By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) - There is little room for panic in the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs and the battle-hardened Boston Bruins are showing just how valuable experience is as they chase a second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
The Bruins fell into an early hole during a pivotal road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday but battled back for an exhilarating 4-3 overtime victory that gave the visitors a 3-1 stranglehold in the best-of-seven series.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who had four assists, told reporters.
"It's a 60-minute game, and sometimes more than that, so all of us kind've tried to put that first 20 minutes behind us and focus on the next period and go from there."
The Maple Leafs, in the playoffs for the first time in nine years and desperately trying to square the first-round series, jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a pair of first-period goals.
But the Bruins stormed back with a three-goal second period and, after allowing a Toronto goal with under three minutes to play in the middle frame, entered the third period tied 3-3.
Before the game, the Bruins roster had 1,330 games of NHL playoff experience, including five players with more than 100 each. By contrast, the three Maple Leafs with the most playoff experience had played a combined 121 games.
The contrast in experience was clearly evident during the late stages. Boston never panicked even as the Maple Leafs pressed for the go-ahead goal, only to be denied time and time again by Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask.
"We know we have so much experience on this team, but it's how you use that experience that is important," Bruins forward David Krejci told reporters after scoring the overtime winner to complete his hat trick.
"I think we used it well tonight, but Tuukka also made some great saves. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have even been in overtime."
For the Bruins, the win means they can avoid a trip back to Toronto for a Game Six with a win at home on Friday that would put them in the Eastern Conference semi-final for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2011.
This season marks the sixth consecutive year the Bruins are in the playoffs, the franchise's longest stretch since their NHL-record span of 29 consecutive seasons from 1968-1996.
The Bruins' experience was not lost on the Maple Leafs, a team that does not have history on its side with Boston owning a 15-2 record when leading a best-of-seven series 3-1.
"There is obviously a bit of a learning curve," Toronto forward Joffrey Lupul, who opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game, told reporters. "In the playoffs the more experienced guys tend to have a little bit of an advantage but that's not an excuse at all."
(Editing by Julian Linden)