BOSTON — The Bruins dominated Game 1 of their Stanley Cup playoffs first-round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday. When the two teams met again on Saturday for Game 2, it was expected that the Leafs would be at least a little better.
Toronto was more than a little better. The Leafs changed things up a little bit and executed their game plan in a way that was a complete 180 from Game 1, and because of it all, they evened the series with a 4-2 win.
It was almost like a role reversal for the two teams. In Game 1, it was the Bruins who were sharp in each zone, good with the puck and making the most of their chances. In Game 1, the Leafs looked like an intimidated bunch, and the Bruins’ style forced them into sloppy play. In Game 2, the Bruins played the part of the Leafs. They were sloppy with the puck and more damning, they had multiple defensive breakdowns. Of course, Toronto did its part in helping to force those breakdowns as well.
“Well, they had more shots,” goalie Tuukka Rask said in breaking down the differences between Games 1 and 2. “They had more speed through the neutral zone, they created a lot of tips in front and they battled for those loose pucks in front of the net and they really got rewarded today. So, I think there’s something defensively maybe we would like to be a little stronger in front of our own net.”
“We certainly weren’t as good,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “They were better, there’s no doubt there, and they played a much better game than they did in Game 1 and we didn’t play quite as well as we did in the first game. Certainly, they made some adjustments; we were prepared for those kinds of adjustments, but I think our execution wasn’t as good tonight. The breakdowns that we had defensively were poor breakdowns on our part and we gave them a lot of outnumbered situations. We have to be better defensively, in order to be better offensively.”
So where do the Bruins go now? It’s clear that the improvement must begin in the defensive zone. One would think that the Boston defensive effort would get better in Game 3 thanks to addition by addition. The B’s will get Andrew Ference back after the veteran D-man sat out Game 2 after being suspended a game for an elbow on Mikhail Grabovski in the series opener. With Ference out of the lineup, Julien made the unenviable decision to split up his top defensive pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
It’s not necessarily as simple as that, though. The Bruins spoke after Game 3 about how it hurt to be without Ference, but that can’t be used as an excuse. They need to be better as a unit, they stressed, if they’re going to have success.
There were some who might have thought after Game 1 that the Bruins would be able to steamroll the Leafs. But there are at least two things going against that. The first is that it was very unlikely the Maple Leafs wouldn’t respond after being walloped in Game 1. They did their part with that one.
The more alarming issue, however, may be that the Bruins haven’t really showed any reason to believe that they can put an entire series together. The Bruins were inconsistent for the last two months of the regular season without offering much reason to believe that they can play well consistently. That was the case again Saturday night when they reverted to some of the things that made the final two months of the season such a struggle.
It’s not going to get any easier, either. The B’s had a nice two-day break — including a day off from practice Thursday — in between Games 1 and 2. That’s over now, as they’ll play Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week. If necessary Game 6 will be next Sunday and Game 7 would be the day after. Furthermore, the B’s now get ready to enter hostile territory. The city of Toronto has been waiting to host a playoff game since 2004, and they’ll get the chance to do that on Monday and Wednesday. It won’t be easy to win there, and Boston knows that.
“If you’re Toronto right now and you haven’t been in the playoffs that long, your fans have got to be excited over there,” Julien said. “We know it’s gonna be noisy and there’s gonna be a lot electricity in the air. We’ve gotta face that and we’re the bad team coming in. What you’ve gotta do is focus on your job and not let that kind of stuff throw you off your game.”
The Leafs were better in Game 2, and now it’s on the Bruins to respond to that. They’ll get their chance Monday night.