For the first time in the last few weeks, the Boston Bruins lost some ground in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Quite frankly, the Toronto Maple Leafs kept the Bruins from establishing any ground during Tuesday’s pivotal Atlantic Division matchup at TD Garden.
At one point, the Leafs had another 4-1 lead to work with on Garden ice. The Bruins struggled to provide any pushback in the second period, prompting Toronto to extend their cushion to 6-1 on Auston Matthews’ power-play marker late in the second period and David Kampf’s maker a mere 47 seconds apart.
The Bruins ran into frustrating officiating throughout Tuesday’s tilt. But they didn’t help their cause from the get-go. They dug themselves a hole and only had a David Pastrnak power-play first-period marker, a Jake DeBrusk second-period tip-in and a pair of garbage time goals from Curtis Lazar and Hall to show for their sloppy effort.
Here’s what we learned following Boston’s 6-4 loss to the Leafs.
Bruce Cassidy hints at lineup changes after night of puck mismanagement
The Leafs may not have the sharpest goaltending and defensive setup. Yet, their speed and top-tier skillset can make up for those liabilities at certain junctures of the season.
In that regard, the Bruins played right into Toronto’s relentless counterattack.
The night began with Colin Backwell notching his ninth goal of the season on a Jason Spezza feed following Connor Clifton’s turnover along the wall.
Clifton had another rough moment later in the opening stanza after Alex Kerfoot blocked his shot attempt in the attacking zone. Kerfoot sprung in alone on a breakaway, promptly beating Jeremy Swayman for his 11th goal of the season with 1:16 left in the first period.
Brandon Carlo also found himself flat-footed on William Nylander’s rush leading to Morgan Reilly’s rebound marker to put Toronto ahead for good at 8:28 of the opening stanza.
The frustrations continued as the Leafs continually got behind Boston’s defensive structure. The Bruins faced a five-goal deficit late in the middle 20 after Mitch Marner, Matthews and Kampf scored in a span of 8:21.
“We clearly needed to be better, and we have been,” Cassidy said. “Against this team, you’ve got to take care of the puck. We didn’t do enough of it early on. Obviously, we weren’t prepared to play, so again it’s a shared responsibility. That’s our job as coaches to get them ready to play, and the players have got to be ready to know the magnitude of the game.”
The night of defensive blunders falls on everyone. Yet, Boston’s bench boss has his sights set on a change heading into Thursday’s matchup with the New Jersey Devils.
Cassidy planned on providing more minutes for Mike Reilly and Connor Brown at some point this week. The mishaps from Tuesday might have sped up Cassidy’s impending lineup decision(s) on the back end.
“There will be some changes Thursday; there has to be,” Cassidy said.
“We may have done it anyway, so this might not be the end all be all. But it certainly accelerated the process.”
Swayman wasn’t sharp but also didn’t receive any help
The Bruins could’ve used a timely save or two from their rookie netminder amid their sloppy performance. But they often put Swayman in a vulnerable position against the skilled Leafs.
Swayman struggled to track the puck for one of the rare times this year. He allowed more rebounds than usual. But his teammates failed to bail him out whenever he was under duress.
The Bruins waited to tab Linus Ullmark for relief duty until the third period. They wanted to see Swayman’s response as the team entered desperation mode following Kerfoot’s tally. With Swayman hung out to dry amid a struggling performance, Cassidy made the switch and provided Ullmark with a little extra work ahead of his next scheduled start against the Devils.
“He deserves a chance to go and get a big save for us because we’re going to need one, right?” Cassidy said. “You’re going to have to take more chances, maybe not right away, but somewhere in the second period to get back into the game. But it seemed like we broke down in front of him, and [the puck] was just going by him tonight.”
Swayman wasn’t the only Bruin having troubles handling the puck. As a result, the Bruins find themselves in familiar territory, chasing both the Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the standings.
The Bruins need to step up more against playoff teams
Given their stellar 17-game run heading into Tuesday, the Bruins appeared prime for their stinker since their 4-1 loss to the Islanders in mid-February. It just so happened to come against a speedy Maple Leafs bunch.
Yet, their performances against the current 16 playoff teams provided mixed results. For every stout effort against a team like Tampa Bay, there’s a less than ideal outing against a squad like Toronto. For every convincing triumph over the likes of Colorado, there’s a trio of subpar performances against another elite team in Carolina.
Tuesday’s setback dropped the Bruins to 12-13-4 against the current 16-team playoff field. They have nine more scheduled matchups against postseason-bound squads, including their regular-season finale with the Leafs on Apr. 30.
The Bruins didn’t play to their identity until they showed some life in the third period. If anything, the urgency from the final 20 provided a building block for Thursday. They’ll need more of a 60-minute effort, however, no matter if it comes against cellar-dweller like the Devils or fellow playoff-bound teams like the Leafs, Lightning, Panthers, Penguins and Capitals.
“You just have to focus to getting back to our game… our identity. That’s what made us a good team in the past few months here. That’s just being stronger on pucks and playing that Bruins brand of hockey,” Lazar said. “We need that for a full 60, so let’s get back in the saddle on Thursday and put together a solid 60.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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