There was great buzz in the arena and a sprinkling of good signage when the Bruins came out for warmups before Saturday’s Game 2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In a town that’s gone soft on its teams — rarely is heard a disouraging word about the sacred Pats, the smug Sox, or the ever-glass-half-full Green Team — Bruins fans have retained their edge, dignity, and demands.
There is no fooling these people. Put a bad product on the ice or show something less than 100 percent effort and they will come at you with pitchforks. The B’s fan dynamic is almost exactly what it was 40 years ago and this is a good thing.
The Bruins rewarded their fans with bone-crunching hits in a 4-1 victory Saturday night. It was the total opposite of Boston’s dead-ass, 4-1 loss in the series opener. Playing one of their best games of the season, the Bruins squared the series with 60 minutes of blood and thunder hockey.
“We basically let ’em know how we’re going to play,’’ said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “The temperature of the game went up tonight.’’
“Obviously, their intensity was at a different level,’’ admitted Leafs coach Mike Babcock.
The B’s summoned Rob Gronkowski to hoist the Black & Gold Festivus pole for Game 2’s late start. Wearing a David Pastrnak No. 88 sweater, Gronk incited the sellout throng — “Playoff hockey, baby, let’s go!” — waving the banner and banging the glass above the boards a couple of times while the giant B’s flag passed around the lower bowl.
Gronk Magic? The B’s were hoping to have better luck than the Sox, who trotted out Gronk for the Fenway opener, then delivered another disappointing, sloppy loss.
Dating back to last spring, the Bruins came into the night with a five-game playoff losing streak. Nobody was happy with Game 1, and Brad Marchand even admitted that the Bruins were a little too full of themselves before the start of this first-round series.
Tuukka Rask, a man with something to prove around these parts, a man who’s won more games for the Bruins than Tim Thomas, Andy Moog or Gerry Cheevers, led them onto the ice. After a couple of stirring anthems by Todd Angilly — I still miss Rene Rancourt and the triple fist-bumps — Cassidy mixed things up by putting his checking line on the ice at the start of the game.
The Bruins came out flying and were rewarded in the fifth minute when Weymouth’s Charlie Coyle took a behind-the-net feed from David Backes and fired it past Frederik Andersen. It was the Bruins’ first even-strength playoff goal since Game 2 against Tampa one year ago.
Cassidy gets high marks for his management of veteran Backes. The wealthy winger was a healthy scratch for Game 1 and it was clear he was motived — like the rest of his teammates.
“I think he recognized what he needed to do,’’ said Cassidy. “He’s a leader. He’s been through playoffs before.’’
Boston took the play to the Leafs for the remainder of the first period and jumped to a 2-0 lead with four minutes left when Marchand converted a beautiful spin-o-rama pass from Pastrnak. The breakaway opportunity was created by a stretch pass from Torey Krug. It was a highlight reel stuff, rewarding fans and the hard-skating Bruins.
All in all, Saturday’s first period was a 20-minute tour de force by the home team. Boston outshot Toronto, 14-7, as fans chanted “An-der-sen!”
“We got the crowd into it,’’ said Cassidy. “There was a good feeling in the building. We needed to bring it out of them.’’
The Bruins made it 3-0 midway through the second when Danton Heinen stuffed the puck past Andersen after a careless turnover by William Nylander.
“We basically shot it in the net ourselves,” said Babcock.
Seconds later, Chris Wagner flattened Frederik Gauthier and it was officially a party on Causeway Street. Big Bad Bruins. Just like the good old days of Bob Wilson, Pie McKenzie and The Nutty.
There was some dangerous hits in the third, none worse than Nazem Kadri’s cross check to the head of Jake DeBrusk. Kadri had cut the lead to 3-1, but his subsequent dirty play eliminated all chance of a comeback — Patrice Bergeron scored during the five-minute major — and will probably cost Kadri several games. Maybe the rest of the series.
This will not play well in Tim Horton’s Country. It would be hard to overstate how important this series is to the folks back in Toronto. Hockey is the biggest sport in the country and Toronto is the most important franchise in the nation. No team from Canada has won the Stanley Cup since the 1993 Canadiens, and the Maple Leafs have been the most frustrating of franchises.
Representing the fourth-largest city in North America, the Leafs have not won a Cup since 1967 or so much as a single playoff series since 2004. Folks in Toronto are still stinging from the 2013 first-round loss to the Bruins when the Leafs led Game 7, 4-1, in the third period. Overall, the Bruins have beaten the Leafs in five consecutive playoff series.
The Bruins expect to make it six. The Hub’s Hockey Krishnas will settle for nothing less.