What we learned: Saturday night was all right (again) for Toronto
Now they begin to really count.
Two months left in the regular season. First home game in February. Twenty-seven to go after Saturday night’s affair vs. conference rival Toronto, one of the teams the Bruins must finish ahead of to play after Game 82. The home slate at 12-12-0. Five days off until Joe Thornton’s Sharks come to TD Garden Thursday.
The Leafs and surging Florida Panthers hot on the Black and Gold’s tail for third in the Atlantic, both with games in hand.
With a three-game skid, the young and rebuilding Leafs are on the course set by Mike Babcock to re-establish Toronto as an annual participant in postseason play. Six Leafs rank in the NHL Top-20 for rookie scoring (Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Nikita Zaitsev).
“I don’t think you should spend much time worrying about the last few games,” Babcock said at Toronto’s morning skate. “It’s a big game; we’re playing in Boston. It’s Saturday night, and there’s nothing like winning on a Saturday night. Let’s get it looked after.”
The last time Babcock took his charges into TD Garden was back on December 10. Saturday night all right. Toronto got it looked after in that 4-1 win, preceded with a 4-1 win back on October 15 – yep, Saturday night – to take all four points so far. With a whopping five games in hand and three points behind Boston, basic arithmetic put Saturday night in the quintessential four-point category.
Tuukka Rask at 25-13-4 vs. Frederik Andersen at 21-11-8 with a razor-thin margin all-time between the two. Rask 15-4-2 in 23 career games against the Maple Leafs; Andersen unblemished vs. B’s at 6-0-0.
Here’s what we learned in the most entertaining 60 minutes this season – a throwback-type game, but two big points lost in the standings. In the words of Claude Julien: “We had a chance to win this hockey game, and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Nifty goal gets B’s off and running – but Backes’ turnover keeps it even after 20 minutes
At 2:17, Zdeno Chara sent a center-ice pass to Patrice Bergeron who shoveled it across to a streaking David Pastrnak. His wrist shot found daylight between Andersen’s pads, while the follow-up Babcock offside challenge went dark. It was Pastrnak’s ninth point in his last five games.
Those rookie Leafs took advantage of a David Backes’ gaffe, to go 2-on-1 with Torey Krug hung out to dry. Mathews sent a perfect pass across to Nylander who did a two-step on Rask’s doorstep before poking it into the open net at 11:15. That rookie complement would account for 10 total points.
Rask made the save of the period to keep the score even when he went cross crease to stop a Tyler Bozak bullet at 15:34 with the Leafs on the man-advantage.
Early second-period collapse sends Rask to the showers; Pastrnak and McQuaid lead spirited surge
The Bruins’ Achilles heel for most of the first half of the season – poor second-period play – came back to bite them big-time in certain places when former UNH star James van Riemsdyk opened the Leafs’ floodgates at 8:31 with three goals on four shots in a span of 1:38. That was followed by an Adam McQuaid turnover leaving Nylander solo to go public skating on Rask for his second at 9:09. Another Bruin penalty gave Nylander a clean lane to Rask at 10:55 to complete his first career hat trick.
That sent Rask to the showers with Zane McIntyre taking over, his fourth consecutive relief appearance and yet to register an NHL win.
“Mistakes happen,” Rask offered, “and I’m there to cover those and it would be nice to have a couple of those back, but not today.”
David Pastrnak would get Boston back to a two-goal deficit at 10:55. Assists to Chara and Brad Marchand.
What might well be one flashpoint of 2016-17 occurred at 12:46 when McQuaid and Matt Martin had the best battle of the season – a two-minute non-stop exchange with McQuaid landing the final knockout blow.
“McQuaid stood up and woke some of the guys up with that scrap,” Julien said. “It seemed to give us some life, so I think the guys when they’re down 4-1, they didn’t pack their bags and leave.”
No, they did not.
Torey Krug took advantage of a Boston power play to cut the margin to one at 15:53 with Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner assisting. The final horn would sound with a scrum at Andersen’s doorstep and Backes banging it home, only to be disallowed with time having expired.
A highlight-reel final 20
Spooner was horse-collared on a break-in at 2:19 to put the B’s on their fourth power play. No go. But at 10:06 Dominic Moore (7th Player Award?) led a charge over the blue line and dropped a pass back to Chara who sent a floater on Andersen. The rebound came out to Spooner who scored one of the Bruins’ biggest goals of the season to tie the game at four apiece.
Connor Brown swept a rebound past McIntyre at 15:15 to stymie the comeback – for a minute
A fifth power play gave Boston the opportunity for the equalizer with three minutes left. And Patrice Bergeron made good on a Torey Krug rebound at 17:06 to make it 5-5.
But this one went down in the “L” column when van Riemsdyk sent a floating 25-footer past McIntyre for the dagger to the spoked heart in the 6-5 loss.
“For us to point the finger at [Zane] McIntyre, we’d be wrong,” Julien said about the two soft goals.
“There are just simple reads that you don’t, for whatever reason not making and that’s the difference,” McIntyre said. “As a goalie, you make a mistake, you make a bad read.”
The Bruins outshot the Leafs, 41-26, in the three-hour regulation game.
“It was a real important game for us,” Julien said in summation, “and you lose it.”
Next and final Leafs’ match March 20
Not a Saturday night. Bring on the five-day break. And Go Pats!
“At the end of the night, it’s about winning hockey games, and I have to say that tonight, we found a way to lose,” Julien said. “We need a little bit more from certain players. There’s no doubt there. When you lose these kind of games, and you look at certain players, they’ve got to give us more.”