Weve seen this movie before.
- The Bruins, contending for a playoff spot in the Atlantic/Eastern Conference, come into a home match-up against a subpar team well-rested and ready to start the latest "up" in a season full of a silly-high number of ups and downs.
- After spending far too long playing one the level of said opponent, the Bruins manage to break through and take a lead in the early third period.
- They blow said lead, ending up taking a loss against the type of opponent that they really need to be fattening up on.
The only difference last night at TD Garden from previous installments of this new movie franchise--which is somewhere between "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Transformers" for how much I dislike it--was that this time the main culprits were lackluster coverage in front of the net and a team-wide (and, let's not dance around it, bench-wide) decision to sit back way too much. And, oh yeah, the Bruins did indeed hang on to grab an OT point, which is another difference from the home loss to the Buffalo Sabres that last night's sequel immediately brought to mind. I guess we shouldn't minimize that, what with how close the Atlantic Division is. Every point counts.
But when you come into a TD Garden match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were 1-7-2 coming into the All-Star break, you expect two points. When you take a 3-1 lead early in the third, and the third goal leaves your opponents so frustrated that their entire on-ice unit is standing around the crease wondering what went wrong, you expect to win. Or maybe you don't. Maybe, after the aggravation of watching P.A. Parenteau smash home a Jake Gardiner rebound for the game-winning PPG in OT (shortly after Dennis Seidenberg had a golden chance at a clear) wore off, it occurred to you that this has happened far too much in the last couple years. And maybe you just don't need to lower your expectations for these sequels, no matter how good Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are as the leads.
Before Parenteau's game-winner off a David Krejci OT penalty (which to avoid homer-isms, I'll say was the type that could go either way), there was a pretty darn exciting game. I'll say that for last night's contest; it wasn't a snoozer by any means, and for two+ periods it looked like a pretty classic post-2014 Bruins win. Tuukka Rask had been great, the offense had been relentless if sometimes inefficient in breaking out of the zone, and the Toronto Maple Leafs had been unable to take advantage of Boston's shaky blue line.
Brad Marchand had scored the game's first goal while I was still mired in my adventure within Boston's fine public transportation services (someone who's a better writer than me can probably see a metaphor here), which turned out to be on a beautiful cross-ice helper from Large Adult Jimmy Hayes. Marchand, recently having bee-lined onto the ice from the bench, was uncovered. Leaving Brad Marchand is generally a bad idea, and he reminded the Leafs and poor James Reimer--who must've thought there was no late-crashing forward, as he overplayed the shot a bit--of this by potting his 21st of the year.
A movie isn't complete without building dramatic tension, and the next period-plus was full of that, with the Bruins and Leafs trading dominant stretches. For a game that was actually fairly even in chances, there was surprisingly little end-to-end in this one, instead being a battle of whose sustained pressure could actually break through. For the first half of game time, it was just the Bruins.
That ended when somewhat-useful-bottom-sixer Daniel Winnik scored a deflection of a Roman Polak shot from the right point. You're about to start sensing a theme for this film, and it's called "the coverage in front was subpar, the deflecting player was largely untouched, and Tuukka Rask was screened." With the introduction of this theme, it was 1-1. This was, until their furious comeback, the best stretch of play from the Leafs. Once down in SOG by a 2-to-1 margin, Mike Babcock's squad rallied to briefly take the lead in SOG by the end of the second.
Like the movie villain who is one twist ahead of everyone until the final battle, the Bruins found a new level to start the third. David Pastrnak flew down below the goal line on the left side of the Leafs net to win a puck on the forecheck from two Toronto players, and managed to find David Krejci by throwing the puck to the open side of the offensive zone. Krejci's beautiful slap pass found Brad Marchand's stick in the slot. Marchand once again wasn't tied up, and tapped home his second of the game. 2-1. Less than 30 seconds later, Krejci himself would taken advantage of a James Reimer mishap (and some confusion by the Leafs defense, who looked like they thought their goalie already had the puck wrapped up) to tap home the 3rd Bruins goal. It looked for all the world like the Leafs were out of it.
But, for all of Toronto's flaws, this isn't the Randy Carlyle-era train-wreck of a team, and they didn't give up on this game despite it seemingly going to hell for them in the span of thirty seconds. Say this for Babcock's Leafs; the Bruins had handled them three times coming in, but they were hungry and they're playing much better possession hockey than we've seen in the past. That, and some hideous levels of deflection luck were on their side, but it's not like they didn't earn a big chunk of that luck tonight.
With 11 minutes left in the game, the Bruins once left a player open on the high-tip play, this time it was Leo Komarov with a re-direction of a Polak shot, which found the stick-side corner past Rask. 3-2. Two-and-a-half minutes later, Nazem Kadri, who'd been all over the ice all night, pulled a similar trick off a Matt Hunwick point shot. 3-3. The crowd had gone from chanting Tuukka's name three minutes earlier--for he'd been brilliant all night (and actually, this was kinda just one of those nights where it's hard to pin anything on the goalie, but that won't stop people)--to somewhat stunned. The Bruins defense had been bailed out several times by Rask throughout, but the defense on tip-plays proved completely unable to return the favor.
The Bruins would have the better of the play for what regulation time remained, and the Leafs would end up basically playing for OT. Naturally, it still ended on the visitors' PPG.
- Zach Trotman was on for a couple goals against, and this is one case where that's fairly indicative of his play. Both he and Chara and he and Torey Krug were on for the Leafs goals where more was needed to tie-up the would-be high-tipper.
- Marchand's second goal put him at 22 for the season, only two behind last year's total. Patrice Bergeron needs to get to work on catching him soon.
- The Bruins home record dropped to 11-13-3. Yeah, please stop that now.
- David Pastrnak had two assists and was the typical energy-injection to the Bruins offense. Play the kid more. David Krejci had a goal and an assist. He's good. Hayes and Beleskey had assists, though the former was on a beautiful pass and the latter was the pass before the beautiful pass.
- It was somewhat uncanny how badly the Bruins went on the their heels in the third period, and some of that has to be on coaching. Claude Julien and his staff really need to do more to try and keep the Bruins playing some offense with a lead. Only so much of the Bruins mindless chip-and-chase can be put on personnel when the Bruins forward corps is healthy.
- Until the OT gaffe by Seidenberg, Colin Miller and he had had a pretty solid night. Kevan Miller was largely unnoticeable, which is what you're looking for from him. If the strategy of "don't cover a guy trying to deflect a puck and screen Rask while doing so" hadn't been the general approach against the Leafs obviously-deflection-oriented offensive plan, I'd go so far as to say the defense was solid. But, well, you know...
- Some nights the bear does get you. It seems overly simplistic or perhaps whiny, but there's no doubting that the Leafs deflection luck was, despite everything else that went into it, pretty ridiculous. It's to the point where I think they would've had two goals last night if the Bruins had actually constructed a brick wall across the goal line pre-game. Mr. Puck was not on our side, though that's no excuse for lackluster coverage: you allow as many shots to the Leafs as the Bruins did, you deserve to get burned.
- This was the first Leafs win in four tries against Boston and the first win for Toronto at TD Garden since late 2014. There's one game remaining in the season series.
- As written above, Chara played his 30,000th NHL minute. I'd say "that's a ton of minutes," but it's actually fifteen tons of minutes.
The Bruins next two games are against the other team near the bottom of the division, the Buffalo Sabres. Starting a new movie franchise would be prudent. Does Pacific Rim have a sequel yet?