The Toronto Maple Leafs will host their first playoff game in nine years on Monday, as they battle the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of a deadlocked Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Toronto finished the regular season seeded fifth in the Eastern Conference, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and ending the longest postseason drought in club history.
On Monday, the Maple Leafs will stage the first playoff game at Air Canada Centre since May 4, 2004, when Philadelphia's Jeremy Roenick scored in overtime to lift the Flyers to a series-clinching victory in Game 6 of the conference semifinals.
Toronto carries some momentum into Monday's contest after tying this best-of- seven series with a 4-2 victory in Game 2 at Boston. Former Bruin Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk each scored in the third period to help the Leafs rebound from a 4-1 rout in Game 1 at TD Garden.
It was Toronto's first playoff win since April 30, 2004, when it won Game 4 of the conference semifinals against Philadelphia.
The Maple Leafs were up 2-1 heading into the third period on Saturday and Kessel scored just 53 second into the final stanza to extend the cushion. He skated down the middle of the ice on a breakaway and snapped a wrister through the pads of Tuukka Rask.
Kessel, of course, was acquired by the Maple Leafs from Boston for two first- round draft picks and a second-rounder prior to the 2009-10 season. Although he's led the Maple Leafs in goals and points in each of his four seasons in Toronto, he hasn't had much success against the Bruins. His tally on Friday gives him four goals in 24 career games versus Boston.
Boston cut the deficit to 3-2 on Johnny Boychuk's goal at 10:35 of the third, but van Riemsdyk restored the two-goal lead with 3:07 remaining.
Joffrey Lupul supplied two second-period goals for the Maple Leafs, while James Reimer, who surrendered four goals on 40 shots in his playoff debut in Game 1, rebounded with a 39-save effort to earn his first career postseason win.
"The tempo of the game was a lot different from our standpoint. We moved the puck more effectively, didn't turn it over. That was the biggest difference between tonight and Wednesday," said Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle.
Nathan Horton added the other goal for Boston, while Rask was beaten four times on 32 shots.
"We were prepared for those adjustments (made by Toronto), but our execution wasn't as good tonight," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
Boston played Game 2 without defenseman Andrew Ference, who was forced to sit out the contest due to a suspension for an illegal check to the head of Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski in the opener. Ference is eligible to return tonight and expects to skate on a pairing with Boychuk.
The Bruins won three of four meetings against Toronto during the regular season, but the clubs split the two encounters at Air Canada Centre. Boston has claimed five of its past seven tests in Toronto.
Toronto, which will also host Game 4 on Wednesday, was 13-9-2 as the host this season. The Bruins had a 12-9-3 record on the road.
This is the 14th time these Original Six teams have met in the playoffs, but the first since 1974, when Boston swept Toronto in the opening round.