Saturday night the Boston Bruins played host to the Toronto Maple Leafs—a division rival and a team that up until this season they had been able to beat most of the time, including one painful playoff memory when Toronto was up 4-1 only to see the Bruins take it in overtime. Such would not be the case on Saturday, though as Toronto did get up 4-1 and then saw that lead evaporate, it did look like perhaps history would repeat itself. Of course, neither of the teams on the ice on Saturday were exactly the same as that past game, and that was obviously a major contributing factor in the final outcome.
The Bruins came out and began to execute well, with David Pastrnak getting his 21st goal of the season, putting Boston on the board first, 2:17 into the first period. And then as the period progressed the play of those wearing the black third jerseys began to get sloppier and sloppier. It perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise when nine minutes later the Maple Leafs made the Bruins pay for some of those mistakes by tying the game. It was rookie William Nylander’s 11th of the season, and it wouldn’t be his last of the evening. As the horn sounded to signal the end of the first period the teams were tied and the Bruins had outshot the Leafs.
Coming out in the second, it looked again like the Bruins were struggling. Miscues and miscommunication began to mount, and again the Leafs made Boston pay the ultimate penalty—James van Riemsdyk gave his team the lead 8:31 into the middle period. However it was the two additional goals off the stick of Nylander—one unassisted—in the next minute and a quarter for three goals in less than 120 seconds that would see Toronto with a 4-1 lead, Bruins head coach Claude Julien using his timeout, and Tuukka Rask being pulled as backup goaltender Zane McIntyre took his place between the pipes for the Bruins.
For Nylander it was his first NHL career hat trick, which is always something special. Of course, scoring it on the road means no hats on the ice, but given that his team was up by three goals at that point, it’s a safe bet he was okay with the lack of chapeaus.
“It was fun,” Nylander shared after the game about his hat trick. “It was a big game and we needed this win, so it was big.”
After the timeout, and some choice words from Julien that he admitted were not suitable to be repeated and printed, the Bruins jumped back into the fray and began to work as a team. Pastrnak scored his second of the game, giving the team some life.
Nylander and Pastrnak are close friends, though not when they are playing against each other. However, having your friend there when you reach a career milestone, such as the hat trick, must have been a little icing on the cake for Nylander.
“Yeah, it’s something, uh, never thought would happen when you’re playing like little kids back home, so it was pretty cool,” he shared with a smile.
Toronto’s head coach Mike Babcock actually sees the friendly rivalry of Nylander and Pastrnak as something he could use to make Nylander even better than he already is.
“We’ve just got to bring Pastrnak on the road with us all the time, take him to every rink,” Babcock said of the friendly rivalry. “He always wants to be better than number 88, so we’ve just got to get a number 88 on every team and he’ll be unbelievable.”
Pastrnak did not get a hat trick. And despite the Bruins tying the game twice during the third period, in the end the game would go to the players in white and blue, made all the more painful because it was again a late period game-winning goal, and van Riemsdyk’s second of the game.
For both teams this was a must win game. Toronto came into Boston on a three-game losing streak. Boston was only three points ahead of the Leafs in the standings, but with Toronto having five games in hand. Toronto still has those five games in hand, but now they are breathing down the necks of the Bruins only a point behind. And with the way the Metropolitan division has been playing, the Bruins could find themselves out of playoff contention because currently teams in the other Eastern Conference division fill both wild card spots.
Despite scoring five goals on the night, the Bruins gave up six. They put themselves down by three goals, which is a deep hole to climb out of and then just couldn’t stop the sloppy plays to prevent the Leafs from getting ahead.
“Any game you give up like that, you know, but especially when you fight your way back; it’s always tough [to lose],” a subdued Patrice Bergeron said postgame. “But it’s—you have to find a way to get back at it and be even better for the next game. Now we have four days that hopefully we’re going to use to our advantage and be ready.”
They have the four days to get their focus back on not giving up goals and strengthening their defense. As more and more trades are announced, with the March 1st trade deadline less than a month away, it is possible that in the final stretch, the Bruins will look a bit different. Regardless of whether trades play a role, the reality is that the Bruins almost need to go on a multi game-winning streak if they have any hopes of remaining in playoff contention at this point.