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Bruins will beat Maple Leafs, but still need to be better

Posted by Adam Kaufman  May 7, 2013 08:47 AM

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That’s all she wrote. The Bruins will beat the Maple Leafs and move on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Entering the series, I'd predicted a Boston win in six games but, now, I would be as unsurprised if it ended in five as shocked if it extended to seven.

The Bruins skated into Toronto on Monday night for Game 3 of their tied series against a hockey hotbed that hadn’t hosted a playoff game since Dougie Hamilton was 10 years old. The national anthem was passionate, there was an electric charge throughout the Air Canada Centre, and the crowd seemed to be wearing giveaway tallit.

Then the B’s took a leaf blower to the building and walked away convincing 5-2 winners, their eighth straight playoff win in the enemy city and the first time the Bruins had jacked up the goals-meter to five since April 10 against the Devils. Their Jekyll and Hyde performances resulting in a split at the Garden again favored the doctor, thanks to the ridiculous play of David Krejci and his linemates. Krejci's goal and two assists combined with the efforts of Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton led to 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points, bringing their staggering series total to 17 points and a plus-15 rating.

There were several positives beyond Krejci’s line.

In a hostile environment, both inside and out, the Bruins came out of the gate firing with 17 first period shots. They moved the puck well, made good decisions, and rarely relinquished their momentum. James Reimer’s poor rebound control all night didn’t hurt either.

There was no quit in them. When Jake Gardiner’s wrist shot cut the lead to 2-1 in the second period, the crowd woke up and things could have unraveled. Instead, Horton took no more than 50 seconds to again push the difference to two goals.

rask save leafs.jpg

Tuukka Rask – 5-1-0 with a career 1.38 goals-against average in Toronto – was composed and simply acrobatic on the way to a career playoff-high 45 saves against the organization that opted to pin its hopes on Andrew Raycroft back in 2006. Time and time again, Rask's lateral, sprawling, or otherwise gymnast-like stops dazzled teammates and disgusted the crowd. His block on Joffrey Lupul’s 2-on-1 attempt with Phil Kessel in the second period to keep the Bruins ahead by one was a game-changer. Moments later, Rich Peverley put the boys in black and gold up 2-0.

The team as a whole was aggressive on both defense and offense. Daniel Paille forced a turnover before cruising in for a shorthanded backhander. The Peverley goal? That was a direct result of a Jaromir Jagr steal beside the net, which led to a picture-perfect feed. Add Jagr to the Nice List, by the way, because he was creating and more involved on an active third line that impressed from start to finish for the first time in the series. That means no need to further bug you with flu talk. I’m not sorry for that pun.

After 37 hits in the series-opener, followed by 35 in defeat, the Bruins racked up 51 hits on Monday. When they’re playing well, they’re playing physical. They were intense, engaged, and avoided most of the poor decisions and mental errors that plagued them on Saturday. The B’s proved to be the superior team.

Yes, when it was still a two-goal game, the Leafs had clanged two posts. As in any sport, precision counts. Yes, the Bruins struggled on the penalty kill by allowing two goals on just five chances. The PK hasn’t been good in its three games – a putrid 66.7 percent – but it was a backbone to the B’s success in the regular season and it will likely be there when they need it. And, yes, the third period was generally ugly. Getting outshot 18-6, even when leading 4-1, is bad practice. That said, the Bruins also controlled the tempo for much of the game’s final four minutes – when they had to.

I haven’t a doubt in my mind this series, while only 2-1, is over. Bark about the Bruins’ inconsistency of late if you’d like. It won’t matter, not against the Leafs.

Going forward … well, let’s classify it like a concussion: I’m moderately concerned.

That penalty kill has to improve and 60-minute efforts are more and more important as the games go on. Getting outshot or outchanced would be something to ideally avoid as well.

But, more to the point, as good as Krejci’s line has been offensively, Patrice Bergeron’s trio has been equally bad, not that there haven’t been chances. Bergeron, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand – three men who combined for 44 goals and 56 assists during their abbreviated regular season – have zero goals in this series on a whopping 36 shots, and a mere one assist, registered by Marchand in the Game 2 loss. Jagr, a third-liner on this team, had nine points in 11 games after his transplant from the Stars, but he’s sitting on an assist and 10 failed shots through three games.

Fortunately, as long as the B’s keep winning, there’s all the time in the world for the men in question to turn those numbers around. We saw the waves of success from line-to-line in the regular season. The concern here would be greater if the team was relying on the Merlot Line for its offense, and that’s not the case. But, without four notable scorers doing what they’re paid the big bucks to do, there is justification to worry.

For now, though, why dwell on the negative? The Bruins have a couple of games to win.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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