By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With 30 seconds to play and the Bruins trailing by two goals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first round Monday night in Toronto, Boston forward David Pastrnak pulled the puck back from the blue line to hit David Krejci for a delayed entry into the Maple Leafs zone.
Pastrnak’s pass connected but the speedster paid the price and almost was deposited onto the Toronto bench by defenseman Roman Polak.
Although Krejci gained the zone, the Bruins were unable to pull closer on the scoreboard despite having an extra attacker on the ice, and they went on to lose 4-2 and have their lead in the series trimmed to 2-1 in advance of Game 4 on Thursday. The Maple Leafs’ physical play was just one element of their game that worked in Toronto after failing miserably and getting beat 12-4 combined in the first two games of the series in Boston.
Two nights after setting all kinds of Bruins and NHL records with a six-point game and finishing the night in a shower of hats, Pastrnak probably needed to be showered in ice packs. The Maple Leafs made a determined and successful effort to get physical with the Bruins’ right wing that had run roughshod over them through the first two games of the series.
Pastrnak was on the receiving end of four hits that showed up in the official stats, but that total didn’t even including Polak’s closing blow. The Bruins’ leading goal scorer still found room to attempt nine shots, including three that landed on net. But one had to wonder how the physicality took its toll over the course of 60 minutes, maybe slowing Pastrnak down a little bit, maybe reducing his courage to get to the dirty areas.
With 7:34 elapsed in the third period, Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly worked over Pastrnak twice skating down the left wall. Pastrnak lost his helmet and looked for help from the officials. No whistle came, just frustration.
Pastrnak wasn’t the only victim of Toronto’s newfound ability to throw the body. Torey Krug, Kevan Miller and Brad Marchand could sympathize with Pastrnak. It’s rare for the Bruins to lose a game in the physicality department, but even if you want to throw out the usually unreliable official hit totals (38-26 Toronto, for what it’s worth), the eyeball test told you that Toronto was hammering Boston. While the hits added up and helped Toronto win for the first time this series, they also made you wonder what the long-term effects may be.
Of course, the Maple Leafs’ physical play wasn’t the only part of their turnaround in Toronto. Pulled from Game 2, Frederik Andersen suddenly morphed into a modern-day Dominik Hasek. The Bruins outshot the Maple Leafs 42-30, including 18-7 in the third period. Andersen made all 18 saves in the final stanza. Pastrnak again was in the thick of the action for the wrong reasons. Andersen robbed him with the left pad at 1:26 of the third. Then with 2:22 remaining Andersen pulled off a magic trick, reaching back with his stick to deny Pastrnak’s shot from the left wing just before the line drive could cross the goal line.
As the hits and saves against the Bruins’ best players piled up, the Maple Leafs managed to produce just enough offense in support of their efforts in other areas. The stretch pass, a strategy that did little to faze the Bruins in Boston, became a lethal weapon again. Rielly made one through Miller, who had already inexplicably loosened his gap on speedster Mitch Marner, to set up Patrick Marleau’s first of two goals and give Toronto a 2-1 lead.
Marleau’s second goal made the score 4-2 after a stretch pass while the Bruins were pressing for the equalizer. Marleau kept the puck and beat Tuukka Rask to the far post from the left dot.
James van Riemsdyk (on a power play) and Auston Matthews (the official game-winning goal) also scored for the Maple Leafs, meaning their big guns produced all their offense while the Bruins only got goals from Adam McQuaid and Zdeno Chara — nobody’s idea of snipers.
With the second change on home ice the Maple Leafs were able to get Rielly and Ron Hainsey, as well as the newly formed forward line of Tomas Plekanec centering Marleau and Marner, on the ice often against Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak and Marchand. They succeeded somewhat in slowing down the Bruins’ big names, but the lack of production was more a product of Andersen playing out of his mind. Against the rest of Toronto’s pedestrian defense corps, Boston’s second line had its chances, with Rick Nash landing five shots on goal and David Krejci getting robbed by an early Andersen pad save made while sitting on his rear end.
There’s not a lot the Bruins need to clean up before Game 4. They have to make sure the physical play and Andersen’s saves don’t put a dent in their confidence. No looking at the officials (Pastrnak) and no looking to the heavens (everyone) after a great save; that’ll only boost Andersen’s coverage.
The Bruins’ defensemen have to get back to managing the puck and managing their gaps when the Maple Leafs’ fastest players blow the zone. And in the attacking zone the Bruins might want to shoot for rebounds rather than always trying to beat Andersen with the perfect shot because he proved that his Game 2 disaster was a fluke and his Hart Trophy-worthy regular season was not.
It sounds like a simple formula for the Bruins to put a stranglehold on the series. But it won’t be easy if the Maple Leafs continue their improved play from Game 3. If the Bruins had one calling card during the regular season, though, it was their ability to prevent negativity from carrying over from one game to the next. They lost consecutive games in regulation just four times all season, just twice in the second half. They’re still in control of this series and if they make the right adjustments they’ll be the ones throwing a game-sealing hit on one of the Maple Leafs’ stars in the closing seconds of Thursday’s Game 4.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.