The Bruins and Maple Leafs were on a collision course for another first-round matchup throughout the regular season. That inevitable showdown turned into a reality in Game 1 Thursday night.
The palpable energy on Causeway Street was front and center leading into Game 1. Yet, the capacity crowd of 17,565 at TD Garden didn’t envision the Bruins laying an egg.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad took the early lead in the opening period after Brad Marchand found Patrice Bergeron on Boston’s first power play attempt. They had momentum on their side with a solid start. Then they unraveled.
The Maple Leafs got behind a normally stifling Bruins D to tilt the ice in their favor. Mitch Marner netted two goals — by way of a rebound and a shorthanded penalty shot — in a seven-minute stretch spanning the first and second periods. William Nylander added a back-breaking goal with 1:35 left in the middle frame to give the Maple Leafs a commanding 3-1 lead.
The Bruins outshot the Maple Leafs, 38-32, yet Boston’s quality scoring chances were few and far between. Now they’re left scratching their heads following their 4-1 loss in Game 1.
“They competed harder,” Cassidy said postgame. “Most teams do come playoff time. We have to be ready for it, but I think honestly if we just managed the puck better, it would allow us to play to our strength and be heavier and win the battles in the walls… Our puck management issues today cost us in a lot of different areas in the game.”
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins dropped Game 1 of an opening-round series for the first time since 2014.
Toronto’s skill and puck mismanagement exposed Bruins’ D
Cassidy’s defensive core found a way to stop the high-powered Leafs — led by Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and talented blue-liner Morgan Reilly — during the regular season. They didn’t have a carryover effect in their first matchup with Toronto since early-January.
The Maple Leafs rely on a winger stretching the defense for long tape-to-tape passes in an attempt to create odd-man rushes and better scoring chances. Boston’s blue-liners often got caught in quicksand trying to counter Toronto’s attack in Game 1, thus leaving Tuukka Rask out to dry.
“Breakaways, breakdowns. So, I’m not going to put any of this on Tuukka,” said Cassidy. “I’ll state the obvious, yeah, we would have liked the breakaways, the penalty shots saved. Might be a different game.
“Their best player in my estimation scores a goal, plenty of time to come back. Right after that, power play hits the post, [Charlie] Coyle, maybe it’s a different game. We give up the next breakaway. I think that was our breakdown there and that was on us as a team. We’ve been exposed by them on those breakaways and you give up two, three in a row that period, so shame on us. So I don’t want to put this on Tuukka.”
The Maple Leafs didn’t do anything special. They stuck to the game plan that got them to the postseason, and it worked.
The Bruins didn’t have the usual layers on the back end. Their undisciplined defensive play put them in a tough spot. The better defensive team during the regular season didn’t defend well at all to open the series.
Third line finds a rare rhythm on Boston’s off night
The usual mixing and matching from Cassidy didn’t take place in Game 1 as the Bruins desperately searched for momentum. It was a little surprising considering that even the potent top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak couldn’t escape an off night.
There was one threesome that didn’t have an off night, however. The third line of Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson and Danton Heinen came to play in Game 1. Yet, they had nothing to show for it despite their quality chances.
The new-look trio finished with seven shots on goal and nearly found the back of the net on several occasions. Coyle, in particular, found time and space in the slot in front of Frederik Andersen on a few attempts. But a hit crossbar and timely stops from the Leafs netminder prevented Coyle and the Bruins from tilting the ice in their favor.
The Bruins know they need all hands on deck for a potential deep playoff run. The third line did their job. The rest of the team didn’t follow suit.
Buckle up for a long series
This wasn’t going to be a cakewalk by any means. Thursday proved that there’s plenty of work for Cassidy and company ahead.
It is going to take a better effort for the Bruins to win on a nightly basis. After all, they’re three losses away from being sent home for the offseason.
Not all is lost with losing the series opener. Nights like this are bound to happen when two talented teams take the ice for a two-week span. The Bruins now need to focus all of their energy on putting together a better 60 minutes in Game 2 on Saturday night.
“We’ve talked about it in the past. I think win or lose, it’s always, you know, you take the time to think about that game tonight, but then tomorrow it’s back at it and moving forward,” Bergeron said about bouncing back. “You know, no one said it was going to be an easy series. Obviously, you want to have a better start than we did tonight, but that being said, it’s on to Game 2.”
There’s nothing Boston can do to change its lackluster performance in Game 1. But there’s something they can do about the rest of the series.