Thursday night saw the Boston Bruins take to the ice in the first postseason game, having earned home ice in the first round, where they are once again taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs. The energy in the building spoke to the importance of the game, and one would have thought that the electricity from the fans would have resonated with the team. As things got underway, it looked like the Bruins were energized and focused.
For a couple of the Bruins players on the back end this was their first experience of playoff hockey at the NHL level. While this is Brandon Carlo’s third year as a Boston Bruin, injuries at the end of the regular season the previous two years kept him from doing more than watching during the postseason. Meanwhile, Connor Clifton, who spent the bulk of the regular season with the Bruins AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, this was his first playoff game. Both were a little off during the game, and Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy expected that.
“Obviously, two guys are playing in their first game. [Matt Grzelcyk] and Charlie [McAvoy] haven’t been around that long, so there could have been some nerves. I think there was clearly for Brandon [Carlo] early. We knew that would happen. That’s fine. Play through it. Other guys tried to force it a little bit. Maybe turn down some opportunities to make an easier play, especially in the offensive end of it, offensive blue line, opportunity on the two-on-one we had with [Grzelcyk]. Next thing you know it’s in our net, so some of that hopefully they’ve learned that you have to make a quicker decision with it, and that’s, again, individual based on how Toronto, how they play,” Coach Cassidy said after the game.
Despite some of the tentative play, it was actually the Bruins who got on the scoreboard first, while on the power play. Not surprisingly it was Patrice Bergeron taking a pass from Brad Marchand. And Jake DeBrusk did a good job of helping to screen the Maple Leafs goaltender, Frederik Andersen, though his play doesn’t show up on the scoresheet.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, Mitch Marner would make sure the Leafs took a tie game into the first intermission.
“Another great shot by [Jake] Muzzin just got the stick on it, hit the post, when I looked up I saw [Danton] Heinen and their two defensemen on that far post with [Tuukka] Rask not knowing where the puck was. I shot it as quickly as I could getting it towards the net, luckily enough it hit the post, hit him, and went in,” described Marner of his view of that game-tying goal.
However, it was undoubtedly Marner’s second goal, during the middle frame that tilted the ice and may have played some mind games with the Bruins. And it was once again the result of puck management issues for Boston that resulted in the breakaway that Marner had, despite the fact that the Bruins were actually on the man advantage.
The Bruins gave up the most short-handed goals during the regular season—fifteen in all. And Marner’s breakaway certainly looked like that could be the result, however, DeBrusk, in an effort to perhaps get the puck loose, took a penalty that resulted in Marner being awarded a penalty shot. Certainly not what the Bruins wanted on the power play. DeBrusk may have learned a valuable lesson about what not to do in that situation. For the Leafs, it put them up 2-1, as Rask was unable to keep the puck out of the net.
“Yeah, you know, we didn’t skate our routes in the entry first, so that’s where it started. I mean, [DeBrusk] should be driving wide and Torey [Krug] is right behind him so there was a little miscommunication there, probably get in clean. Second part of it, I think it’s reactionary. I think that I would have preferred he let him, you know – one of the things [Patrice Bergeron’s] done really well in those situations is take one side of the ice away from that player, especially a guy with speed like [DeBrusk], maybe you know, pick – in that case he’s a right shot, Marner – so go to his other side if you don’t think you can lift his stick. At least eliminate maybe that side of the ice so maybe the goalie can say, okay he’s probably going to stay on his forehand. You know, unfortunately [DeBrusk] tried to create a loose puck situation. I don’t fault his effort. [Bergeron] won a Selke for a reason; I think that’s part of the learning curve for the younger guys and we can certainly discuss it in the heat of the moment and that’s what Jake decided to do,” Coach Cassidy said of the play that resulted in the penalty shot.
While the Bruins were giving away the puck, the Leafs were also actively taking it away. The turnovers by the Bruins throughout the game were the physical evidence of the team’s struggles. It was clear that they were not playing their game, perhaps concentrating too much on the Leafs’ game. Instead of taking their style of game to the Leafs, it seemed more like they were allowing the Leafs to dictate much of what happened.
Of course, each round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a best of seven series. Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs took the first game, but that doesn’t signal the end of things. For the Boston Bruins, Friday’s practice will undoubtedly find them regrouping, reviewing, and addressing what went wrong to ensure that it doesn’t happen again on Saturday. And for the younger guys, they have now been through that first game and can perhaps put the jitters on a shelf and get back to playing their style of hockey.