Go ahead and tell yourself it’s early, too early to panic. After all, somebody had to lose Game 1 and it just so happened to be the Bruins. But if you prefer that tonic to treat your blues, first ask yourself this question: How has the “it’s early” talk been working for the Red Sox?
In dumping the Bruins, 4-1, last night at TD Garden, the Maple Leafs outplayed the hosts in every facet of the game and looked like the superior team.
Now the Bruins have to win 4 of 6 to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
How did this happen on a night where the atmosphere was everything it needs to be to bring out the best in the home time? The place was crackling with adrenaline. As the ice was being groomed before faceoff, lights decorating it in a black-and-gold camouflage pattern, the buzz was building.
As the gigantic Spoked B made its way around the lower bowl, the place was on fire.
Then the NHL’s most underrated superstar, Todd Angilly, took the ice and cranked the energy to a new level, belting out chilling renditions of “O Canada” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”
A quick start seemed inevitable and goalie Tuukka Rask, with a nifty early glove save, did his part. Connor Clifton, in his first taste of Stanley Cup playoffs, drew an early rise from the crowd with a well-placed hit, and the B’s two superstars flexed their muscles early, Patrice Bergeron finding the net after a beauty of a pass from Brad Marchand at 9:31 of the first period.
Then it faded, faded, faded, vanished. It was so quiet you could hear crickets chirp and Stanley Cup dreams drop.
Even the “Let’s Go Bruins!” chants died before gaining any steam, the voices muted by a failure to believe they were being heard. Another effort as uninspiring as this one Saturday in Game 2 and the chants are liable to take on a few more words: “Go Bruins … and take the Red Sox with you!”
The Maple Leafs skated past the young, shaky Bruins defenders and peppered goalie Tuukka Rask with a succession of breakaways and one successful penalty shot. Three goals got past Rask and one found an empty net.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy never shies from criticizing Rask or anyone else when he thinks it’s warranted, but not last night.
“I don’t want to put this on Tuukka,” Cassidy said of his first-string goalie, who turned back 29 of 32 shots. “At the other end, I thought their guy was really good to protect the lead and allow them to extend the lead, so good for him. He’s a good goaltender.”
Frederik Anderson saved 37 of 38 shots. It’s somewhat surprising the Bruins shot total was that high considering how many opportunities they passed up early.
Still stinging from losing in seven games to the Bruins in last year’s first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, the Leafs had the emotional edge, which in theory should swing to the Bruins, who will be eager to erase the stink of defeat from their home ice.
But it will take more than emotion to stop Bruin-killer Mitch Marner, who scored the Leafs’ first two goals. There is no easy answer for him.
“He’s an elite player in the league at a young age,” Cassidy said. “He’s always played well against us. He’s always played hard against us. … Listen, it’s the old, years ago I remember Gretzky, ‘Why doesn’t anybody hit that guy?’ Well, it’s not that easy. So I think it becomes containment issues. Play him hard. Play him honest, one on one, put him where you want him to go. Obviously, if you can be physical against him, do it.”
The Bruins made it tougher on themselves, but not all hope is lost. The other Toronto team in town, the Blue Jays, were on the verge of leaving with a two-game sweep before the Red Sox rallied to win by a run in the ninth. If they can do it, so can the Bruins.