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In a playoff-like atmosphere, Bruins win a wild one against the Maple Leafs on Matt Grzelcyk’s late goal

The two biggest stars for the Bruins against the Maple Leafs, goalie Linus Ullmark and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, celebrated together at game's end.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

All but fighting each other to a draw, the Bruins and Maple Leafs put on a Saturday night special.

A Matt Grzelcyk slapper, clocked at 87.2 mph, was the difference. At 18:44 of the third period, the defenseman from Charlestown stepped into a rolling puck, after Toronto captain John Tavares turned it over, and hammered a shot past netminder Matt Murray.

Bruins 4, Leafs 3 — the score on Saturday night, and from playoff series past.

“Two elite teams in the league going at it,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said after his group improved to 33-5-4. “I thought it was great hockey.


“I think the game meant more to us than I imagined before the game. I’m glad it did. We’re proud of not having lost two in a row. There was a purpose to what we were doing.”

Boston, 11 points clear of Toronto (26-11-7) in the Atlantic Division, heads into Monday’s matinee with Philadelphia having erased the sour taste from Thursday’s shutout loss to Seattle.

The Bruins and Maple Leafs are ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the overall standings. Since starting 4-4-2, Toronto has gone 22-7-5.

“A statement game for us,” said Grzelcyk, who Montgomery noted is playing his best hockey of the season.

With the win, Linus Ullmark (23-2-1) kept pace with Tiny Thompson, who won a record 23 of his first 27 games (23-4-1) for the Bruins in 1929-30.

Ullmark (18 saves) surrendered an elite finish to Auston Matthews on the tying goal early in the third period, a power-play goal to Michael Bunting and another on a long, screened, rush shot by Pierre Engvall. But the Vezina Trophy candidate added the following to his highlight reel: a diving glove stop on a Justin Holl rebound bid, a sprawling left-pad denial of Matthews and a blocker stop on Mark Giordano — all of which were sure-thing goals.


“He keeps showing he’s someone you can trust in big moments,” said Montgomery of the All-Star netminder (1.92 goals against average, .936 save percentage).

Matthews, having a down year by his world-class standards, tied the score at 3:17 of the third. Twisting away from coverage after Mitch Marner forced a Hampus Lindholm turnover, he produced an in-tight-upstairs finish for his 21st goal.

The Black and Gold held a 3-2 lead entering the final period of a hard-hitting, high-danger, fast-paced affair on Causeway Street. Any Boston-Toronto game is intense, but this one had playoff vibes from the jump.

“I thought we played with the right amount of emotion, and we didn’t get emotional,” Montgomery said. “I liked how we stuck together out there. They did, too. There’s players on their team that certain guys on our team don’t like, and I’m sure it’s the same way — that’s what makes a rivalry, and that’s why it was such a good, heated hockey game.”

Part of the springtime, rivalry feel to Maple Leafs-Bruins included plenty of dustups after the whistle.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak helped the Bruins keep pace on the scoreboard, until the fourth line provided what looked like the push over the hump. A.J. Greer scored the go-ahead goal at 10:33 of the second, set up by Nick Foligno. They were also involved physically, Foligno throwing hands in a marathon bout with hard-rock veteran Wayne Simmonds in the first period and Greer sitting for half the third period along with Simmonds (10-minute misconducts, each).


In the first period, the Maple Leafs were hot after Ullmark lost his stick while making a flailing save on Marner, believing he threw the paddle. On replay, it was clear that Bergeron accidentally chopped it out of the netminder’s hands.

Bergeron and Brad Marchand gave Ullmark a chance to retrieve his stick. The captain harassed John Tavares on the forecheck. Marchand swooped on Morgan Rielly’s giveaway and hit Bergeron for the tying goal at 15:02 of the first.

The captain’s tap-in was his 16th goal, and it came after Marchand had five scoring chances (four shots on goal) on Murray (30 saves) in the opening minutes.

The Bruins outshot the Maple Leafs, 15-5, in the first 20 minutes, and were ahead, 28-17, in shots through 40 minutes. The teams combined for 10 shots in the third (6-4, Boston).

Engvall made it 2-1 on Toronto’s sixth shot of the game. The big Swede took the puck from the right dot in his own end and made quick work of the neutral zone, then fired a shot through a Brandon Carlo screen at 2:43 of the second.

Pastrnak, picking off a telegraphed Conor Timmins pass, finished a 2 on 0 with Marchand by whipping a short-side wrister underneath Murray’s pads at 5:52. The goal (No. 33) was Pastrnak’s eighth in five games. He has eight of Boston’s last 18 goals.

After Taylor Hall helped keep it 2-2, diving toward Ullmark to break up a 2-on-1 pass — Montgomery called it a championship-chasing play — Greer had his say.


Greer, who hadn’t scored since a run of 3-2–5 in his opening four games in a Boston sweater, provided the 3-2 lead at 10:33 of the second off a pretty feed from Foligno, who hit his linemate in traffic for a shot underneath Murray’s pads through a screen.

“I haven’t played in the playoffs in the NHL, but I can definitely feel it,” Greer said. “We have a resilient group, a tight group. It was a great win. It was a rewarding win in front of our fans. It’s Bruins hockey. It’s electric.”

Matt Porter can be reached at Follow him @mattyports.