The Toronto Maple Leafs got off on the right foot in Game 1 of their first round series, maintaining their composure after falling behind early and using their skill and speed in a 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Thursday.
Mitch Marner tallied twice, William Nylander, and John Tavares added goals, and Frederik Andersen made 37 saves in the victory that put Toronto up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.
The game started ominously for Toronto, as a careless Nylander high-stick gave the Bruins an early man advantage. The league’s most potent power play on home ice struck, as Brad Marchand passed to Patrice Bergeron to give Boston the early lead. Toronto did not fold after falling behind, responding with some energetic shifts and tied the game late in the first on a mad scramble around Tuukka Rask, finally cashed in by Marner.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy played right into Mike Babcock’s hands, putting Bergeron, Marchand and David Pastrnak head-to-head against the top unit of Zach Hyman, Tavares and Marner. The veteran center was effective against the Leafs nemesis, winning draws, possessing the puck, and making Boston’s top line expend energy in the defensive zone.
“Tavares is really committed to playing without the puck since he arrived. He's really done a good job for us. Babcock said after the game. “Hyman and Marner are real good players and hard to play against.”
In spite of being outshot 21-14, Toronto took the lead for good in the middle frame with Kasperi Kapanen in the box for high-sticking, Marner stole the puck and was in clear on Rask, but pulled down from behind on a short-handed breakaway by Jake DeBrusk. The Leafs leading scorer in the regular season and last year’s playoffs undressed Rask on the penalty shot to make it 2-1.
Boston was able to neutralize Toronto’s speed advantage by shutting down their ability to stretch pass through the neutral zone 12 months ago, but they were unable to do that in the series opener, as Nazem Kadri’s long bomb sent a streaking Nylander on a clear breakaway to make it 3-1.
The Bruins were unable to cut into the Leafs lead in the third and Tavares iced the contest with an empty-netter to lock up the victory and gain home-ice advantage in the series.
“I thought it was a good road game for us. We gave up the first goal there on the penalty kill, we missed an assignment, but I thought prior to that we had played well and then we seemed to get back to it.” Babcock said. “We had a stretch in the second period where we didn't execute in our own zone at all and then I thought they were pretty good, but other than that we had a pretty good night.”
The game deviated from the script that many envisioned prior to the series, as the Bruins were unable to significantly play with a physical advantage, with Toronto actually outhitting Boston 33-31 on the night.
Cassidy clearly was concerned about Toronto’s speed advantage leading up to Game 1, opting to put swift-skating rookie Karson Kuhlman in the lineup instead of veteran David Backes, but with a negative outcome in the opener, the Bruins may make some changes and play more crash-and-bang than try to match the Leafs in a skating contest.
"(Toronto) played a little more physical then I think they normally do, but you’ve got to expect that come playoff time. Especially the way they’ve kind of been talking how they want to send a message. I think they kind of accomplished that. They played well, they played hard, and they played fast, and they played their game. So, we have to be better.”Marchand said after the game. “I don’t think they took us off their game, I just don’t think we played our game. We weren’t playing the right way the whole way through.”
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