It’s a shame that the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs met for the final time in the regular season Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena. But there’s always hope that these two teams will cross paths again come mid-April.
In a game filled with quality scoring chances, tight checking, odd-man rushes, and momentum swings, the Bruins earned a workmanlike 3-2 victory and moved to two points behind the Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division.
“Obviously we were trying to play on our toes, and obviously they’re a good team too so that’s how they’re trying to play,” Sean Kuraly said after the game. “We tried to keep them to the outside, and maybe [we gave up] a little more chances to them then we would’ve liked, but that’s the way it goes versus a good team.”
Here is what we learned from Boston’s exhilarating victory over Toronto.
‘WAK’ line takes center stage
It’s rare to see a de facto fourth line face off against elite talent, but Bruce Cassidy went down that route over the past two games, with Chris Wagner, Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly. The confidence from the checking-line trio was already high entering Thursday’s tilt with Washington where they held their own against the Capitals’ top scoring line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson.
Wagner, Acciari and Kuraly faced another formidable trio featuring William Nylander, Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri on Saturday. They may have faltered a bit during the middle stretches of the first and second periods, but, in true blue-collar fashion, the “WAK” line gave the Bruins a spark when they absolutely needed it, especially Kuraly.
The former Miami (Ohio) product stayed focused on his puck pursuit en route to a career-high three-point performance that including the tying goal and an assist on David Pastrnak’s game-winner.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 13, 2019
“They deserve every point they get on the stat sheet,” Pastrnak said about Wagner, Kuraly and Acciari. “They work really hard for each other and have been playing really well together, so I’m really happy for them.”
The Bruins rarely got that secondary scoring spark during the first half of the season. Over the past few weeks, the “WAK” line is giving the Bruins that scoring plug outside of Boston’s potent top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand.
“I think that whole line has been playing great for a couple of months now, and they’re really getting rewarded now, so it’s great to see” goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “They work extremely hard every game and every day, and I think we’re just happy for them to get the reward they deserve.”
Speaking of Rask…
Rask is taking back his starting spot
Jaroslav Halak is going through his worst stretch of the season, but there’s no question that the journeyman pushed Rask to be better following the Finn’s slow start to the season. The tables have turned in Rask’s favor since the Christmas break.
Rask had a stellar night sans a crazy bounce on Andreas Johnsson’s tenth of the season and Mitch Marner’s blast — both coming in the second period. The 2014 Vezina Winner was up to the task with timely stops against the likes of Marner, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and the potent Leafs attack en route to his fifth straight victory.
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) January 13, 2019
“[I’m just] trying to give my team a chance,” Rask (30 saves) said about the ebbs and flows of an 82-game season. “You just go game by game and try to get the wins. You don’t want to look too far ahead and that’s the key for the whole team.”
Rask’s next task will likely come during the Bruins’ final regular-season meeting with the Montreal Canadiens Monday night. His next win will match Tiny Thompson’s franchise record (252).
Will the Bruins and Maple Leafs meet again in April?
The talent and passion from both squads presented a playoff-like atmosphere in an eventful Saturday night in Toronto. The tight race for second place in the Atlantic — and home ice in the first round — combined with a distant first place Tampa Bay Lightning squad makes it likely for another Bruins-Leafs showdown in Round 1.
The Bruins are separating themselves from the wild card pack featuring the Islanders, Canadiens, Sabres and Hurricanes battling for the final two playoff spots. It’s hard to see the talented Maple Leafs fading to one of the two wild-card spots, too. Of course, there’s still a good three months left, but the Bruins and the Leafs are again on a collision course to meet in April.
The Black and Gold have to feel pretty good winning three of four from Toronto that includes a rare road win in the season series. Yet, the Leafs also won three of four last season before falling to Boston in seven games last spring.
Which is why the Bruins are keeping a short-term focus. They’ll enjoy the two points for a brief moment before hosting Claude Julien’s Habs one last time this regular season.
“Obviously it’s huge,” said Pastrnak, who has 25 points in his last 12 games against Toronto. “It’s for points in the standings, but at the same time we’ve got to enjoy tonight and can’t sit on it, and just get ready for Montreal coming into our building.”