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  • Takeaways: Bruins finally round into form against Leafs

    Tim Rosenthal March 4, 2024

    The Boston Bruins will still encounter some slip-ups between now and the rest of the regular season. They may even face another round of hiccups — minor or costly — in their final pre-trade deadline tilts against the Oilers and Maple Leafs.

    But two nights removed from a downright ugly showing against the Islanders, they finally compiled that elusive well-rounded outing in Toronto.

    With his motor going from the get-go, the much-maligned Jake DeBrusk snapped another multi-game drought with a goal and an assist.

    Pavel Zacha, who’s endured his share of inconsistent offensive stretches, tallied a pair of pivotal insurance tallies after Saturday’s exit to a lower-body injury.

    The Bruins found time and space in high-danger areas for primary scoring bids and capitalized on a shaky Toronto D, beginning with Morgan Geekie tipping a David Pastrnak feed past Joseph Woll at 9:43 of the opening frame.

    Boston’s blue line displayed leaky coverage in spurts. But they limited their breakdowns while Jeremy Swayman stood tall for his fourth win in his last five appearances.

    Everything came together for a needed 60-minute effort, highlighted by Pastrnak’s three assists and Swayman stopping 32 of 33 Toronto shots. The only blemish came early in the third when John Tavares beat Swayman over the blocker to cut the Boston lead to 3-1.

    Here’s what we learned from the Bruins’ 4-1 triumph over the Maple Leafs.

    Swayman again showcased why he’s worthy of a potential long-term contract extension.

    In this week’s “32 Thoughts”, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman dropped a nugget on the Bruins and Swyaman beginning discussions on a long-term contract extension.

    Through the first four seasons in Boston, Swayman showcased significant growth and increased reliability. He filled in admirably for Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak in the 2021 COVID-shortened season, eventually earning a role as Rask’s postseason backup before settling into his spot as one-half of hockey’s most dynamic goaltending tandem with Linus Ullmark.

    With Swayman due for a raise and Brandon Bussi waiting in the wings, the chatter around Ullmark’s future will only intensify in the final week of the trade deadline. Even if Ullmark stays, the days of goalie hugs and other heartwarming moments between the two tight-knit netminders could become a distant memory amid a more fluid and flexible off-season goalie market.

    There’s no denying who the keeper is here. And on Monday, Swayman returned to Toronto for the first time since the All-Star game to deliver his best performance out of the break.

    Swayman’s best sequence of the night came during one of Toronto’s four power play attempts, robbing Auston Matthews of a one-timer and denying former teammate Tyler Bertuzzi of a potential secondary bid upon an initial stop on a shot from the faceoff dot. But as he faced some challenging shots, he also received plenty of support from an improved Boston D.

    “It was our identity, and that was really special to see the ways guys responded and played for the crest,” Swayman told reporters after notching 20 wins for the third season in a row. “Obviously, we get results when we do that, and again, we’re going to have this game to look back on to win big games like this.”

    Swayman performed as a goalie worthy of a lengthy contract extension. But a couple months removed from his public comments surrounding last summer’s arbitration process, the upbeat Alaska native wouldn’t confirm or deny Friedman’s report.

    “I like Elliotte a lot,” Swayman added. “But I’m going to leave that to my agent.”

    Boston’s special teams kept the high-powered Leafs in check.

    For the first 6:25, the Bruins and Maple Leafs combined for just three shots on net. Both team’s generated some decent looks off the rush and established some zone time but didn’t have much many extensive shifts in their respective offensive ends of the ice.

    Kevin Shattenkirk served a high-sticking minor giving a potent Leafs their first attempt of the night against a Boston penalty kill that slipped up from its early season success. Toronto generated a couple of bids on that man advantage, but the Bruins used an aggressive shorthanded approach for timely clears and generated a couple of chances on odd-man rushes.

    The first of four successful kills allowed the Bruins to establish and sustain a rhythm upon returning to even-strength. And a mere 1:18 after Shattenkirk left the box, an assertive Pastrnak drew the attention of Toronto’s D before finding Geekie for a tip on the doorstep.

    “Our first penalty kill gave us a lot of life,” Montgomery told reporters, “and we scored right after that.”

    An equally subpar Boston power play of late cashed in on its first chance nearly three minutes later. Upon Geekie winning a puck battle along the walls, DeBrusk found Pastrnak parked in Gretzky’s office to set Zacha up for his first of two tallies.

    The Bruins earned their second power play opportunity late in the middle frame, firing another five shots at Woll. They didn’t convert, but the crisper puck movement within their setup allowed them to generate quality looks and prevented Toronto from flipping momentum heading into the final 20.

    Tavares’ tally didn’t hinder Boston’s shutdown effort.

    Saturday’s ugly 5-1 setback against the Islanders marked the 11th straight instance where the Bruins allowed five or more goals. That was hardly a good omen to carry with them against an offensively skilled squad like the Leafs.

    On top of that, the Leafs developed a knack for come-for-behind efforts. They’ve overcome multi-goal deficits on six occasions, only trailing the Avalanche and their seven wins after trailing by two goals or more this season.

    With that in mind, the Bruins, who’ve relinquished third-period leads on 12 occasions, knew the Leafs would push back even with a 3-0 advantage intact. Eventually, their three-goal lead decreased to two on a slick wrist shot from Tavares off a re-entry sequence into the attacking zone.

    Boston’s coverage around Swayman’s crease remained loose at times. But overall, they showcased more urgency defending the net front area, pouncing on multiple loose pucks and preventing the Leafs from generating many attempts on tips and other secondary bids during the second and third frames.

    Indeed, the Bruins matched Toronto’s desperation with timely clears and extensive shifts down the other end of the ice, leading to Zacha’s dagger at 10:35 of the third.

    “We finally put up a good 60 minutes,” Pastrnak told NESN’s Sophia Jurksztowicz. “We did have a little hiccup, but I think every single period we’re focusing on putting a good 60, and I think we did it for about 58 and a half minutes, which is a huge step forward.”

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    Tim Rosenthal

    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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