NHL playoffs: Toronto Maple Leafs even series with Boston Bruins
BOSTON -- The Maple Leafs' 4-2 victory on Saturday night evened their series with the Boston Bruins at one game apiece, thanks in part to the changes they implemented after their ugly loss in Game 1. Here are some observations from Toronto's first playoff win in nine years:
• There was a game within a game as Leafs coach Randy Carlyle tried to make last-second line changes even though Toronto was the visiting team. His moves caused Bruins coach Claude Julien to call the officials over to discuss their legality. Carlyle did his best to keep his struggling sniper, Phil Kessel, away from Boston’s shutdown defenseman Zdeno Chara. On a couple of occasions, Carlyle took him off the ice shortly after a face-off. He also removed Kessel from the team’s usual top line with Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak, which gave some important minutes to winger Matt Frattin, who was playing in his first career playoff game. Frattin often spotted Kessel on the right side. “It was something we talked about the last couple of days,” Kessel said after game. “Something new to change it up.”
• Kessel needed 24 games to score an even-strength goal against his former team, but he finally did it at 53 seconds of the third period on Saturday. As Boston turned over the puck, Kessel gambled that his Leafs would come up with possession and started sprinting to center ice. Nazem Kadri spotted him a split second before Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg did and hit Kessel with a perfect pass, which he used to beat goalie Tuukka Rask to the long side. The relief on Kessel’s face was very noticeable as he raised his arms behind the Boston goal. “We were really happy for Phil,” Lupus said after the game. “They’ve put a lot of emphasis on shutting him down.”
• Brad Marchand really is the league's premier pest, but sometimes he doesn't know when to stop. With a minute left in the first period and both teams seeking to score the game's first goal, he went into his signature act, yapping with Lupul and jabbing at him until Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf came in to give Marchand a pop. The officials called the only penalty on Phaneuf, who got two minutes for roughing. Marchand needed only nine seconds to nullify Boston's power play. Shortly after the next face-off, he was whistled for tripping Jay McClement.
• Another example of how Boston’s 24-year-old pest still has a lot to learn: Toronto's second goal came after the Leafs forced the puck past Marchand as he pinched in to keep it at their blueline. Frattin brought it through center ice with speed as Bruins defensemen Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk went to pick up their checks. Marchand got back into the play with plenty of time and room, but didn’t bother to pick anyone up. Lupul ducked out of his line of vision, took the pass from Frattin and beat Rask. Marchand gets praise for being a high-energy nuisance, but he does get caught out of position from time to time.
• Good lob by Lupul to buy himself some space on the Leafs’ goal that tied it at 1-1 in the second period. He pushed off a check by McQuaid in front of Rask and gave himself a chance to glide about a foot and create enough space to see the point shot from teammate Jake Gardiner. Lupul got his stick on it and was able to jam in the rebound after Rask made the save.
• Chara’s attempt to give his team a boost late in the third period backfired when he got called for a penalty in the offensive zone. The 6'-9" defenseman set a pick on Kadri at the Toronto goal line, and with his nine-inch, 67-pound advantage, easily knocked the Leafs center to the ice. Chara was called for interference.
• Tyler Seguin is a finesse player with amazing hands, capable of getting off a shot while under duress from even the most vigorous check. He also contributed to a greasy goal that pulled Boston within one in the third period. Seguin went hard to the net and fought for his space against Bozak, then screened Leafs goalie James Reimer, who was unable reach up and snare the puck after Boychuk unloaded a 55-footer.
• Expect at least a review of Phaneuf’s hit on Daniel Paille in the third period. Phaneuf appeared to try to lead with his shoulder, but he certainly followed through with his elbow and gave Paille’s head a good bounce against the glass. Here’s Phaneuf on the hit: “My arm was down. He stepped up. I don’t have a comment after that.”
• Jaromir Jagr really looked slow. He was a step behind the play and his giveaway in the offensive zone led to Toronto’s fourth goal. He's also lacked chemistry with line mate Carl Soderberg. “At this stage with Soderberg and Jags, it’s not what we were hoping it’s gonna be,” Julien said after the game. Any changes planned? “We don’t have a lot of choices right now,” the coach said. Jagr remains one point shy of Brett Hull for sixth place on the all-time playoff scoring list (190) and one goal short of tying Jean Beliveau (79) for tenth in that category.
• As often happens during playoff time, the ice conditions came into play as the game wore on. Pucks often bounced around and several players chose to take safe shots rather than try to stickhandle and make plays. It was therefore significant that the Celtics had extended their opening-round NBA playoff series with the New York Knicks to a sixth game. New York eliminated Boston on Friday night, necessitating another switch from basketball to hockey in the arena, always a contributing factor to bad puck bounces as the weather gets warmer.
• The Bruins brought out the emotional artillery before the game, giving marathon victim Jeff Bauman the honor of carrying their banner flag onto the ice before the game. Bauman, a spectator waiting for his girlfriend to finish the race, lost both legs, but was the first person to identify one of the bombers, who had dropped a bag at his feet. He wore a Bruins jersey during the game and was shown several times on the scoreboard.
• The playoff series is even, but Toronto gets the edge in the lifetime series. The Bruins and Leafs had each won 31 games in playoff series between a pair of Original Six teams going into Saturday night. And so much for the importance of the first goal. The Leafs scored the first goal in a 4-1 loss on Wednesday, and the Bruins scored the first goal in a 4-2 loss on Saturday. • With Toronto set to host its first playoff game since 2004, both teams said they expected the atmosphere there to be raucous. “It’s gonna be pretty crazy,” said Lupul. “It’s been nine years. I’m getting chills thinking about it.” Added Julien: “No doubt if you’re Toronto and haven’t been in the playoffs in a long time, there’s going to be a lot of electricity. We’re the bad team coming in.”