As the games wind down to the end of the regular season, it's still a long shot for the Toronto Maple Leafs to make the playoffs.
But in coming back from a blown third-period lead to beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 in overtime Thursday night at Air Canada Centre, the Leafs kept the chance alive despite losing goaltender Jonathan Bernier to an injury.
Toronto (38-32-8) improved to 84 points with its second straight victory, a very important one after eight straight regulation losses sent the season off the rails. But the Leafs didn't get any help in their playoff quest, as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Philadelphia Flyers to get to 85 points and remain in the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.
The Blue Jackets also have two more games to play: six to the Leafs' four.
With plenty of points already gone by the wayside, all the Leafs can do is win and hope. They looked well on their way to a victory thanks to goals by Paul Ranger, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, and then Nazem Kadri provided the heroics 2:51 into overtime after Toronto blew a two-goal lead in the third.
It remains to be seen how severe Bernier's injury is. He left 7:22 into the third period after Ranger pushed Patrice Bergeron into him.
James Reimer replaced him and stopped 10 of the 11 shots he faced.
Bernier recently missed five straight games with a groin injury suffered March 13 in Los Angeles.
Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Bergeron scored for the Bruins (52-18-7), who lost back-to-back games for the first time since Feb. 26 and March 1. Boston backup goalie Chad Johnson made 27 saves.
Realistically, if the Leafs played the Bruins in the playoffs they'd have to deal with Tuukka Rask, who's having a Vezina-calibre season, and a fired-up opponent with plenty of recent Stanley Cup experience. They'd also likely be fresher than they were Thursday, when they were playing the second half of back-to-back games following a loss in Detroit.
Regardless of that, it looked like it might be a long night for the Leafs when Bruins defenceman Kevan Miller rang a shot off the left post behind Bernier just over a minute in. But then Toronto was the first to get on the board.
Winger Jerry D'Amigo, who replaced the injured Joffrey Lupul in the lineup, put the puck on net and it bounced off Johnson and in front to Ranger. The 30-year-old defenceman flipped a back-hander in to make it 1-0 at the six-minute mark.
Just 56 seconds later, Cody Franson gift-wrapped a goal for the Bruins by putting it right on Marchand's stick inside the blue-line. Marchand simply snapped a shot past Bernier to tie it.
Going into intermission tied with the Bruins, who won 15 of their previous 17 games, would've been a fine showing for the Leafs. But then Phil Kessel showed why coaches from pee-wee up tell players to put the puck on net.
Kessel had it in the corner with the seconds ticking away when he threw it on net. The puck hit Bozak in the chest and fell into the net with 12 seconds left in the first.
Bozak barely celebrated the goal, his 18th of the season, which tied his career high set last year.
As a team the Leafs didn't spent much time enjoying the one-goal lead before van Riemsdyk made it two less than a minute into the second period. Bruins defenceman Dougie Hamilton turned the puck over behind his net to Kessel, who fed van Riemsdyk for his 30th of the season at the 52-second mark.
Van Riemsdyk reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his NHL career. His previous career high was 21, set with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010-11.
That two-goal lead lasted until Lucic scored 5:03 into the third period on a play made possible by patience from Bruins leading scorer David Krejci.
Things were already looking tenuous for the Leafs, and then the Bernier injury silenced a once-enthusiastic crowd. Bergeron tied it at the 12:51 mark on Boston's fifth shot on Reimer.
Reimer stopped the rest of the shots he faced, allowing Kadri to score the game winner on the power play in overtime.