BOSTON — The Bruins came out flying in the first two home games of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the early leads that resulted from these strong starts were huge factors in Boston taking a 2-0 series lead.
The B’s could not establish the same tone early in Saturday night’s Game 5. Instead it was the Leafs, facing elimination trailing 3-1 in the series, who started strong and scored two goals in the first 11 minutes en route to a 4-3 win.
Boston was playing catch up all night, and although the Bruins trimmed the Leafs’ lead to 4-3 six minutes into the third period, Toronto was able to escape TD Garden and extend the series.
“We knew they were going to play that way,” Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said of the Leafs’ strong start. “Shame on us for not coming out better — having a better first ten minutes there. We knew they were going to come like that, their backs are against the wall, and they’re going to continue to come like that. So we got to go back and make sure we’re prepared to start the next game.”
Toronto’s first two goals were preventable and came in areas of the ice — like in front of the net, for example — that Boston usually controls. But a few mistakes led to pucks in the back of the B’s net, and an injection of confidence for a Leafs squad that had lost the first two games of the series in Boston by a combined score of 12-4.
“It clearly wasn’t good enough,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of his team’s poor start. “We let them get to the top of the paint for a couple of goals that we’re generally solid on. We had a couple of two-on-twos that turned into two very good chances, happened up there.
“So, clearly, we’ve got to address that. Those aren’t odd-man rushes, that’s not stretch plays, that’s just basic two-on-twos that we need to communicate better, square up better, defend better. Then, obviously, you want a save, as well, mixed in with those, and that didn’t happen, either. So, the stuff that we’ve done lately: defend, get saves, that didn’t happen early on. We found our legs eventually and fought our way back in, but the start wasn’t good enough.”
The Bruins also lost Game 3 in Toronto after a bad start, one that saw the Leafs jump out to a 1-0 first-period lead. The B’s rebounded with a Game 4 win after scoring the first goal. In fact, the team that’s scored first has won every game in this series.
The Air Canada Center will be rocking Monday night for Game 6. The Leafs have new life, plenty of belief, and a fanbase ready to propel them to a decisive Game 7 and avenge the 2013 meltdown.
The Bruins must do everything possible to eliminate that energy, and the best way to accomplish that is a much better first period than they played Saturday night.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports