It was a game of zones, and the Bruins didn’t play it very well
TORONTO — No fights. No dirty plays. No controversy. No looking ahead to the next day and wondering if the NHL suits in New York will alter the rosters through fines or suspension.
The Bruins and Leafs Monday night stuck to hockey — just the hockey, mam, just the hockey — and the Leafs proved one power-play goal better in taking a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series.
The Leafs also proved more proficient at getting out of their own zone, and in turn skating and playmaking without much difficulty into Boston’s end of the ice. The Bruins made few boo-boos, a good sign for the Black-and-Gold, but they also couldn’t impose the kind of forecheck and offensive-zone puck possession needed to get an upper hand on one of the fastest, most skilled teams in the playoffs.
“Very effective for us in Game 2,” noted coach Bruce Cassidy. “Putting pucks behind the goal line and forcing [the Leafs] to go 200 feet. I don’t think we got burned by the stretch pass, per se, but we didn’t establish enough forecheck to create second chances, get them fatigued in their zone, get ’em tired kicking pucks out . . . it was decent at times but not consistent enough for what I feel is a formula for us to have the most success.”
In Game 4 (here Wednesday night), the Bruins will have to be faster into the zone and quicker on pucks. Nothing makes the Leafs, or any team, look faster than quick outs from their own zone. The Bruins finished the night with more shots, 36-34, but that did not provide a fair portrayal of what they were doing once over the offensive blue line. All shots are not created equal.
The Bruins need more pressure, more force against the Leafs along their rear wall, more playmaking low in the slot and at viable attack angles near the net.
“I think that’s the biggest key to this series, the neutral zone, and it seemed they were coming with more speed tonight,” said Jake DeBrusk, noting Toronto’s ability to build speed in the middle, the product of quick outs. “I thought we brought the speed in Game 2, and they brought the speed in 1 and 3 . . . and those are the results.”
As they showed in Game 2, the Bruins, if their feet are moving, had the edge on strength and muscle. They lit up the Garden Saturday night with heavy hits along the boards, smacking the Leafs from the night’s opening face.
No such thump and thunder here. There were pucks contested along the walls, but it was relatively quiet night. The Leafs, not a known for their brawn, outhit the Bruins, 42-33.
A sure sign of a quiet night for the Black-and-Gold: when the top line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak finish 0-0—0. They squeezed off a total seven shots on net, but nothing that truly tested goalie Frederik Andersen.
It’s the little things, said Bergeron, beginning with pucks on net that lead to chances and goals.
“You know, that’s where you’re going to score your goals, right?” he said. “It’s about keeping the puck in there and once . . . you do have possession, it’s about getting it to the net a little bit more. We can’t stay on the outside. We have to find to find a way to create those chances.”
Much of the credit had to go to the Leafs backliners, particularly the top four likes of Morgan Rielly-Ron Hainsey and Jake Muzzin-Nikita Zaitsev (who put a big check on a stunned DeBrusk in the final moments of the third period). On a night when Boston’s best forwards found it hard to create, the Leafs’ best backliners were quick to their checks and faster to loose pucks.
“They were doing a good job,” noted Bergeron, “but it’s that type of game where you need to be moving your feet and be on top of them.”
Boston’s own even-strength goal, a David Krejci 1-1 equalizer, had Hainsey and Rielly only momentarily off task. Rielly was behind the goal line when Matt Grzelcyk fired wide left of the net with DeBrusk unable to cash in at the right post. The puck squibbed out to the low slot, with only Hainsey near the net, and Krejci made the successful shovel for his first goal in three games.
“I mean it’s hard, just because of the way they play,” said Marchand. “They throw the puck out of the zone and blow the zone with three guys [leaving only two in the defensive end]. It’s tough to keep alive. But the difference in the game was special teams [Toronto’s two PPGs to Boston’s one], so, you know, worry about the next one.”
Three games into the first round series, the Bruins have yet to hold the advantage. The Leafs breezed in Game 1, then fell apart two nights later when the Bruins outmuscled them in all three zones. The earliest they can gain the upper hand now is Friday in Game 5 back at the Garden, provided they even it here Wednesday. To do that here, they found out they’ll have to summon both pace and muscle in equal measure.
“It’s more on us,” said Pastrnak. “We’re getting a little frustrated. But it’s a long series. We’re going to regroup.”
Speed is of the essence, a lesson the Burins didn’t need to learn, but one the Leafs were too happy to teach.