(Disclaimer: I hope you have the pleasure of being a Patriots fan too, because this recap isn’t of the feel-good variety. Carry on)
It’s not just that you’ve seen this movie before. You’ve seen this series of movies before.
And like “Transformers” or “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the series doesn’t have the decency to just coming crashing to a halt and go down in the annals of history as a moment of momentary madness, or improve to the point where I could recommend seeing it without alcohol in your system.
Stop me when you get to the part that rings a few bells if you’re a Bruins fan: after a relatively good stretch of play just after the mid-season point, the weaknesses of the Boston Bruins begin to show as they lose yet another game where they out-chanced an opponent. This happens in part due to starting goaltender Tuukka Rask being played into the dirt despite a couple viable back-up options being close at hand (including one being initially relied on as the primary Rask-rest being is sent down to Providence). Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand still play brilliantly. Torey Krug is moving the puck like a puck-mover should. Zdeno Chara is holding the D Corps together with his massive frame. And it’s still not enough, because, even with a breakout season from a young forward—in this movie, that’s David Pastrnak—the core of the team can’t drag the rest of the squad quite enough.
And it’s not the core’s fault. Bergeron had three points last night. Ditto for Pastrnak, and two of his points were goals. Marchand chipped in an assist. Chara had three assists. Krug scored and assisted on another. The only production coming from players other than those five was Ryan Spooner’s goal and assist, and Dominic Moore’s secondary helper on Spooner’s goal. Suffice to say, these guys didn’t lose this game.
For all of his goodness as a coach—and I do think Claude Julien does deserve to be mentioned as one of the best in the sport—he can’t seem to figure out a way to not burn out Rask. When your already-tired-looking goalie says he “popped” his groin, playing on a back-to-back, one has to wonder both 1. why he was playing on that back-to-back and 2. why he’d be getting the start in the very next game. But you know what? Rask didn’t lose this game either, even as he was chased, and neither did Julien, really — his decision-making in this regard wasn’t good, but he’s also stuck with what Sweeney and Neely give him.
In the end, the Bruins were undone by a series of unfortunate events that happens to them often enough where it can’t really be called bad luck with a straight face. David Pastrnak had scored the first of his goals, going five-hole on Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen off a Bergeron/Chara set-up on the rush. That was good. William Nylander had evened the score on a 2-on-1 with Nazem Kadri, after Auston Mathews had stripped the puck from David Backes in the neutral zone. That was bad, but within the realm of “things that happen.” That’s three very talented players, so even though Backes has been pretty bad of late in general...it was understandable.
And so, things stood at 1-1 in the second period. And the Bruins were outshooting the Leafs, which was good—the Leafs are a talented young squad, and clamping down on them is no easy task. Rask looked alright. Andersen, at the other end, who came into the game with a .959 career SV% against the Bruins, looked beatable. If you’ve watched a Bruins game this year against and opponent who is capable of skating on the same ice with them, you can probably guess what happened next.
Unfortunately, as much I’d like to burn these memories out of my skull and let you imagine how the Bruins conceded three goals in less than two minutes, contractual obligations force to me to tell you anyway:
- Adam McQuaid’s breakout glass-pass was a tad slow in getting to Brad Marchand. Mitchell Marner’s one-handed pokecheck knocked the puck into the low slot. The Bruins were caught (reasonably) expecting to have cleared the zone, so the low slot was occupied solely by Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk. He could’ve handmade a pizza with the time he had, but instead he just scored. 2-1.
- Not to be undone by McQuaid’s boards pass, less than a minute later Kevan Miller fell over in the Toronto zone while trying to shield the puck from William Nylander. Nylander grabbing the puck and sprinted up ice, the play developing into a 2-on-1 with Leo Komarov vs. Colin Miller. Miller played the pass, and Nylander was able to beat rest one-on-one. 3-1. Two goals in 30 seconds.
- On the very next shift, McQuaid was called for holding against the Leafs punchyman Matt Martin (who the former would punch the heck out of later in a gladiator-like match at center ice), and the Leafs went on the Power Play. Less than two minutes after Nylander’s 2nd goal had made it 2-1, the young forward notched his first career hat-trick by sliding the puck through a semi-screened Rask. It was a weak goal compared to what you expect from Tuukka, but even this goal came on a breakdown where two Bruins forwards were unable to clear the zone and Conor Brown’s keep-in pass landed on the stick of the wide-open Nylander. That was Rask’s night, as Zane McIntyre came in. 4-1.
