We’re not living in the future, either. We’re living in the present. Right now we’re not happy with our game. We’re going to get ready for Game 7.”

Matthews, who missed the past two games with an undisclosed ailment, skated Friday and is making progress but there's “no determination on his availability” for Saturday, Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Friday. Matthews scored 69 goals during the season and had another against Boston.

One of the few players still around from the series between these teams 11 years ago, Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly, brushed off the notion that the onus has shifted from the Leafs to the Bruins.

“All bets are off in that regard,” Rielly said. "Both teams have high expectations. I don’t think that there’s one team that’s dealing with more pressure than the other.”

Rielly said he doesn't think there are odds or a favourite; Boston is a slight favourite for the game, according to BetMGM Sportsbook.

To turn the tide back in their favour, the Bruins need to start better — they were outshot 23-3 in the first period over Games 5 and 6 combined — and get more production from David Pastrnak, who had 47 goals in the regular season.

“Your best players need to be your best players this time of year, Montgomery said. ”I think the effort is tremendous, and they need to come through with some big-time plays in big-time moments. I think (captain Brad) Marchand has done that in the series. Pasta needs to step up."

Pastrnak has two goals and two assists through six games. Marchand, who leads the team with eight points, credited Toronto for being prepared to play from the first shift on.

“We need to be better in that area,” Marchand said. “We have to do a much better job there.”

The game is the only one on the NHL schedule Saturday. The winner will advance to play the Panthers with the series opener set for Monday night at Florida. They've been resting since Tuesday, when they eliminated Tampa Bay in five games.

“Any time you can take a break like this, take advantage of it,” said Panthers forward Sam Reinhart, who has three goals in the playoffs after scoring a franchise-record 60 in the regular season. “You’re going to be better off, mentally, physically. It’s a grind. Every series is its own battle, has its own challenges, so you have to take advantage of a time like this.”


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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press