Two weeks into 2023, the Boston Bruins still haven’t lost two games in a row.
Like the Bruins, who suffered their first home regulation loss of the season against the red-hot Seattle Kraken on Thursday, the Toronto Maple Leafs arrived at TD Garden fresh off a disappointing loss two nights prior.
In Saturday’s entertaining, playoff-like tilt, neither team provided any breathing room. Both teams punched and counterpunched with timely goals, highlight-reel saves, heated post-whistle exchanges, and more.
For every Matt Murray clutch stop — including his flashy glove save on Brad Marchand in the opening moments, there was Linus Ullmark stopping the Leafs on the doorstep with Tim Thomas-like stops, including a diving blocker save on Mark Giordano — with a bit of help from Taylor Hall along the way.
The two goalies also wanted moments back in the second frame after Pierre Engvall and David Pastrnak traded tallies on relatively routine shots.
For a spirited heavyweight bout between two respected veterans in Nick Foligno and Wayne Simmonds, there was Michael Bunting trying to get under the skin of Trent Frederic and Patrice Bergeron. The second-year Leafs forward prompted Boston’s attention numerous times, from his first-period marker to starting a near bench-clearing exchange at the end of the middle frame with A.J. Greer and Simmonds each receiving 10-minute misconducts.
For every crafty tally like Auston Matthews’ third-period equalizer and Bergeron’s tip at the end of the first period, there were unsung heroes like Greer and Matt Grzelcyk. Boston’s fourth-line right winger notched his first tally since Oct. 18 to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead.
Grzelcyk also benefited from Hall’s assertiveness after firing his first goal since Oct. 28 on a unique corner setup from Hall with 1:26 remaining.
For a mid-January contest, the Bruins and Maple Leafs embarked on an entertaining and heated battle. Here’s what we learned from the B’s 4-3 win in front of an electric Causeway Street faithful.
The Playoff-like tensions took center stage.
Perhaps the decade-plus long history of Game 7’s and other thrilling moments in the regular season and playoffs factored into Saturday’s tilt. Or maybe both teams had something to prove coming off a loss.
The Maple Leafs continue to look up to the Bruins after their recent bitter postseason defeats. And barring any catastrophic collapse, they’ll remain in chase mode as the B’s continue their record-setting regular season pace.
“I think it is a rivalry a little bit. Yes, it’s Original Six, but we’ve seen these guys many times over the course of the last decade and even more. Those are a lot of games and playoff series, and when that happens, there’s a rivalry that gets established,” Bergeron said. “We’re also aware of the standings, and there are teams that are trying to catch up to us. It was big points for them and big points for us. So those games are going to be a battle, and that’s what we saw.”
The capacity crowd of 17,850 agreed after witnessing three scintillating chapters.
“I thought every period the intensity ratcheted up and especially in the third,” head coach Jim Montgomery said. “It was great. The crowd was into it. Two elite teams going at it, and it was great hockey.”
The Foligno-Simmonds bout, the Murray save on Marchand, a thrown stick from Ullmark and Bunting and Bergeron’s markers highlighted the opening ensemble.
Bunting was front and center in the middle act, antagonizing Frederic with a trade-off of slashes and kicks and throwing a verbal jab at the well-respected Bergeron that drew the ire of Boston’s bench. Not to forget, the middle frame featured Ullmark’s highlight-reel stop on Giordano after Engvall and Pastrnak traded markers.
“He just keeps showing that he’s someone you can trust in big moments,” Montgomery said of Ullmark. “The second goal — I haven’t looked back at it — but I haven’t seen him get beat in that area this year. But then he makes four big-time saves this year after that in the second period.”
All parties saved the best for last.
The tensions may have simmered, but the desperation remained. The Leafs pushed back with Matthews’ top-shelf marker at 3:17 of the final stanza.
Surprisingly, Toronto only fired 21 shots on net. But they traded quantity for quality, generating significant traffic in front of Ullmark’s crease.
The resilient Bruins may have encountered a few slip-ups in their defensive end. But they made up for that shortage with an aggressive transition game. They shined in the finale, capping off the win in the playoff-like tilt behind Grzelcyk’s go-ahead tally and Ullmark’s final sequence of saves.
“We have a resilient group, and we have a tight group,” Greer said. “It was a great win, a rewarding win in front of our fans. It’s Bruins hockey. It’s electric.”
“It was a lot of fun,” Ullmark added. “It’s easy to say that when you win, but yeah, it was a lot of fun.”
The Bruins improved to 9-0 following a loss.
Compared to their October and November counterparts, the Bruins looked a little more vulnerable throughout December and January. But even that analogy is a little bit of a stretch.
The Bruins encountered more lulls in their performances to close out their first-half slate. Two nights, they finally embarked on a true stinker, with the Kraken earning a well-rounded 3-0 victory on Garden ice.
As Friday’s film review approached, the Bruins reminded themselves of a prideful talking point dating back to Zdeno Chara’s captaincy.
“It’s usually the first thing that’s said,” Grzelcyk said of the B’s wanting to avoid back-to-back losses.
“I think that’s been established ever since I’ve been here. We’ve had great leaders over the years in Big Zee [Chara] and Tuukks [Tuukka Rask], and obviously, the guys who are still here. Ever since I’ve been part of a Bruins culture, it’s been deeply rooted. It’s something that we take pride in.”
The stout leadership inside Boston’s tight-knit dressing room continues. The veteran presence is just one of the many contributing dynamics to the bounce-back mantra throughout the last decade under Claude Julien, Bruce Cassidy and now Montgomery.
Frankly, these current Bruins are overdue to encounter a stretch of consecutive losses. And perhaps a different team would’ve gotten the better of the Bruins on this night.
But the Bruins wouldn’t be denied Saturday against one of the few squads that got the better of them earlier in the season. And that will only serve Montgomery’s squad well come mid-April.
“I think the game meant more to us than I imagined before the game. I think that was my biggest takeaway, and I’m glad it did,” Montgomery said. “We’re proud of not having lost two in a row. And there was a purpose to what we were doing, not only because it was a second-place team in Toronto that we were playing, but we don’t want to lose two in a row. Because if you lose two in a row in the playoffs, you’re in a hole.”
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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