It wasn’t the end of the game, as this Bruins top unit absolutely refused to let them go quietly, but it was emblematic of the Bruins this season. And, hell, the last two seasons. They work their asses off for their own chances and they get them, but the other team scores in a flurry with a flash of skill, a dash of idiotic Bruins mistakes, and a pinch of “these defensemen being anyone’s idea what ‘stay-at-home’ defensemen are supposed to be is just sad.”
Well, anyway, David Pastrnak scored again, his 22nd of the year. Marchand found Chara open at the point, who wristed one in that was tipped by Bergeron. Pastrnak grabbed the tap-in. 4-2, 30 seconds after the Leafs flurry. The Bruins would keep pressing, and then cashed in on a Tyler Bozak trip of Frank Vatrano, as Torey Krug scored on the Power Play on a sprawling wrister after Pastrnak capitalized on a weak clearing attempt by Martin Marincin to keep the puck in and get it to Krug. 4-3 with four minutes left in the second. Happy memories of other comebacks from 4-1 deficits against Toronto started to come to mind at this point.
The score stayed 4-3 until midway through the third period. McIntyre was fine, and the Bruins generally avoided the same type of breakdowns in front of young goalie as they’d suffered with the gimpy Rask in the game. Finally, the combination of the Bruins pressing and the Leafs going into a bit of shell led to Ryan Spooner tapping home a deflected Zdeno Chara shot. Spooner also owed his 8th of the year to a nice zone entry play by Dominc Moore. 4-4, and maybe hockey wasn’t bad.
Haha. I’m just kidding, of course. Five minutes later, Auston Mathews to Zach Hyman to Connor Brown, who one-timed it by Zane, made it 5-4 Leafs with 4:45 left in the game. It was made more painful by Chara partially blocking the pass attempt by Hyman...and the puck somehow skipped right to the trailing Brown anyway.
But wait! With 3:19 remaining in regulation, Leo Komarov was called for interfering with Pastrnak, and that set up the Bruins for a late chance at heroics. And, of course, Patrice Bergeron took that chance, netting the puck on a beautiful backhand to tie at 5 with 2:54 left. TD Garden went nuts. The Bruins players went nuts in a crashing-into-the-boards hockey-hug celebration. The goal was the 13th of the season for Bergeron, who couldn’t’ve looked less like a guy who was listed as day-to-day that same morning or like a player who’s been weirdly snakebit for stretches when it comes to find the net. Appropriately, the assists on the player were Marchand’s 32nd and Krug’s 28th. Again, these guys did everything they could. It’s not for lack of effort.
But you know how this ended, of course. After getting down 4-1 due to that flurry of badness, even getting the OT point against a team that came into the night only three points back with five in hand would’ve been big. Get to OT, take your chances with that third point, right?
Nope. James van Riemsdyk took a cycle-pass from Tyler Bozak, and flung what most of the time is a relatively harmless shot from the top of the far-side circle. Zan McIntyre, however, was screened, and was caught trying to peak to his right around the bodies to find the puck for just long enough that va Riemsdyk’s shot whipped by him to his left. 6-5 Leafs with 1:36 to go. I’d say that the air went out of TD Garden, but the scoring was so back-and-forth down the stretch that it was more just an “oh, well, that happened again” response from the sellout crowd.
Marchand would get the best last chance, whipping a wrister from the slot with about 15 seconds remaining that caught the inside of one of Andersen’s pads before skipping away at an odd angle. That was as close as the Bruins came to tying it again. They outshot the Leafs 41-26 on the night, scored twice on the until-recently struggling Power Play (even won 60% of the faceoffs! woo!), and generally exposed some of the flaws in this speedy Leafs team. But, as the script has said for a few years now, they were undone by a bad stretch that was fueled by lower-unit players who can’t match the speed of an opposing team, a tired goalie, and inexplicable mistakes.
I feel as if I’ve written this piece before, and that’s because I have. Still, I’ll say it again - this team’s top players are as good as anyone in the league, but they’re—again!—being relied on so heavily to drag the rest of the roster forward that it’s just not a reasonable expectation for them to do so. Tonight, Spooner and Moore combined for a key goal, but otherwise it was more of 63-37-88 producing, the Krejci line largely absent, and nothing else from the bottom six. Z still looks great for his age. Krug is the best hobbit-sized D-Man this side of Mordor. Rask is good when he isn’t exhausted and hurt, but he’s both.
It was impossible for me to watch last night’s game and think the Bruins can hold off the competition snapping at their heels for the third spot in the Atlantic, and that’s a shame. They now sit only one point ahead of the Leafs, who still have in hand, and two ahead of Florida who have three in hand. I would love to be wrong about all of this, and it’s certainly possible that the team somehow comes on like gangbusters down the stretch and Ottawa or someone else falls off a cliff, but...whatever the case, this organization just looks to be revving the engine with the car in neutral.