The ongoing theme of the Toronto Maple Leafs first round series against the Boston Bruins has been squandered opportunities. The Leafs have been successful in winning twice on the road and taking the lead in the series on three occasions, but whenever they’ve had the chance to seize control, they have been outplayed by the more experienced and prepared Bruins.
That was once again the case in Game 6, as Toronto took an early lead, disappeared for a long stretch and rallied late but fell short in a 4-2 loss to the Bruins at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday.
Morgan Rielly opened the scoring midway through the first period, but Boston took over the game and played with level of desperation not matched by the Leafs. Brad Marchand and Torey Krug scored on the power play to put the Bruins in the lead after 20 minutes and extended the lead in the middle frame on Jake DeBrusk’s first goal of the post-season.
“I thought we were really ready, we were jumping big time. But then, as soon as we had a little adversity and they scored twice, we didn't recover.” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “I don't know if that's the emotions (getting) the better of us, but we couldn't get back in check. To say we weren't ready, that would be totally wrong. We started really well, we played really well and then, boom. Once they scored, we didn't recover very good. We talked about it and prepared for it, but it didn't happen.”
Following the pattern they displayed many times during the regular season, the Leafs put forth a furious third period rally and narrowed the Boston lead to 3-2 on Auston Matthew’s fifth goal of the playoffs, but they were unable to get the equalizer past Tuukka Rask, who made 22 saves for the victory, Babcock pulled Frederik Andersen for an extra attacker with over two minutes left in regulation and Marchand quickly converted into the empty net to push the series to a seventh and deciding game at TD Garden on Tuesday.
The determining factor in the game was special teams, as the Bruins scored another two goals with the man advantage, while killing off all three Toronto power plays. Boston has seven goals in 16 power play opportunities (43.8%) and have converted in five of their seven power plays on the road.
“It's a concern tonight, any way you look at it – I thought we really started good, they scored on the power play on the first (penalty). It was a 50/50 puck off the faceoff, they found it and shot it in – it hit Ron (Hainsey's) leg and goes in.” Babcock said. “I don't know how much of that is penalty kill on the faceoff, so won't worry about that. I thought we got on our heels after that.”
What has to be a growing concern for the Leafs is while Auston Matthews has taken over the lion’s share of the offensive duties with five goals in the last four games, the impact of the Zach Hyman-John Tavares-Mitch Marner has declined since Game 3 and in two of those games, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand have been difference makers.
It now all comes down to a Game 7 in the all-too-familiar confines of TD Garden, where the Leafs have suffered two heartbreaking losses in 2013 and last season. Toronto has won on foreign ice twice in this series, but how likely are they going to be able to do that again?
“I'm not a big believer of living in the past. I don't carry a lot of stuff around from the past at all. The bottom line is we've got a one-game series against these guys and we like each other, we like our group, we like hanging around together, we want to be together.”
Babcock said. “The only way you get to be together is if you play good and execute and win.”
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