BOSTON – Head down on the bench, Auston Matthews couldn’t bear to watch.
The Maple Leafs star centre had seen this scenario — one that often seemed to go against him — play out before.
So when the referee pointed to centre ice after video review confirmed Toronto winger Zach Hyman hadn’t interfered with Boston goalie Tuukka Rask on his bullet one-timer, the 21-year-old pounded on the dasher board with his glove and breathed a sigh of relief.
Matthews snapped a 0-0 tie midway through third period as the Leafs downed the Bruins 2-1 on Friday to take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
“I was just praying they were going to call it a goal,” said Matthews, whose team is now one victory away from its first series win since 2004. “A lot going through your mind there. I haven’t had the best of luck as far as (reviews) go. It’s nice to get one back.
“I’ll take one in the playoffs any day of the week.”
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said he was hoping for the best and prepared for the worst.
“I didn’t know, because you don’t know how things are, right?” he said. “You don’t know. You never know.”
Like his linemate, Hyman didn’t dare glance at a replay.
“You never know when it goes to review,” he said. “Luckily we were on the right side of things. I didn’t watch it. I didn’t want to watch it.
“Just happy they counted it.”
Kasperi Kapanen, with a goal and an assist, also scored for Toronto, which got 28 saves from Frederik Andersen.
“Total team victory,” Hyman said. “Guys were battling. We wanted this one. It took a whole 60 (minutes) to get it done, but we got it done.”
David Krejci, who hit the post in the second period, replied late for Boston to make things uncomfortable for the visitors in the final minute. Rask stopped 25 shots.
“I just felt the contact so I went after the ref,” Rask said of the game’s controversial first goal that the Bruins challenged. “They looked at it, so it’s a goal.”
“We’ve had better games,” added Boston winger Brad Marchand. “It was the difference of one play.”
The Leafs will look to wrap up the series at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Game 7, if necessary, would be back at Boston’s TD Garden on Tuesday.
On his breakthrough effort, Matthews took a pass from Jake Muzzin, whose wife gave birth to their first child on Thursday, and wired his shot beyond Rask for his fourth of the playoffs with 8:27 left in regulation. The goal was also the fifth point in three games for Matthews, who had just two in his previous nine playoff outings dating back to last year.
“I’ve been through it a couple times the last couple years,” Matthews said of having goals called back. “You always just hope for the best.”
The goal aside, Babcock said the former No. 1 pick’s commitment to a 200-foot game is the reason he put up his best performance of these playoffs.
“People just think because you’re a good player you know how to do that,” Babcock said. “You don’t know how to do that because you don’t have to do that when you’re a kid. You have to learn how to do it.
“I thought he played great. I was impressed with him and proud of him. He should feel good about himself.”
Kapanen, who came in with zero points in the series and just three in his last 19 games, helped set up his team’s first, and then scored its second when he finished off a 3-on-2 just 2:12 later.
“Obviously feels good,” Kapanen said. “At the same time I think our whole line played a really solid game throughout, and so did the team.”
Boston pulled Rask with under three minutes to go, and Krejci got the Bruins within one with 44 seconds left — a goal stood after another review, this time for offside.
But the Leafs, who lost in seven games to the Bruins both last spring and in 2013, held on late and will head home with a chance to send Toronto to the second round for the first time in 15 years.
“The hardest game to win is the fourth game to put the other team out, especially a proud group of guys,” Babcock said. “It’s something that we haven’t been able to do.”
Notes: Toronto’s penalty kill was perfect on three Boston power plays. The Bruins entered Friday a red-hot 5 for 11 with the man advantage in the series. … Puck drop for Game 6 is set for 3 p.m. ET. Boston played 12 times in the afternoon this season, while Toronto suited up for only one.
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