The Bruins could count just a single defensive breakdown that led to an odd man rush in a Game 1 victory that could go down as textbook.
The Bruins bottled up Toronto to just 20 shots on goal in Game 1, and appeared looking forward to another effort-soaked showdown. That is not how things really went down in Saturday night’s Game 2 as Boston fell by a 4-2 score to the Maple Leafs to even the series at 1-1, allowed 32 shots to Toronto and had their defense gashed with plenty of breakdowns in defeat.
It all started with the Bruins coaching staff’s decision to break up the Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg shutdown pairing to introduce Dougie Hamilton into the lineup in place of the suspended Andrew Ference. That weakened both Chara and Seidenberg as separate defenders, and made Boston a much more beatable hockey club.
The move gave Toronto a defensive weakness on Boston to exploit, and that’s exactly what the Leafs did while attacking the Seidenberg/Johnny Boychuk pair throughout the game. Give proper credit to Joffrey Lupul [two goals], Phil Kessel [game-winning breakaway goal in the third period] and Nazem Kadri [a key stretch pass to free up Kessel] for showing up for Game 2 after looking like they wanted nothing to do with the puck in a physically nasty first game Wednesday night.
But as much as it was about what the Maple Leafs did correctly to win their first playoff game in nine years, it was also about a Boston team that once again made too many careless errors for a team that relies on foolproof defense and goaltending.
“I think it was more breakdowns by us, and not getting the puck deep as much. [We weren’t] playing as consistent as we did in the first game, so we have to look at our tape and go from there,” said Seidenberg. “We gave up way too many rushes. They just used their chances and they scored goals.
“It’s a five-man unit, and we have to be better at and go up the ice together. [We have to] come back on defense to avoid those speedy rushes.”
Seidenberg finished a game-worst minus-3 while being on ice for each of Toronto’s even strength goals, and Boychuk had a couple of defensive brain cramps that led directly to Leafs goals.
“[Toronto] played a much better game than they did in Game 1 and we didn’t play quite as well as we did in the first game,” admitted Claude Julien after the game. “I think our execution wasn’t as good tonight. The breakdowns we had defensively were poor breakdowns on our part. We gave them a lot of outnumbered situations.
We have to be better defensively, in order to be better offensively. I said that last time. When things are good defensively, it creates chances offensively for our team. We turn pucks over and we go on the attack. Tonight, [we were] not quite as good as we were in Game 1.”
The Bruins appeared to be in control early when they scored the game’s first goal early in the second period, but eventually things went sour for the Boston defense. The first goal allowed was actually a power play goal on a nice gritty Joffrey Lupul rebound score off a Jake Gardiner point shot, so there’s little blame on the team defense.
But less than six minutes later Seidenberg and Boychuk were victimized by Lupul and Co. on the attack. The German defenseman was turned around on a Frattin rush from the right wing, and Boychuk never shut off the cross-ice passing lane to Lupul, who smoked a one-timer into the top of the Boston net.
The Bruins were trailing just 2-1 entering the third period, but were guilty of the cardinal sin in the book of Claude Julien no-no’s: Seidenberg and Boychuk allowed Kessel to get well behind them, and Kadri hit No. 81 with a perfect stretch pass that the Toronto forward turned into a breakaway, game-winning goal against Tuukka Rask.
The play started with an ill-fated Seidenberg decision to step up and pinch to keep a puck in the offensive zone, and it didn’t exactly turn out the way the German defenseman had intended it.
“The puck came up [to me]. I went for a shot and the momentum carries you down when you shoot. [Kessel is] a player that reads that. You just have to…it’s a five-man unit,” said Seidenberg. “We have to pick up for each other whether it was me or somebody else. We have to watch where he is because he’s a very sneaky player, and he uses those chances to his advantage."
It was one of the few times in the game -- about four minutes in all -- that Randy Carlyle was able to get Kessel on the ice without Chara shadowing him, and that's all it took for the sneaky forward to break away for his fourth career goal against the Bruins in 24 games.
Seidenberg was again caught turned around and chasing the puck on Toronto’s fourth goal that iced the game, and gave James van Riemsdyk his second goal in as many playoff games this spring. It was a frustrating end to a playoff game the Bruins lost fair and square, and it brought back memories of the inconsistencies Boston battled with throughout the 48-game regular season.
But there is good news: Andrew Ference will be back to assist his defense corps partners after a one-game hiatus due to a suspension. That means Chara and Seidenberg should be paired back together again for their 30 minutes of shutdown duty against Toronto’s top offensive players, but it also means it will be that much more of a challenge at the Air Canada Centre without the last change.
“I don’t think [Game 2] was awful, but definitely not as good as the first game. You would always want to be perfect every game, but it doesn’t happen, obviously,” said Tuukka Rask. “We just got to battle through it, but nobody said it’s going to be easy. Monday’s a new game and we have to be better.”
The Bruins have to be better offensively than only two goals on 41 shots, and they need to make sure they’re not getting out-hit by the Toronto Maple Leafs players. But more than anything else the Bruins Way is based on stout defense combined with lockdown goaltending and a sneering air of intimidation.
The Bruins will need a lot more of all three if they hope to take at least one of the next two games in a playoff series that’s about to take a turn for Toronto.