Bruce Arthur: The Bruins play the tough guy in Game 2, and the Maple Leafs flinch
|Toronto Star 13 Apr 2019 at 21:23|
In Game 2 of this first-round series, the Bruins played like Bruins. It was good old-fashioned hockey, turning Toronto’s progressive fun approach into a sort of skittering frivolity, veering to stupidity. (The officiating was old-fashioned, too, and not always in a good way.) All season Mike Babcock has been preaching heavy hockey, which isn’t the Bruins turning people into wallpaper so much as it’s the Bruins winning every puck battle that matters for two periods. Bruins 4, Leafs 1, and the series is tied 1-1.
Boston’s Jake DeBrusk scored the takedown on Leafs centre Nazem Kadri midway through Game 2. Kadri was ejected in the third period for cross-checking DeBrusk. (Adam Glanzman / GETTY IMAGES)
“They came out and they played well,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “They do that every single time, they did it every game last series, and we found a way through. So it is what it is. You weather the storm and you move on and you play your game.
“I mean, we’re not going to change who we are. We’re going to play our game, and it worked for us in Game 1. I thought we did a decent job. We’re down two after one. Big deal. You move on. We have to find a way to score a goal, and we’ll do the same thing in Game 3.”
He also said “each person in this room expected that.” So Toronto’s reaction — along, perhaps, with ice that was softened by a T-shirt-wearing sunny day in Boston — was the problem. The Bruins were smashing into skaters, crashing into Andersen, mashing anybody they could, rattling the boards. Even Mitch Marner got hit, and he’s supposed to be as elusive as Wayne Gretzky, as Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
These aren’t the Bruins that rampaged through Vancouver to the Cup in 2011; the game has changed. Nobody left on a stretcher, though Nazem Kadri was ejected for a dumb, retaliatory, high cross-check late in the third. You would think, after last year’s three-game suspension for standing up for a teammate, he would have learned. Some people don’t.
But at its best, Boston gives bruises. So there were scrums, with Zdeno Chara looming; there was Jake DeBrusk jumping Kadri after he hit David Krejci earlier, and Kadri got a coincidental minor for getting punched in the face.
And most important, there was the skating before the hits, which stole Toronto’s time and luxury to play the puck with poise. The Leafs are the faster team, and the puck moves faster than a skater, but not if you fumble it. The point of hitting someone is to make them flinch. Toronto flinched.
“Just didn’t think we executed as well, weren’t as crisp with the puck, and that didn’t allow us to really generate as much on the forecheck as we did in Game 1,” said John Tavares. “You know, we knew they were going to come hard and respond, and we just didn’t execute at a high enough rate, a high enough level. Sometimes that’s how it goes, and you’ve just got to stay with it and find your game.”
Before the chase-chase-chase third, the Marner-Tavares line, no longer matched against Boston’s top three, was vaporized. The Auston Matthews line was barely better. Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Muzzin spent all night in reverse.
The shots and hits were already lopsided in Boston’s favour when Zaitsev, who was widely praised after Game 1, kicked a puck he was supposed to be handling behind his own net with a Bruin bearing down on him, and Boston won the puck battle and scored out front. The second goal came when Muzzin whiffed trying to catch an airborne puck while trying to get on the ice during a change, and David Pastrnak found Brad Marchand for a pretty, zippy goal.
The shot attempts at five-on-five in the first period: Bruins 21, Leafs 6. And if you counted just high-danger scoring chances, it was worse than that. Then William Nylander left a puck by his own post like he was thinking about his dinner reservations, and Danton Heinen tucked it in. It was 3-0, and the Leafs still hadn’t had a great scoring chance. Frederik Gauthier took a retaliation penalty, for whatever reason.
There were casualties; Bruins defenceman Torey Krug wobbled badly trying to get up after Muzzin hit him clean but into the boards; Kadri took a knee-to-knee hit from DeBrusk on a fast play late in the second, and went to the room. Kadri came back, before he left again.
This was the game the Bruins couldn’t bring in Game 1. The Leafs were the ones throwing those hits in Game 1, and Boston seemed surprised. Kadri said before the game, “Any time they touch the puck you want to be in their face and let them know that it’s going to be a long night for them.” Well, yes.
“We’ve got some guys who have been through some nasty series in the past ... I think our guys are good at that,” said Cassidy. “We’re not a team that runs from a physical game. It brings out the best of us at times. You’ve got to stay on the right side of things, and make sure you score and defend while you’re doing all that. That was the ask, and it happened for us. We didn’t have it (in Game 1), for whatever reason.”
Kadri veered to the bad side of things, and we’ll see if he’s suspended, or more likely for how long. You could say the Leafs are in better shape if they don’t make those mistakes, each more egregious than the last. But for so long, they weren’t even a threat to score. The playoffs are about playing your best under the hardest conditions: about wanting the puck more, and then making it dance while someone tries to take your head off.
The Leafs got a goal in the third with the lines shuffled — Kadri, before he lost his head — and now the Leafs will have another chance to react. These guys have spent their lives rising above hockey’s steerage-class physicality. Boston’s physicality, of course, can be first-class.
“Yeah, big-picture, we’re OK,” said Muzzin. “Look at some stuff, get better.”
The Leafs don’t need to spend all night throwing hits and shoving after the whistle; they need to think faster, play faster, compete harder, and play more of their version of playoff hockey. When you’re young, you grow. Time to take another step.