Bruins grind out impressive win over Maple Leafs
TORONTO — Should the Bruins face the Maple Leafs in the playoffs, they’ll attack with purpose. They’ll have a proven plan:
To make it painful.
The Bruins’ hard, aggressive forechecking — and some outstanding work from Tuukka Rask — were the primary reasons for a 3-2 win at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night, the Bruins sealing the season series over their Original Six rivals by taking their third win in four games.
Largely in control after David Pastrnak scored the go-ahead goal with 15 seconds left in the second period, Boston (26-15-4) halved Toronto’s 4-point lead for second place in the Atlantic Division, and won’t see ’em again until springtime, if then.
If they meet, Saturday’s game could give Boston home-ice advantage. And the Bruins have made good on that in postseasons past.
“Two big points, there’s no other way to look at it,” said Sean Kuraly, the unexpected hero of this one.
Kuraly, ostensibly a fourth-line forward, muscled his way to a career-high 3-point night by playing his usual downhill game, along with linemates Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner. He tied the game with a second-period goal and directly set up Boston’s two other tallies, feeding David Krejci and David Pastrnak when those high-skill attackers changed onto the ice.
Toronto (28-14-2) couldn’t make good on a 2-1 second-period advantage, getting a fluky goal from Andreas Johnsson and a no-doubter from Mitch Marner, but nothing more. Especially in the third, Boston was too sound, and steamrolled hard ahead.
“You’re going to play real good teams if you’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs,” said Toronto coach Mike Babcock, who heaped the praise on Boston before puck drop. “They’re probably one of them.”
The Bruins jumped all over the Leafs in the opening minutes, but survived a hard Toronto pushback and went up, 1-0, after one on Krejci’s ninth goal of the season.
“The first, there was a stretch of 10, 12 minutes we weren’t good protecting the slot,” Cassidy said. “We lost all the board battles, and that’s supposed to be the strength of our team.”
The Leafs, after killing two consecutive penalties, scored a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead by 9:30 of the second. But Boston, boosted by the shielded, streaking Kuraly, climbed back on top, 3-2, after 40 minutes.
“Just stick with it,” said Pastrnak, set up by Kuraly at 19:45 of the second. “They took over the first period. Tuuks was able to hang in there. Then Sean Kuraly’s line shows up.”
Boston had a glittering chance on the game’s second shift. Brad Marchand missed a wide-open net in the first minute, sending it wide from 20 feet after Pastrnak found him with a backhand pass from a scrum in front. Toronto did not stay down.
The Bruins had issues clearing the puck, and the Leafs had the necessary sharpness to keep it in. Speaking of sharp: Rask made 15 saves in the opening 20. He was square and calm, typical Tuukka.
Rask, on a 5-0-0 run, has allowed five goals in his last 304 minutes (0.99 GAA). He has saved 147 of 154 shots (.954 save percentage).
“I don’t know. Good to get wins. One game at a time,” said Rask, when asked if he felt he was on a hot stretch. “Try to give your team a chance. Ups and downs happen. Just go game-by-game. But I feel good.”
He also had a bit of help from Matt Grzelcyk, who stayed in the lineup over John Moore with the return of Charlie McAvoy, who missed the previous seven games with a foot infection. Grzelcyk made a save with the (unprotected) inside of his elbow, denying Kasperi Kapanen with 6:52 left in a scoreless first.
On the opening goal, Krejci wired home a slapper for the second game in a row, after Kuraly worked Nikita Zaitsev in the corner and fed the center. Credit Wagner for a late screen on Toronto netminder Michael Hutchinson, the journeyman former Boston draft pick (2008, third round) who was starting in the place of Frederik Andersen (flu).
Toronto, flashing their considerable speed, gave the Bruins fits at times in the second. While his team was on a power play (John Tavares for hooking Pastrnak), Rask calmly blockered aside Marner on a partial break. He kicked out a Zach Hyman chance from the slot. Out of the box, Tavares missed wide on another partial break.
Toronto broke through, tying the score on a strange-looking goal. With Kevan Miller and Auston Matthews in front, Rask reached up to grab Johnsson’s shot from the high slot. The puck wound up bouncing off Miller and through Rask’s pads at 7:37 of the second.
It got worse for Miller, who held an onrushing William Nylander less than two minutes later. A shorthanded Rask outwaited a deking Tavares, but couldn’t snatch a perfectly placed Marner slap shot from the dot. It went off the near post and in, 2-1, Toronto, at 9:30.
Then, as Pastrnak said, Kuraly’s line showed up.
Kuraly, who has a 4-5—9 line in his last 14 games after a 1-3—4 in his first 30, scored the tying goal at 14:47 when his line abused the Leafs’ defense pair. Acciari pounded Zaitsev along the boards. Jake Gardiner whiffed on a clearing attempt along the boards, hounded by Acciari and Wagner, who fed Kuraly the puck on the backhand for a wrister.
For the winner, Kuraly — still wearing a full face shield, which he is scheduled to take off after the All-Star break — barreled in on Zaitsev and caught him napping. A quick feed to Pastrnak, who snapped it home, and the Bruins had a 3-2 lead.
“All I’m thinking, really, is get to the puck first,” Kuraly said. “[A pass] doesn’t always go through all the time. It went through a couple guys. Thought I’d give it a try.”
The Kuraly-Wagner-Acciari line had a dominant few shifts in the third, when Boston controlled the action for the first time.
Matthews missed an open net with four minutes left, and the Leafs began buzzing. But Rask was unflappable when Toronto pulled Hutchinson with two minutes to go.
After noting that elite teams get elite goaltending, Cassidy also restated his team’s need for secondary scoring.
“Now we’re getting it,” he said. “And we’re getting the points.”