The Bruins again found out about flipping the switch Saturday night, only this time it was Toronto’s turn to throw it. Better in most phases of the game, especially when it came to turning chances into goals, the Maple Leafs pinned a 4-2 loss on the Bruins and evened up the best-of-seven series, 1-1.
“There was some doubt,’’ said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, alluding to his club’s weakened confidence after Wednesday’s 4-1 lackluster loss in Game 1. “Tonight, we eliminated that doubt . . . we can go out there and compete.’’
Not only compete, but stitch some doubt into the Bruins’ minds. Boston is best at the heavy game, using its size and grit to chew up opponents, wear them down, and typically win games by dominating at even strength and not making mistakes. Not in Game 2. The Leafs outhit the Bruins, 44-35, and connected three times at even strength, including one by Phil Kessel less than a minute into the third period in which the ex-Bruin turned Causeway Street into the Bonneville Salt Flats, Dennis Seidenberg left in his trail.
What we have now is a series, with Game 3 Monday night in Toronto, that could develop into every bit the barnburner that some of the Boston-Montreal matchups have been through the years. Nothing, of course, pegs emotions around here like the sight of that CH logo, but a Leaf series spiced with some Kessel revenge, along with the pinch of a Dion Phaneuf elbow to Danny Paille’s head (12:20, third period) has the chance now of ratcheting up a rivalry that has been all but dormant in the post-Original Six era.
“The biggest difference,’’ noted Boston captain Zdeno Chara, reflecting on a night gone bad, “was that they were managing the puck better than we were.’’
Indeed, the Leafs were smarter and far more efficient when in possession of the puck, and when struggling to get it back. But they were also more composed, disciplined. The Bruins handed them four power plays. Boston had only one chance, for nine seconds, on the man advantage. Chara, the disciplined captain, was called for two minors, tripping in the second period and interference in the third. One or both could be considered borderline, but overall they served as a measure of the night’s overall Black-and-Gold frustration.
“We certainly weren’t as good,’’ said coach Claude Julien, his club dominant in Game 1, the Leafs shrinking minute by minute through the second and third periods. “I think our execution wasn’t as good tonight. The breakdowns that we had defensively were poor breakdowns on our part and we gave them a lot of outnumbered chances.’’
Kessel slipping behind Seidenberg with a pinpoint Nazem Kadri feed in the first minute of the third was a prime example of lost coverage. But so was James van Riemsdyk’s goalmouth tip-toe-and-finish with 3:07 left in the third. Nikolai Kulemin started it up ice, headmanning the puck to Mikhail Grabovski, and then Grabovski’s feed to the goalmouth left van Riemsdyk to prance, pirouette, and finish. Rarely do the Bruins open up the dance floor like that. Seidenberg and Wade Redden were the missing defenders.
“We’ve got to pick up the slack, communicate better,’’ said Seidenberg, who finished minus-3 for the night. “The first game, we inititated . . . it was their turn this time. We didn’t respond the way we’re supposed to.’’
It will be all the harder in Toronto, where the Air Canada Centre will be chock-a-block full of Leafs fans witnessing their first postseason game since 2004. For Games 1 and 2 in Boston, some 3,000 fans packed the square adjacent to the ACC to watch the action on the big-screen TV. They’ve been waiting for a Cup since 1967, and though they are 15 wins away from one at the moment, at least a couple of million Leafs fans now see the Cup as 1/16th full. There won’t be two million in the ACC Monday, but the home crowd likely will sound like 2,000,001.
“If you’re Toronto right now,’’ mused Julien, “and you haven’t been in the playoffs that long, your fans have got to be excited over there. We know it’s going to be noisy and there’s going to be a lot of electricity in the air. We have to face that.’’
More important than that noise, however, will be the orchestrations of Carlyle behind that Blue-and-White bench. Left with an emotionally cratered team after Game 1, Carlyle retooled his lineup and manufactured a few line combinations and shifts that allowed Kessel to be out there when Chara watched either from the Boston bench or penalty box. Nice handiwork. Since leaving Boston, Kessel has been spooked by Chara’s shadow on pitch-black January nights in the Canadian prairies. Not true Saturday night under the bright lights of Causeway Street.
In Toronto, Carlyle gets the last change, which will make it harder for Chara to keep tabs on Kessel. Carlyle was nimble in Game 2 and should be even moreso in Game 3, allowed first glances of Julien’s lines and D pairings.
“There’s going to be a lot of energry, a lot of noise,’’ said Redden. “They’re going back there on a high.’’
History shows, when faced with adversity, Julien’s teams dig deeper, drawing on physical strength, will, and efficient defense. He will preach “heavy game’’ in Sunday’s practice, again in Monday’s morning skate, and once more in his last words prior to Monday’s faceoff.
History for the Leafs shows nothing. It’s May, and typically their players are scattered to the four corners of the world, the crushed dreams of deprived Ontarians packed in their tattered equipment bags. But this feels different. They left Boston Saturday night with a trunkload of confidence and a coach who displayed a touch of strategy the equal of van Riemsdyk’s goal. Feels like the fun’s just begun.