TORONTO — The Bruins made it look so easy. Zdeno Chara swung the puck down low to Jaromir Jagr. Milan Lucic muscled open some space for himself in front of the net. Jagr snapped the puck to Lucic’s blade. Lucic tapped in the puck with 25.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
Prior to Lucic’s goal, however, the only thing that came easily for the Bruins was playing the puck like it was covered in poison ivy.
The Bruins gave the puck away repeatedly. They didn’t break out crisply from their zone. As a result, they stalled in the neutral zone and crossed the blue line at a plodding pace. In the offensive zone, they played the puck as if they were handling putters instead of composite one-pieces.
As their reward, they may be swapping out their sticks for golf clubs for good.
The Bruins lost Game 6 to the Maple Leafs, 2-1, Sunday night. They also dropped Game 5, 2-1, on Friday in Boston. The Bruins, who once held a 3-1 series lead, will play Game 7 on Monday at TD Garden.
“One game decides the season,” Tuukka Rask said. “We just have to try to play our best game of the year. We really have played some great games this year. We’ve played some awful games, with the last two games not being in the top category. Tomorrow’s our only chance to continue the season with a good game or finish it off with a bad one.”
The lively Leafs are hungry for a second-round date with the Capitals or Rangers. The Bruins look like a legless, sloppy, shellshocked club that is coming up empty in its hunt for offense.
“Too many times we turned the puck over in our zone,” Dennis Seidenberg said. “We didn’t get the puck out enough in order for us to get out at the right time. We were just getting slow up the ice.”
The Bruins do not have natural straight-line speed. They must create their north-south game by forcing turnovers and ramping up to speed in the neutral zone. For the last two games, center ice has been quicksand. They are getting turnovers to generate tempo.
So when they cross the offensive blue line, they’re nearly standing still. The Leafs, who are backchecking with full support, are fending off the Bruins’ rushes with ease. They are forcing the Bruins to the outside. Toronto is allowing zero space in the middle of its zone. At the same time, the Bruins are showing little desire to enter the blue-collar areas. For the last two losses, the Bruins played as if they are scared of wrinkling their uniforms.
“We have to get shots to the net,” Seidenberg said. “It’s all the same thing. It’s finding lanes, get pucks to the net, and get guys there to pick up the rebounds. A few times, the puck comes out to the far post. It doesn’t seem to find rebounds. We just have to be hungrier all over the place, I think.”
James Reimer (29 saves) was nearly perfect. The only goal Reimer allowed was during a six-on-five with Rask off for an extra attacker.
But Reimer hasn’t had to do much. The Leafs are asking him to stop the first shot. They’ve pounced on rebounds and swept them away.
The Leafs scored both their goals in Bruins-like fashion. Early in the third period, Lucic and David Krejci bobbled away the puck in the offensive zone. Dion Phaneuf picked up the puck, skated it out of danger, and joined the rush. As the Bruins backtracked, Nazem Kadri curled into the high slot and snapped a shot on goal. Phaneuf, the overtime goat in Game 4, tipped Kadri’s shot past Rask at 1:48 to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead. The Bruins had no answer for Toronto’s speed after they coughed away the puck.
The Leafs doubled their lead following a rare Patrice Bergeron letdown. He is the league’s best faceoff man, and in Game 6 he won 14 of 19 faceoffs. But one of those losses turned into the winning goal.
Kadri beat Bergeron cleanly on an offensive-zone faceoff. Bergeron also lost his stick. Kadri pulled the puck back to Cody Franson at the right point.
Rask stopped Franson’s shot. But James van Riemsdyk crashed the net and hunted for the rebound, drawing Chara and Seidenberg with him. As van Riemsdyk kept the puck alive, Phil Kessel broke for the net. Kessel blew past a stickless Bergeron and Tyler Seguin, who was slow to react to the ex-Bruin’s race for the puck. With Rask down and out, Kessel banged in the rebound at 8:59 to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead.
Soon after Kessel’s goal, the Air Canada Centre crowd revved up a “Thank you, Seguin” chant. Kessel had a game-high five shots, with another three attempts blocked. Seguin continued his 0-0—0 line for the series, going scoreless on three shots. The ghostly line of Seguin, Bergeron, and Brad Marchand is without an even-strength goal in the series.
All season, the Bruins have been impossible for their bosses to figure out. They do not know which club will show up.
“We’ve been a Jekyll-and-Hyde hockey team all year,” said coach Claude Julien. “That’s what you’re seeing right now. I think it’s important for us to bring the good Bruins team to the table for Game 7.”