There was nothing fancy about the way Gregory Campbell set up the Bruins’ first goal in Game 1.
The fourth-line center, collapsing low in the defensive zone, first chipped the puck off the left boards to clear the zone. Once Campbell retrieved the puck, he tossed it deep into the right corner for Daniel Paille to collect. Moments later, Wade Redden scored the Bruins’ first goal — a sharp-angle shot that trickled under James Reimer’s left elbow — at 16:20 of the opening period.
“More or less, that’s the way we want to play,” Campbell said after the 4-1 win before 17,565 at TD Garden on Wednesday night. “Get the puck deep. It’s no secret. Keep the puck away from the goalie. Try to retrieve that puck by being physical and being hard on it.”
The hard-hat, chip-and-dump sequence was beautiful in its execution: strong defensive play, quick exit from the defensive zone, speed and ferocity into the offensive zone, and a timely strike.
It was Bruins hockey at its core, an elusive element in the final segment of the regular season.
“I think it was a complete game,” Redden said. “The best one we’ve had in a long time. Obviously, this is the time you need that the most. There were still times when Toronto had some pressure. That’s going to happen. But everyone stuck together. We got a few big saves at key times from Tuukka [Rask]. We got a big win.”
The Bruins submitted a dominant, punishing, 60-minute performance. They made the Leafs look like JV scrubs. They shredded Reimer (36 saves) four times and had two more goals waved off — a Tyler Seguin strike off the crossbar, and a Patrice Bergeron poke after the puck had been covered. The Bruins played with hunger, desperation, and frenzy, as if every shift was their last of the season.
The result: a three-goal win that felt more like a double-digit rout. The Bruins executed just about every component of their game plan.
Rask made timely saves. The shutdown duo of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg turned Phil Kessel into a ghost. The Bruins rolled four lines and three pairs to expose Toronto’s absence of depth.
Most important, they turned stout defense into overpowering offense.
“We say we’re a defensive team that can score,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We know that when we play good defense, that’s what ignites our offense. When we’re sloppy in our own end, we don’t get out properly. We don’t have a whole line going up the ice. Our offense starts from our defense.”
The Bruins limited Toronto to 20 shots. Other than James van Riemsdyk (team-high five shots in 17:24 of ice time), who scored the Leafs’ only goal at 1:54 of the first, Toronto’s skilled forwards looked scared to handle the puck.
For good reason.
The Bruins abused the Leafs. Tooth-rattlers included Seidenberg’s steamrolling of Joffrey Lupul, Milan Lucic’s freight-training of Clarke MacArthur, and Johnny Boychuk’s flattening of Mikhail Grabovski. The pain showed in the Leafs’ bodies as well as on the scoresheet. Lupul: two shots. MacArthur: one shot. Nazem Kadri: one shot. Tyler Bozak: one shot.
Shift after shift, the Leafs limped back to their bench. Postgame, the rumor was that the Leafs had placed a bulk order from Brookline Ice & Coal to soothe the bruises the Bruins were only too happy to deliver.
The playoff-tested Bruins know that roughing up opponents is the best approach to postseason initiation, especially with a club that’s usually teeing off at this time of year.
“Playoff hockey is different,” Campbell said. “It’s something that you have to be more mentally and physically prepared for. There’s enough leadership and veteran presence in the room to know that. It’s a different brand. It’s a lot faster. You have to compete a lot harder. You have to be ready right from the drop of the puck, be consistent, and stay with that.”
As thorough as the Bruins were on defense, they needed some help from their net. Late in the first, van Riemsdyk slithered free for a shorthanded, net-front strike. The winger beat Rask (19 saves), but the puck glanced off the crossbar.
The Bruins dashed the other way. David Krejci dropped a pass for Redden. The defenseman snapped a shot on goal that Nathan Horton tipped past Reimer at 19:48, giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead. Video review confirmed that Horton’s stick was below crossbar level. Just like that, the Bruins turned a 1-0 deficit into a one-goal lead.
“It’s always the case,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. “You hit a post at one end or a crossbar, and things come back. They get a goal late, right after we do that, on the power-play goal.”
The Bruins didn’t ease off. Instead, they mashed the gas for the final 40 minutes. At 10:25 of the second, after finding a loose puck in front, Krejci snapped a shot between Reimer’s pads to make it 3-1. At 15:44, following a clean breakout and a speedy transition into the offensive zone, Boychuk stepped into a Krejci drop pass and hammered a slap shot past Reimer to give his club a 4-1 lead.
The Bruins closed out the win in fitting fashion: with a fight. After the final whistle, Chris Kelly threw down with Leo Komarov. The Bruins fought to the end.