After taking an early lead, the Bruins struggled to carry the energy needed to win a playoff series.
The Bruins allowed a late first-period goal to tie the game before getting burned on a shorthanded penalty shot in a 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“They’re a year older, they’ve been through it,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “They understand the process. Some of our guys went through it last year from their first year with Ottawa. Some of them got a lesson today. Hopefully they don’t learn the hard way the whole series, they learn in one or two games and get going.”
Defensive breakdowns, odd-man rushes, and a flat performance from the B’s top line plagued them against a speedy Maple Leafs team that wore down the Bruins blue line. A breakaway at the end of the second period gave Toronto the insurance goal it needed to hold on.
“Nothing we didn’t expect,” said Patrice Bergeron. “They’re a team that works hard and gets their chances by putting the puck on net. I think we didn’t take care of the blue lines, that’s where we got caught many times, and against a team like them, they’re either going to capitalize or get some momentum out of it.”
Before the Leafs broke out, the Bruins looked destined to carry momentum.
With just over under nine minutes gone in the first period, Connor Clifton leveled William Nylander. The Leafs 22-year-old retaliated with a high stick, giving the Bruins the first power play of the game.
The Leafs cleared after the faceoff, with Torey Krug tracking the puck down ice. He snapped a pass over the Brad Marchand along the benches, who entered the zone and found a wide-open Bergeron at the doorstep. Bergeron buried it under the crossbar with 10:29 to go in the first.
Toronto won a faceoff back to Jake Muzzin on the blueline late in the first period. Muzzin then fired a shot on Tuukka Rask. The rebound bounced to Mitch Marner, who fired it into the open net with 3:16 left in the frame to knot it at 1-1.
While the Bruins earned the first power play of the second period with Jake DeBrusk taking a high stick, it was the Leafs who took the lead.
DeBrusk fumbled the puck at the offensive blueline, and Marner skated on a beeline towards the net. DeBrusk hauled him down on the breakaway, giving Marner a penalty shot.
The Leafs top-liner buried his second of the game with a deke to catch Rask off balance with 17:13 to go in the frame.
DeBrusk crashed hard into the boards at the end of the play, and midway through the second, went back to the room, but he returned a little bit later, but was still hurting for his next couple of shifts.
Things got worse from there.
The Bruins allowed several odd-man rushes late in the middle frame, and on one of them, William Nylander made them pay for it. With 1:35 left in the period, he took advantage of a bad Matt Grzelcyk pinch in the Bruins offense zone and beat Rask for the 3-1 lead.
It could have been more of a disaster, with two Leafs odd-man rushes with less than 40 seconds in the period. Rask was forced to stone John Tavares, and the Bruins were literally saved by the bell on an Auston Matthews shot from another defensive breakdown.
The Leafs iced it on an empty netter from John Tavares with 1:19 to.
One of the Bruins better chances of the third period came from the fourth line, with Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom digging towards the net with 12:58 to go in the frame, but were turned aside.
The Bruins allowed a league-high 15 shorthanded goals against during the regular season. They struggled with allowing opposing chances during their man advantages, and while behaving largely unconcerned, it came back to bite them.
The defensive breakdowns all night didn’t help, particularly Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara at times struggling against Toronto’s speed.
“If we managed the puck better, it would allow us to play more to our strength and be heavier and win the battles along the walls,” said Cassidy. “That doesn’t come into play as much, force them to skate and defend, everyone gets fatigued defending.”
Charlie Coyle, along with his linemate and fellow deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson, was a bright spot, with three shots and creating some of the Bruins better opportunities in the second half of the game.
The Bruins get another shot, trailing the series 1-0, on Saturday night with Game 2 at the Garden.