The Leafs and Bruins had their final meeting of the season tonight, in a game heavy with implications for the third seed in the Atlantic division. The game began with technical difficulties with the game clock, which impaired the NHL’s stat-keeping and, by consequence, the advanced stat trackers who rely on those gamesheets to pull data. Hope you like the eye test!
The Bruins came out loaded for bear (heh), clearly aware of the importance of the matchup, led by their dynamite first line. Brad Marchand just kept zooming away full-speed, and the Bruins had the better of the early play even when his line was off. Andersen made a quality save from the high slot on David Krejci, kicking out a pad.
As per the pressure, the Bruins struck first, on a chance mostly generated by superb work from Brad Marchand to advance through the neutral zone and then whirling inside the blue line to protect the puck. He hit David Backes with a high slot pass, and Backes fired a shot past Andersen short side. 1-0 Boston.
I can’t say I think it was a great goal by Andersen, but them’s the breaks. The Bruins certainly had the better of the early play.
The Leafs had a decent chance from Roman Polak. Auston Matthews rounded behind the Bruins’ net and threw it up the right side to the pinching defenceman. Polak fired a quick shot that Rask handled with a solid positional save.
There was an ugly, ugly moment when Nikita Soshnikov bordered Patrice Bergeron. It was a dangerous hit and Sosh was lucky it wasn’t punished more than it was; he got two minutes, but it was cancelled out when an incensed Bergeron got up and took a roughing penalty retaliating. Don’t be surprised if Sosh gets a call from the league.
Nonetheless, the 4 on 4 generated chances. The Bruins came very close on a shot where the Leafs left Torey Krug wide open (Ferraro attributed the missed coverage to William Nylander, playing his opposite wing for the 4 on 4.) The Leafs came back and scored.
Mitch Marner did some excellent work in the open ice to find a wide-open Morgan Rielly. Rielly danced in and slid the puck past Tuukka Rask to tie the game. 1-1.
Not to lay it on too thick, but we would not be happy if we wound up with coincidental minors after a bad boarding hit, and the other team used the open ice to score. But excellent work from Marner and Rielly.
The Bruins’ top line came back and absolutely panicked the the Leafs for a long shift that was one of those clutch-your-rosary and wait for a whistle shifts. But the Leafs survived.
Boston took a penalty when Kevin Millar high-sticked Nazem Kadri. The Leafs then got a 5-on-3 after Bergeron took the ever-popular puck over the glass delay of game penalty. Despite this, the Leafs were unable to cash in a golden opportunity, and the Bruins made it back to even strength intact. That was it for an action-packed first, unless you count Matt Martin losing a skate blade.
This was a roller coaster first period. Brad Marchand was the best player on either team by an enormous margin; yes he’s a rat, and he’s also one of the best players in the league. Marner’s work on the goal was impressive. But the Soshnikov hit loomed over the game, and for the first time since the Vancouver game earlier this year, the Leafs were playing a game with the potential to get ugly.
The Bruins were dominating early, or it may be more accurate to say when they were good, they were dominant—it was more that once they got an offensive shift, it took forever to end. The Leafs did have the occasional counterattack. It was a very fast, tightly played period from the get-go.
Nikita Zaitsev took a dumb retaliatory penalty on Brad Marchand after the whistle, and the Bruins got their first power play of the evening just over four minutes in. Led by PP QB Torey Krug, the Bruins besieged the Leafs and put four SOG, but didn’t score.
There was pinballing action back and forth for the next few minutes; I think the Bruins got to the danger areas more often, but the Leafs had the next best chance of the game. JVR threw it from the goal line across the slot to Matt Hunwick streaking in, but Tuukka Rask got over to stop what looked like a sure goal and keep the game tied.
The Matthews line made its presence felt with a strong shift, leading into an improved sequence for the Leafs. The Kadri line subsequently had very dangerous stretch that ended only when Connor Brown failed to get a handle on a golden slot opportunity.
The biggest action in the remaining time of the period—which the clock was still not functioning to track—was when Chara hammered Soshnikov into the boards in what was probably a payback hit.
The Leafs picked up as the period went on, and by the end I thought they’d played a pretty good twenty minutes. Rielly in particular looked to be having a strong game to my eyes, and the Matthews line was buzzing. But man, Bergeron and Marchand are holy terrors.
