This was the Maple Leafs’ chance, and it was probably their season.
Everything was lined up. Toronto was coming off a dominant win, if momentum means anything, in which they finally got to show off their speed. They were at home, where they sported the league’s third best home record this season. Most importantly, Patrice Bergeron, the NHL’s best defensive forward, was out, the announcement coming not long before puck drop. And still, the Bruins came away with the 3-1 win, to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
“It was perfect,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock. “We were set up pretty good tonight for us—we didn’t take advantage.”
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Bergeron to the Bruins. The linchpin of Boston’s (and maybe the NHL’s) top line, he is this year going to take home his fifth Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s best two-way forward. “He does everything I can’t,” said Brad Marchand, an MVP candidate in his own right, so that’s high praise.
Without Bergeron, the matchup appeared to favor the young, high-speed top line of the Leafs, centered by Auston Matthews. And maybe, fundamentally it did, if not on the scoresheet. The Leafs outshot Boston and controlled play for long stretches of time. But they made mistakes, and their goaltender paid for them while the Bruins’ mistakes saw them bailed out by Tuukka Rask. “We gave them opportunities and they didn’t miss,” Mitch Marner said. “Tuukka was our savior tonight,” Jake DeBrusk said. It’s really all that needs to be said.
“We had a breakaway and a good 2-on-1, and we got nothing out of it,” Babcock said. “Both their 2-on-1s ... they buried and we didn’t make good plays on them to help our goalie out. In the end, that’s the game.”
Perhaps in honor of today’s date, everyone on the Leafs got stoned.
Dominic Moore? Stoned:
Marner? You better believe he was stoned:
You’ll notice these were very, very good chances, and there were more of them. These Bruins are not invulnerable—certainly not without Bergeron, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, and given how unconcerned they seemed to be, I’ll buy that he’s actually just day-to-day. But they are better then the Leafs, or at least older and more composed and more able to coerce opponents into playing their chosen style of game. And when things go against them, they’ve got Rask to cover their asses. That’s a big deal, and it’s why Boston’s a good bet to play well into the spring.