The Toronto Maple Leafs knew that the Boston Bruins would respond with a more energetic and physical effort after opening the Stanley Cup Playoffs with an uncharacteristically weak effort, but the Leafs appeared unprepared for the challenge in Game 2, as the Bruins evened the series with a 4-1 victory at TD Garden on Saturday.
Nazem Kadri scored the only goal for Toronto, but that could be the final act of the Leafs center after being banished from the game in the third period for a crosscheck to the head of Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk.
Kadri received a major and game misconduct for the infraction. The Leafs center was suspended for three games last April for a hit on Tommy Wingels, making Kadri a repeat offender and subject to a heavier penalty. After the game, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety offered an in-person hearing, which is consistent with potential suspensions of five games or more.
Boston inserted David Backes in the lineup for Game 2 and the veteran winger led the hit parade with seven on the night and helped them take an early lead, seizing on a Nikita Zaitsev turnover behind the Toronto net and feeding Charlie Coyle for the opening goal.
The Bruins continued to pound away at the Leafs early in the game, but unlike Game 1 where they maintained their composure and responded with an answer, Toronto melted under the pressure and allowed Boston to extend the lead to 2-0 on a Jake Muzzin misplay that led to Brad Marchand’s first goal of the post-season.
“(The Bruins) their intensity was a different level. We didn't handle their forecheck and execute. It's nothing we hadn’t talked about or tried to prepare for, but we didn't execute on it.” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “Instead of putting the puck in like we did the game before and getting into their D, we turned the puck over. In the end, that cost us.”
The Leafs never had a chance to get their offensive game going with little time to get the puck out of the defensive zone because of the Bruins forecheck and failed to make stretch passes to alleviate the pressure.
The top line of Zach Hyman, John Tavares and Mitch Marner were marginalized after dominating Game 1, with Cassidy matching up checkers Noel Acciari, Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom against them, and opting to match the Bergeron line against Auston Matthews, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson. Matthews led the Leafs with five shots, but was held in check for the second straight game.
William Nylander (who led Toronto with three giveaways) put his club further behind with a careless giveaway that Danton Heinen took advantage of and slipped by Frederik Andersen to increase the lead.
Frustration began to rise with the lack of calls from the officials in the middle frame, as Frederik Gauthier took a retaliatory penalty after being knocked down by Chris Wagner and DeBrusk went unpenalized for a knee-on-knee hit on Kadri. That frustration grew in the third, as DeBrusk hit Patrick Marleau into the glass near the bench and Kadri took the opportunity to get back at the Bruins winger for the earlier hit.
“I didn't see (the Kadri hit) and haven't reviewed because it was down the wall from us.” Babcock said after the game. “It was a physical game, the referees, the way they (called ) the game let a lot of stuff go. In the end, you can't let that get in the way of what you're doing.”
A decision by the league on Kadri will likely be made Sunday or Monday morning, but Babcock indicated after the game that either Nylander or Marleau would move to center if he were suspended.
Boston may have some lineup issues for Game 3 with some injuries on the blueline. Defenseman Torey Krug left the game after being hit heavily into the boards by Jake Muzzin. Krug, who quarterbacks the Bruins power play, had difficulty getting to the bench after the hit and did not return in the third period.
In the third, blueliner Connor Clifton was hit by Kadri near the Toronto bench and went to the Boston dressing room, forcing the Bruins to go with four defensemen for a long stretch. With Kevan Miller and John Moore out, if Krug and/or Clifton are unavailable, the only healthy defenseman that Bruce Cassidy has is veteran Steven Kampfer, and it may force GM Don Sweeney to look to AHL Providence for an emergency recall.
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