BOSTON -- If one didn’t know what they were watching, you might have guessed that the Bruins were the first time playoff performers and the Maple Leafs were the hardened veteran group intent on closing out their opponents in Game 5.
It took the Bruins more than 30 minutes to finally get their hockey affairs into gear while they seemed to be hoping Tuukka Rask would keep it a 0-0 game in perpetuity. That’s certainly not the look of a champion, and it was the lack of emotional engagement and a pair of costly turnovers that ultimately killed the Bruins. They’ve consistently won the turnover battle against the Maple Leafs, but Toronto made some adjustments and seemed to get a stable, steady game from Jake Gardiner as their lead defensemen against the Black and Gold.
Credit Randy Carlyle for reducing the burden on turnover machines like Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson that have gashed Toronto in the series, and instead going with a player in Gardiner that played largely mistake-free with just a single turnover in 24:05 of ice time.
So for one game, at least, the Toronto and Boston roles were reversed in the series: the Leafs were the learners, but now they turned into the master on the Bruins’ turf.
“We weren’t executing our plays and we weren’t playing our system. We were trying to make too many plays in the neutral zone and turned way too many pucks over,” said Brad Marchand. “That’s where they create a lot of opportunities. They got a lot of speed and the transition is very good. We really got to clean that up next game.”
Worse still, the Bruins have given young Toronto goaltender James Reimer some confidence after watching him post 43 saves in a victory that served as his best performance in the series. Momentum seems to last only as long as the previous playoff game for both Boston and Toronto, but the Leafs have it all at the moment courtesy of Boston’s Game 5 largesse in the 2-1 loss on Friday night.
So what do the Bruins have to hang their hat on?
They out-shot the Maple Leafs by a 19-4 margin in the third period, stormed the Toronto net after Zdeno Chara’s third period score and probably should have tied things up when Jaromir Jagr had a shot from the slot in the closing minute of the third period. It would have tied the game and pushed things into overtime, but instead the puck bounced off the shaft of James Reimer’s blocker and preserved the victory for Toronto.
While the Bruins would have clearly taken the fortuitous puck bounce, Claude Julien admitted that the hockey gods sometimes have a way of rewarding those that deserve to win playoffs games. Tyler Seguin hit a post and Johnny Boychuk smoked a crossbar in the final minutes, and didn’t get that bounce they were seeking despite exerting heavy pressure on Reimer and the Toronto defense.
What went unsaid was those very same hockey gods will punish those that take half of a playoff game off before they start approaching anything resembling urgency, desperation or the proper amount of fire in the belly.
“In the second period, [Patrice] Bergeron’s great opportunity at the side of the net; he scores that goal and it’s a different game. Hit the crossbar with [Johnny] Boychuk, and we hit the post in the last few seconds,” said Claude Julien. “Those are things that happen, but they happened too late.
“Every once in a while the hockey gods will take care of the people that deserve it. Obviously, [the Leafs] played 40 strong minutes and they deserved to win tonight. We have to lick our wounds and get ready for next game.”
So the best thing the Bruins can do is gather a little of their tattered confidence after getting the Leafs on the run in the third period, and bring that kind of urgency into the Air Canada Centre on Sunday night for another chance to close Toronto out in a Game 6 scenario. It will be up to the Black and Gold to make amends with the hockey gods that clearly weren’t pleased with them on Friday night in Boston.