The third period took off where the second ended, except the clock was functioning again. Brandon Carlo took what could have been two penalties in the first five minutes, ragdolling William Nylander and interfering with Zach Hyman, but the refs seemed to be in whistles-away mode for now.
Marner made an absolutely spectacular play that wasn’t rewarded, beating out an icing, whirling away from Zdeno Chara, and setting up a slot shot. I wanted to mention it because Marner had several super-agile shifts in this game that I failed to note down; this game was a wild ride.
Marchand had an absolutely ridiculous rush in through most of the Leafs; Patrice Bergeron bumped Andersen after the play ended (possibly helped in, though), and Leo Komarov decided to take exception to his goalie being bumped. I admire the instinct, but it was unfortunate timing; while Komarov and Zaitsev brawled with Marchand and Bergeron in the Leafs’ end, other Leafs were zooming into the Bruins’ end on a 3-on-2. The play was whistled dead.
The hitting in this game really hit a fever pitch, with both teams throwing heavy shoulders—Matt Martin in particular had a hard hit on Brandon Carlo that got the crowd roaring.
Speaking of Martin, he and Chara got into a cross-checking match behind the play, and the refs gave them matching penalties to put the game back to four-on-four. If this was tactical on Martin’s part, it was shrewd work. Unfortunately, the Leafs didn’t avail themselves of this opportunity like they had the first; the best chance went to the Bruins, who nearly scored on a goalmouth scramble from Dominic Moore and Riley Nash.
The Leafs’ best o-zone shift in several minutes came from the Bozak line, who played catch around the Bruins’ end of the rink.
Dominic Moore laid a shoulder on Nikita Soshnikov on his way into the Leafs’ zone, taking an interference penalty with under three minutes left. This proved to be very significant.
After a great Rask save, the Bruins failed to clear. Kadri passed the puck to Zaitsev at the line, then threw to JVR on the right wing who threaded a pass to a waiting Tyler Bozak on the left side. Bozak fired a shot towards the far side of the net to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. Jesus God.
After some extra man chaos, William Nylander got the puck and fired it down the ice into the EN to bring the lead to 3-1.
Nazem Kadri added another EN goal, giving the Leafs 4-1 lead. The Bruins actually scored in the dying seconds—a short-range goal from Dominic Moore—but nobody cared. 4-2 Leafs is your final.
- This is it. This is what playoff hockey feels like. It’s been nearly four years, and this is the first time I can remember the feeling.
- The Leafs played...I don’t want to say well...but well enough defensively in a very fast, physical, hard-fought game. This could have gone either way, although the Bruins had an edge in the CF%. Brad Marchand was absolutely terrifying on several shifts, and the Bruins as a whole are a very dangerous team whom I would rather not face in the playoffs again. Nevetherless, the Leafs can definitely skate with these guys.
- Having said that, the Leafs got the better of the refereeing tonight. Jeff O’Neill called the interference call on Moore soft, which I don’t think it really was. But were I a Boston fan, I’d have been mad about the Leafs getting the 4-on-4 goal after a play where Soshnikov deserved to be more harshly penalized. On the other hand, fuck the Bruins.
- I’ll pick Rielly, Marner and Andersen as the Leafs standouts. Rielly had a genuinely good two-way game, which is always nice to see from him. Marner had several of those dazzling shifts that make us love him. And Andersen, well...after that first goal, Andersen just made a huge number of very good saves, which is something we should never take for granted.
- On the Bruins end, Marchand was very dangerous when he got going. The Bruins’ fourth line did terrible damage vs. ours, which was a little discouraging, but whatever. Brandon Carlo was good at throwing illegal hits but not very good at hockey, which is mostly funny because the Bruins allegedly refused to trade him for Jacob Trouba.
Leo Komarov on the words exchanged with Brad Marchand: "I just asked him how his day is going."— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 21, 2017
- This was a hell of a game. Tight, mean-spirited, fast...and the Leafs won it. The Leafs are now three points ahead of the New York Islanders, four ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and only one back of the Bruins—with a game in hand on the latter. Next game is Wednesday in Columbus.