On Toronto’s winning goal in Game 2, Ryan Hamilton made a critical defensive play.
In the opening minute of the third period, David Krejci was buzzing around the puck. Had Krejci been able to pot a goal, the Bruins would have tied the score at 2-2.
Instead, Hamilton turned defense into offense. Hamilton, a healthy scratch in Game 1, found the loose puck in the slot. With a rapid behind-the-back pass to Nazem Kadri, Hamilton got the puck away from Krejci and out of trouble.
Kadri sent an up-the-gut pass to Phil Kessel, who had slipped behind Dennis Seidenberg. Seconds later, the ex-Bruin slipped the puck behind Tuukka Rask to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead.
“It’s a five-man unit,” said Seidenberg. “We have to pick up for each other, whether it’s me or anybody else. We have to watch where he is because he’s a very sneaky player. He uses those chances to his advantage.”
It was the deciding goal in Toronto’s 4-2 win before 17,565 at TD Garden. It was a Bruins-style goal: a defensive play that becomes a scoring chance.
“The breakdowns that we had defensively were poor breakdowns on our part,” said coach Claude Julien. “We gave them a lot of outnumbered situations. We have to be better defensively in order to be better offensively. I said that last time. Our team, when it’s good defensively, it creates chances offensively. We turn pucks over and we go on the attack. Tonight, not as good as we were in Game 1.”
The Maple Leafs have some similarities with the Bruins, starting behind the bench. Like Julien, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle stresses structure, accountability, and defensive stoutness. Carlyle wants his players to be efficient defensively. That way, the Leafs generate speed in the neutral zone and offensive opportunities at the other end.
On Saturday, in that way, the Leafs out-Bruined the Bruins. They backchecked aggressively and played well positionally in the defensive zone to blanket the Bruins’ chances. The Leafs relied on James Reimer (39 saves) to make saves when necessary. Then they used their advantage — speed through center ice — to put the Bruins on their heels.
And now the series is tied at 1-1 heading back to Toronto. Game 3 is at the Air Canada Centre Monday night. The Leafs will own the momentum of the Game 2 win. They will have the support of their crowd. Carlyle will have the last change, which should help him get Kessel some shifts away from Zdeno Chara.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of energy and a lot of noise,” Bruins defenseman Wade Redden said. “They’ll be going back on a high. We’ve got to come out with a good start, take the crowd out of it, and have a strong game.”
In the second period, a pair of Joffrey Lupul strikes turned a 1-0 Toronto deficit into a 2-1 lead. Prior to Lupul’s first goal, the Leafs went on the power play after Chara was called for tripping. That penalty put the Bruins down two of their better blue-line penalty killers: Chara and Andrew Ference, who was serving his one-game suspension.
To replace Chara and Ference, the Bruins had to adjust. At the end of the power play, Redden and Adam McQuaid were on the ice. The Leafs took advantage of the mismatch. Rask stopped Jake Gardiner’s point shot, but Lupul slipped between McQuaid and Redden to put the rebound into the net at 5:18, tying the game at 1-1.
Lupul scored his second goal after a bad line change. Matt Frattin initiated the sequence by first blowing past a flat-footed Brad Marchand in the neutral zone. Frattin then drove wide on Seidenberg.
At the same time, both Lupul and Tyler Bozak sprinted toward the net. Johnny Boychuk, the only other Bruin back, had to pick between the two. Boychuk went with Bozak, which left Lupul alone. Lupul took Frattin’s feed and beat Rask at 11:56 to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead.
The Bruins started their rally at 10:35 of the third. With Tyler Seguin jamming in front, Boychuk shot the puck from the right point. The puck glanced off Reimer’s glove, thudded off Bozak, and went into the net, closing the gap to 3-2.
But an offensive-zone cough-up by Jaromir Jagr gave the Leafs the insurance goal they needed. From the left-side wall, Jagr threw a puck into the middle of the ice that Toronto picked off. The Leafs immediately went on the attack.
Mikhail Grabovski sprinted through center ice, which forced Seidenberg and Redden to backtrack instead of keeping a tight gap. Grabovski sliced through the slot and slid past Seidenberg. Before Redden could reposition himself, Grabovski threw a pass in front to James van Riemsdyk. Rask thought he had the door closed. But a falling van Riemsdyk turned and snapped the puck inside the left post at 16:53 to give Toronto a 4-2 lead.
“They put pucks in areas where they could put pressure on us,” Seidenberg said. “We just didn’t break out as clean. We weren’t as sharp back there making the first pass. We kept turning it over. We weren’t sharp enough to get the first pass out to break out.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.