Boston, MA – The Toronto Maple Leafs were too much for the Boston Bruins to handle on Tuesday at the TD Garden. A pair of three-goal outbursts proved too daunting for the Bruins to overcome, one in the first two periods. The Leafs’ speed, coupled with unforced errors by the Bruins, saw Boston trailing 3-1 after one and 6-1 after two.
The Maple Leafs and Bruins came into Tuesday’s game tied for third in the Atlantic Division on identical 41-19-5 records. The Bruins had lost once in their last ten games and caught up with Toronto, 6-3-1 in the same stretch, by chipping away at their lead. With a month to go, playoff seeding was at stake.
“You have to take care of the puck,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “We didn’t do enough of that early on. Obviously, we weren’t prepared to play, so we can share responsibility. That’s our job as coaches, getting them ready to play. Players have to be ready to play.”
“We weren’t sharp early on,” said Cassidy. “You need your goaltender to bail you out, and that didn’t happen either. Give them (Toronto) credit for starting on time. That’s where the game got away from us and they’re a thought team to chase the game against.”
Toronto struck first when former Harvard Crimson forward Colin Blackwell tipped a Jason Spezza pass over Jeremy Swayman’s outstretched leg for his first goal as a member of the Leafs at 5:09. A miscommunication between Bruins defensemen Connor Clifton and Matt Grzelcyk led to Spezza intercepting an errant Clifton pass along the boards.
The Bruins would counter with a David Pastrnak power-play goal less than a minute later. With Leafs forward Michael Bunting off for Tripping, the Bruins won the face-off in the Toronto zone. Pastrnak hit the post with a one-timer from the left circle to get another crack at it shortly. The second time he had help from Leafs’ defenseman TJ Brodie’s stick to redirect the puck past Petr Mrazek for his 38th. Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy assisted.
Mrazek would depart the game with an injury at 7:44. The 6′-2″ Czech goalie finished with three saves on four shots before giving way to Erik Kallgren.
Bruins forward Craig Smith and Bunting drew matching Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalties at 8:34, setting up four-on-four action. The Leafs took advantage of the open ice as William Nylander carried into the Bruins zone, around Brandan Carlo, and had his shot blocked by Swayman. John Tavares grabbed the puck behind the net and dropped a pass back to Morgan Reilly for a top-shelf snipe past Swayman to make it 2-1 at 9:43.
Alex Kerfoot put the Leafs ahead 3-1 at 18:44 of the first when he blocked a Clifton shot at the Toronto blue line and then raced in alone on Swayman, where he beat him with a backhand-forehand deke at the left post. The unassisted goal was the 11th for the former Harvard Crimson star.
“They (The Leafs) were just stronger on pucks,” said Curtis Lazar. “We were defending with our structure and I feel like we got away from that. We played that high octane, fast-paced, scramble hockey that they relish and we got down early.”
The second period wasn’t any better for Boston as the Leafs’ top line came alive. Mitch Marner scored his 28th at 8:28 when he one-timed an Auston Matthews feed past Swayman to make it 4-1. Craig Smith could not connect with Jake DeBrusk in the neutral zone, and Bunting sent Matthews into the Bruins zone, where he feathered to pass to Marner.
A Roughing penalty on Taylor Hall at 15:18 gave the Leafs a power play. Matthews picked up his league-leading 49th goal at the 4:00 minute mark of the second when he banged in a rebound in front of Swayman to put the Leafs ahead comfortably. Tavares and Marner assisted on the power-play goal.
David Kampf made it 6-1 just forty-seven seconds later when he tipped a Reilly shot past Swayman for his 9th of the season.
Boston pulled one back on a DeBrusk redirect in front of the Leafs’ goal. The winger notched his 17th when a McAvoy shot hit DeBrusk’s skate and hopped past Kallgren (23 saves) at 18:19.
“We were working back to it,” Cassidy said of Boston playing better later in the game. “Some guys got frustrated with some calls. So that took them out of the right mindset. It’s a loss, a home loss. They were clearly better than us.”
As the period closed out, Bruins forward Brad Marchand voiced his displeasure with the officiating crew and drew a 10 Minute Misconduct for Unsportsmanlike.
“I’d say (our effort) was complete,” coach Sheldon Keefe said of Toronto. “Obviously we gave a couple late ones up in the third, but I just thought we didn’t give them a lot and managed a couple of response pushes that they had. But it was a real patient game, and we took advantage of the opportunities that we had.”
The Bruins showed signs of life in the third, with Linus Ullmark in goal for Boston. Swayman finished with 19 saves on 25 shots in forty minutes of play. Ullmark stopped all seven shots as he helped stem the bleeding.
Cassidy added he didn’t think about switching goalies after the first period. “Not after 20. He deserves a chance to go and get a big save for us because we’re going to need one.”
“It just seemed like we broke down in front of him,” added Cassidy of Swayman. “It (the puck) was going by tonight, even the tips that some nights will hit you. As a goalie, nothing seemed to hit him. Some of those ones that won’t go in like the fifth or sixth goal, but it was.”
Boston netted two in the third to make the game interesting as the clock wound down. Curtis Lazar banged in a rebound of a Clifton shot off the boards. Lazar whacked at the puck with Kallgren at the post, and the puck bounced over the Swede for Lazar’s seventh goal.
After a video review by the officials, Hall notched his 15th when he drove to the net and beat Kallgren five-hole. The goal was waved off by the official, citing Goalie Interference on Hall, but the goal stood as Boston challenged the call.
“I think we showed good fight in the third,” said McAvoy. “We crawled back and had a couple chances at the end. That’s a good sign of our makeup and resilience, but we can’t go down as much as we did and expect to win.”
The Bruins face the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday at TD Garden at 7:00 pm EST.