By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Battling for the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs skated in a hard-fought battle over the course of three periods at the Air Canada Centre. Tensions were high, hits were heavy, and for the most part, referees Justin St. Pierre and Dan O’Halloran let the players dictate the game.
That was, until the 17-minute mark of the third period, when fourth-line winger Dominic Moore skated to the front of the Toronto net and jockeyed for position with Nikita Soshnikov. The Leafs winger was dumped to the ice, and the referee’s arm was quickly raised — two minutes for interference.
Toronto and its No. 2-ranked power play capitalized, scoring a minute later to break a 1-1 tie. An empty-netter later sealed the deal in what turned out to be a 4-2 Toronto victory, one that bumped the Maple Leafs to just one point behind the Bruins in the standings.
After the loss, interim coach Bruce Cassidy disagreed with the penalty call and was not shy about his feelings.
“I thought it was an egregious call, to be perfectly honest with you,” Cassidy said, per The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa. “That’s a guy driving the net. Their guy’s there. It happens probably 100 times during the course of the game.”
Winger Brad Marchand, who on Monday was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week, noted that the penalty call went against the entire flow of the game in the third period.
“It’s frustrating. They let a lot go in the third. To call that one seems a little questionable,” Marchand said, again per Shinzawa. “But we still have to kill that off. Definitely tough to lose like that when we played hard all game. We played a pretty good game. It’s unfortunate.”
The game-changing goal came just after a spectacular save by Tuukka Rask. But the Bruins couldn’t clear the zone, leading to some scrambling prior to Tyler Bozak’s go-ahead goal past a diving Brandon Carlo and a sprawled-out Rask.
“Two times the puck could’ve gotten out, then after that you kind of start scrambling and you maybe try to do too much,” Patrice Bergeron said. “And that’s when things open up. Obviously we have to do the job, especially late in the game. But they’re a good power play, and they proved it.”
For the Bruins, they’re still in control of their playoff fate — for the most part. They have a one-point lead over Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. The Bruins take on the Senators — the team four points ahead of them in the standings — on Tuesday night in what is now the most important game of the season to date. If the Bruins do fall out of playoff positioning in the Atlantic, they still will be able to secure the second wild-card spot, as they currently hold a four-point lead over the Islanders.
Yet, as the past two years have shown, winning around this time of year can be difficult.
“[The Maple Leafs are] not going to quit. We know that,” Marchand said. “Regardless of the outcome of the game, it’s going to come down to a battle in the last 10 games or so. This one’s over and we have another big one [Tuesday] and that’s the one we have to worry about.”
Though Rask himself has experienced those late-season collapses that left the Bruins on the outside of the playoff picture in the past two Aprils, he’s taking a notably more positive vibe heading into this season’s final stretch.
“Get back at it tomorrow and try to get the win. You can’t lose too many games in a row at this time of the season,” Rask said. “So, try to get the win tomorrow and get the smiles going.”