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That end-of-season Bruins slump was nothing to worry about

David Backes snapped a 1-1 tie with his second-period goal.JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF

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The Bruins charged onto the ice Thursday night like the men on a playoff mission they vowed to be, first to deliver every hit, first to gather every loose puck, first to shoot and first to score. Gone was the malaise infecting their final five regular-season games, replaced by an energy and zeal befitting a postseason game on home ice, erased in the speedy Black and Gold uniforms flying all over the TD Garden ice.

Alive in a Stanley Cup dream that feels oh so real after a 5-1 domination of the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the best-of-seven first-round series.


“We were ready, we were on time, and we were energized. That’s what it looked like to me,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “That’s the way you want to play early on. Force them to break out pucks, put them in uncomfortable positions, and try to tilt the ice. I thought we did a real good job with that early on. Everyone bought in. We managed it well. It helps get the crowd in the game, it gets the energy up, and from there we kind of took off.”

It felt like they flew into the building, leaving the team that limped to a 1-3-1 regular-season finish in their dust.

Great expectations have to start somewhere, and the way the Bruins came out Thursday says plenty about their readiness for the challenge of postseason intensity, about how much they needed the break that followed a brutally tough final month of the schedule, about how a deep and talented roster can take apart an opposing team bit by bit, about the reason the Bruins should, and are, being recognized as serious contenders to the Cup crown.


“No offense to you guys, but you put more emphasis on the way the season ended in our little trend there, but we knew we needed a little reset,” forward David Backes said. “We needed a couple days’ rest, we had to bring it here for the playoffs. Now it’s throw it onto the games. I think as a collective unit we all just looked at each other and said it’s time to go out there and do our thing and not be distracted by anything.”

From the moment Rene Rancourt delivered a double fist pump to echo his double duty singing the Canadian and American national anthems, TD Garden shook downtown Boston in its signature playoff way, a city still disappointed by the Super Bowl-losing Patriots and so worried about the injury-riddled Celtics showing it is more than ready to pour all of those championship hopes into this pesky, upstart hockey team that started the season as a mystery and ended it as a monster.

“Obviously we have high expectations for ourselves. It’s been a good year for us, but we don’t think we’re done, we don’t think we’ve accomplished anything solid yet, so we want to play as long as we can and really play our best hockey right now,” fourth-line center Sean Kuraly said after the team’s morning skate, before he would punctuate his return from injury with a third-period goal. “It’s realizing that the only thing that matters is your game tonight. That’s most of it. But I think most of us would be lying to you if we weren’t hoping for more.”


When the crowd’s early strains of “Let’s go, Bruins” were replaced later by the more ambitious chants of, “We want the Cup,” the fans made it clear the players aren’t alone in their sentiment. Together, they delivered on the promise, combining to create an intense, emotional atmosphere full of twirling gold towels in the stands and dazzling skating patterns on the ice.

There was the opening tone-setting power-play goal from veteran Brad Marchand, who benefited from the beautiful puck-carrying run down the center of the ice by Torey Krug, and took Krug’s smooth pass and sent it skidding through the goalie’s legs. There was the momentum-swinging go-ahead goal by Backes that didn’t merely erase the lull that had descended upon the game in the wake of Zach Hyman’s first-period tying score for Toronto, but that opened the floodgates so completely and decisively it obliterated any chance the Leafs had of getting back in the game.

Backes’s power-play conversion at 15:43 of the second period followed a particularly intense stretch of play, one that saw a ticked off Rick Nash sprawled on the ice in a scuffle. That helped explain why Backes followed his score with a two-hand slap into the boards behind the goal, as if he knew what was about to follow. When David Pastrnak left no doubt his wicked wrist shot with 38 seconds remaining in the period was going to scream into the net, the Bruins left no doubt they had rattled the Maple Leafs beyond repair, riding two more third-period goals to an opening-night blowout.


“It’s a good start but it doesn’t mean much,” Marchand said. “We’ve got to let it go, we can’t get stuck on it. It’s on to the next one.

“I think that’s been our mind-set all year and we know they’re going to punch back. It doesn’t matter in the playoffs if you win in overtime or 7-0, it’s all about how you regroup. They’re going to regroup and come back hard.”

Of course he is right, and of course his teammates were quick to concur.

“I’m sure they’re going to come back hard after a 5-1 game. The playoffs are all about momentum,” Nash said.

“We got one down, and a lot more to go,” winning goalie Tuukka Rask said. “It’s definitely not going to get any easier. We played a good game today. But it’s one game. We’ll enjoy it for an hour now and then get ready for Saturday.”

And finally, from Pastrnak: “One out of four steps.”

Still, as first steps go, this one was pretty impressive, looking like the first of many.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.