Bruins, Maple Leafs & Crucial First Goals

The winner of every game of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs series has been the team that scored first. In a series that has plagued both teams with slow starts, the gameplan has become simple: start fast and early. The team that has taken the steering wheel early in each of the first five games of the series, whether that be through speed, possession, or board play, has been dubbed the victor. Even if the momentum of the game shifts, it’s the start that has set an irreversible tone.

David Pastrnak
David Pastrnak celebrates after scoring the Boston Bruins’ first goal in Game 2 of their playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Game 5 was the most recent evidence of this characteristic. Roughly ten minutes into the game, the Maple Leafs were up 2-0. It took the Bruins another 20 minutes to finally get one on the board, capitalizing on a power play opportunity midway through the second period. But less than a minute later, the Leafs struck again and then a minute-and-a-half later they made it 4-1.

The problem is, the Bruins have been a comeback team all season. In their losses in this series, they have failed to live up to that identity. The first goal – or in this case two goals – set the stage. Even though Boston was able to muster some goals and bring the deficit within one by the end of the game, it was that dominant first period by Toronto that decided the game.

The Tale of Two Bruins

So far this series, we have played witness to two different Bruins teams. There’s the high-flying, high-scoring offense of the first two games as well as Game 4, and the tired, heavy-legged team that dropped Games 3 and 5.

The former example is a team that dictates the game with speed and crisp passes. They do not try to score a goal in one play, but steadily build up momentum with zone time and wait for an opportunity. When that opportunity comes knocking, they finish the job.

The latter is a team that woke up on the wrong side of the bed and needs a cup of coffee. They’ve played as if they have lead in their skates, struggling to keep up with a fast, young Maple Leafs squad and cannot win races to 50-50 pucks. These Bruins leave their goaltender hung out to dry.

When the Bruins have won games this series they have relied on their top forwards, also known as the NHL’s best line this season. In the three games Boston has won, Pastrnak has registered four goals and seven assists. In the games they have lost, he failed to put up a point.

It’s been a similar scenario for Brad Marchand who has scored two goals and five assists in Bruins wins this postseason while going pointless in the team’s two losses. Patrice Bergeron, injured in Game 4, notched five helpers in Games 1 and 2 and failed to muster any points in the two losses to the Maple Leafs.

Brad Marchand David Pastrnak Patrice Bergeron Bruins
The Boston Bruins’ first line – Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron – have dictated the series thus far. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While it is easy to argue that Boston’s first line needs to produce to win, the team also needs scoring from the rest of its roster. Sixteen of the 21 skaters that have dressed for the Bruins this postseason have two points or less. Only two of those players – Nick Holden and Ryan Donato – appeared in just one game.

Sean Kuraly is the only member of the black and gold’s depth that has been able to consistently contribute, especially when Boston’s first line fails to prevail. Oddly enough, Kuraly has just one goal across the team’s three wins this series while he has registered a goal and two assists in the two losses.

Maple Leafs Stars Fall Flat

The story of this series for the Maple Leafs is strangely the opposite. Other than Mitchell Marner, who has a goal and five assists, the most likely candidates for dominance have been quiet. Auston Matthews has just a goal and an assist this series after posting 34 goals and 29 helpers during the regular season. William Nylander has just one assist after a 20-goal and 41-assist season.

Instead, the Maple Leafs have ridden on the play of Morgan Reilly (five assists), James van Riemsdyk (three goals, one assist), Tyler Bozak (two goals, two assists), and Zach Hyman (one goal, three assists). While these players were expected to contribute they were not expected to surpass two of Toronto’s top three point-producers during the regular season.

Maple Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott
The Toronto Maple Leafs have received help from their depth while Auston Matthews and William Nylander have struggled. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Production from these players and others such as Connor Brown, Patrick Marleau, Andreas Johnsson and Thomas Plekanec have made up for Frederik Andersen’s .895 save percentage (SV%) and 3.86 goals-against average (GAA). They have also filled the void left by Nazem Kadri’s suspension. Kadri was the No. 4 ranked point-producer for the Maple Leafs during the regular season, sporting 32 goals and 23 assists.

If the Maple Leafs are to force a Game 7 on Monday night, they will need their depth to continue coming up big. They could also use some help from Matthews and Nylander. On the other hand, the Bruins will likely turn to their star players to resume leading the charge. Either way, look for the first goal in Monday’s game to dictate the pace, momentum, and potentially the winner of Game 6.