BOSTON -- So apparently you can just flip the switch when the playoffs begin.
“We have [a playoff switch] in the back,” said Dennis Seidenberg with a smile on his face. “We just flipped it over.”
It certainly looked that way in Game 1 on Wednesday night as the Bruins came together physically -- playing well offensively and defensively in all three zones -- and gave their best effort in months while steamrolling the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-1, at TD Garden.
When it was over the Black and Gold had a 2-1 advantage in shots on goal (40-20), had intimidated the Maple Leafs with a punishing style that wilted finesse forwards like Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel (one shot apiece), and had made James Reimer look like the inexperienced, unproven goalie that he is. The Bruins looked like a team that’s won 10 of their last 11 games against the Leafs, and the Leafs looked like they might need a change of underwear when they finally got back to their hotel rooms Wednesday night.
“We didn’t play our game,” said Kessel, who seemed to have his head on a swivel looking for attacking Bruins players rather than the puck for most of the night. “We turned over the puck too much in critical areas and that’s not our game. They fed off it. We just didn’t play well tonight.”
The Bruins' effort looked, sounded and felt exactly like what people had been expecting out of them for months. It was a big step up over a handful of mildly encouraging losing efforts at the end of the regular season, and also gives everybody confidence the Big Bad Bruins have finally come out of hibernation for the Cup playoffs.
At least for Game 1, the Bruins were who we thought they were.
“Guys stepped up their games,” said Andrew Ference, who busted out some playoff nasty with a finished check on Mikhail Grabovski in the first period the league was reviewing as a possible elbow to the head. “Obviously we’re excited for the playoffs to start. You could sense that. We have guys that have played [in the playoffs] before, and I think are able to push themselves to that next level.
“You don’t want to play with fire. I think over the last two weeks our team, despite some losses, did take steps, so it wasn’t just a complete reversal.”
It looked early in the game like it wasn’t going to be that way for the Black and Gold, as they fell behind 1-0 after giving up a goal just 16 seconds into a power-play possession for Toronto. But the Bruins refused to panic, and instead counter-punched with consistent waves of offensive pressure that overwhelmed a Maple Leafs defensive corps that doesn’t look ready for playoff prime time. Veteran defenseman Wade Redden, of all people, made a couple of plays in the first period to create a pair of goals to give the Bruins the lead, and exposed a glove-side high weakness on Reimer that the Bruins continually exposed through the entire game.
“I think it was the first time in a long time where we really pushed the pace,” said Milan Lucic. “You could see in the first period that we wanted to come out with a better outcome than being down 1-0 or just being tied 1-1. We were pushing and pushing and pushing. We were just focused on what we need to do to be successful and it was great that everyone was able to step up and contribute.
"But in saying that it’s only one game and there’s a long, long road ahead. I know with a great coach (Randy Carlyle) like they have, they’re going to make certain adjustments and come out even harder in Game 2.”
It seemed as if good things were happening all over the ice for the Bruins: Their defensemen were active in the attack, with a pair of goals; Nathan Horton scored a big goal on a high tip at the end of the first period in his first game back after missing the season’s final 10 days with an injury, and the fourth line was so dominant that it was their relentless pressure that set up David Krejci’s insurance goal in the middle period.
The Bruins also locked down their defense and gave Toronto nothing, aside from a Mikhail Grabovski partial breakaway in the second period when he darted behind Redden and Adam McQuaid. Otherwise it was a lockdown effort with a total of four shots on goal from Kessel, Kadri and Joffrey Lupul in Toronto’s most important hockey game in nearly 10 years.
“We gave up the early [goal], but you want to bounce back,” said Zdeno Chara. “I thought that we did that and played pretty strong for 60 minutes.”
A lot of people were surely tempted to look at Wednesday night’s win, and draw the parallel to the Stanley Cup team of two years ago. Certainly the domination of an inexperienced and shell-shocked Toronto bunch looked like the same schoolyard bully hockey club that punched, shoved and sneered its way to a championship in 2011. But this edition of the Bruins won’t be having any comparisons to the Cup teams of two years ago, and they certainly won’t be entertaining it after just one satisfactory playoff game after such an uneven regular season.
“Two years ago is a long time ago,” said Krejci, who led the Bruins with three points and now has 50 playoff points in 60 career games. “We have a whole different team right now, so we took it as a new season. We closed that chapter and opened a new one a couple of days ago. Everybody starts from 0-0. We won the first game, and I’m pretty happy about that, but we know it’s going to be a long series. We have to regroup, we have to be ready for the next game on Saturday, and we’re going to have to play the same way, or even better.”
Most weren’t enthused by the Bruins’ erratic regular season when attempting to forecast their chances in the playoffs this season. But most people hedged their bets with the notion that the Bruins were a veteran-laden team that could just be waiting for the life-or-death postseason to summon their competitive juices.
It looks like that is exactly what happened in Game 1 for the Black and Gold bullies as they manhandled a novice, soft Leafs club. Now they just need to continue doing it for the rest of this “very winnable” -- Toronto's words -- first-round series against the Leafs, and start gathering momentum on a road they’ve been down before.
The “playoff switch” has been pulled, and there’s no going back now.