Bruins take Game 1 behind special teams domination
With three days between games for the first time since late February, the Bruins were confident that their bad habits developed in the final weeks of the regular season, such as spotting the opposition early leads, would not bleed into the postseason. They were also sure that the tired club that struggled to get through their 21 remaining games in the final 39 days of the season, ending the year with losses in four of their final five games, would be replaced by the 50-win B’s club that often rolled the league’s top competition.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad right about was right both, as the Bruins punched five goals by Maple Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen for a 5-1 win in Game 1 at TD Garden.
"We were ready, we were on time, and we were energized. That’s what it looked like to me," Cassidy said after the victory. "We were winning pucks, getting it behind their D, the way you want to play early on. Force them to break out pucks, put them in uncomfortable positions and try to tilt the ice, and I thought we did a real good job with that early on.
"Everyone bought in, we managed it well, and off we went."
Coming out of the gate downright dominating Toronto for every square inch of ice, and with Cassidy seemingly engaging Mike Babcock in a war of line-matching through the first rotation, a hooking penalty drawn by Rick Nash put the Boston power play to work just 5:04 into the play. And with nifty movement from the B’s top unit -- David Pastrnak dished it to Torey Krug, who then fed a puck through Roman Polak’s legs and to Brad Marchand -- Marchand fooled Andersen for a 1-0 lead 24 seconds into the power play.
But as the Leafs successfully weathered a storm that at one point saw them out-attempted 12-to-1 in shot attempts, a rare misplay from Zdeno Chara in the attacking zone gave Zach Hyman the inch of breathing room the Maple Leafs needed.
In a race for the puck with a tired David Krejci, Hyman won the battle, shed Krejci off his back, went around a flying Charlie McAvoy, and tucked a shot through Tuukka Rask at the 16:52 mark of the first period. It could have been the start of something dangerous for the Bruins, too, had there been more than three minutes remaining in the period.
The second period came with the 31-year-old Rask and the Boston penalty kill having to escape further damage, as the Leafs had two different power-play opportunities in the second period, including one with shorthanded workhorse Zdeno Chara in the box.
"Huge," Krejci said of the second-period kills. "Lots of credit to the staff who got our PK guys ready, I thought they did a really good job. Like I said before, they have two really good units they have so many skilled players that can make plays, that’s was huge. Our power play did well tonight, it was a big win for us and move on."
Having turned aside all four Toronto power-play shots thrown his way, Rask and a winded Boston defense caught their much-needed break when Maple Leafs veteran Patrick Marleau was whistled for a hook at the 13:59 mark of the middle stanza.
But when the B’s top power-play unit could not find daylight, Cassidy turned to his second unit for the final 45 seconds of their opportunity for a late-period lead.
Forcing the Leafs into low-percentage clearing attempts, it was a keep-in from the Bruins’ Matt Grzelcyk that kept the puck in the attacking zone, where Krejci dished to a net-front David Backes and through Andersen for a 2-for-2 mark on the power play.
And a 2-1 lead.
Sensing the kill shot within shot, and with Toronto’s fourth line swimming in the defensive zone, Cassidy’s fearsome first line went back to work. Just plain clowning the Tomas Plekanec line around in the attacking zone, Pastrnak’s first try from between the circles. But with Marchand retrieving the puck with ease, he tried again.
This time, and on an unsettled puck, Pastrnak did not miss.
The goal, scored with just 38 seconds left, was the ultimate backbreaker for the Leafs, who had fought so hard to draw the flow of this game to their side, and looked more than capable in their attempts to fight towards a potential lead.
Babcock’s squad further complicated their comeback attempts with dumb penalties to begin the third period, beginning with a too many men and a Nazem Kadri boarding. The Bruins made them pay, not on the power play, but moments later, when Sean Kuraly provided the finishing touches on a Pastrnak bid stopped by Andersen.
"It’s a play that doesn’t come around that often and then when it does it’s kind of a waiting game and a little bit of patience which isn’t always my strong suit so I’m glad it worked out tonight," Kuraly said of the highly skillful goal. "It’s hard to be patient in my role. It’s a fore-checking, hard role and to go from 100 MPH and be able to hit everything that moves and to be able to calm down in front of the net, it can be a challenge but luckily I was able to do it tonight."
Down by three, and in search of revenge after a hit by Tommy Wingels, Kadri then lost his mind completely when he boarded an on-his-knees Wingels into the next universe.
Krejci made the Leafs pay once during Kadri’s five-minute major (and obvious game misconduct), beating Andersen’s for the B’s fifth and final goal of an absolute beatdown.
Rask finished the night with stops on 25 of 26 shots for the victory, while the Boston penalty kill did their job, with a three-for-three night.
The Bruins will look for a 2-0 series lead with a Saturday night head-to-head at a surely rockin' TD Garden.