Last night the Toronto Maple Leafs faced the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which ended in a 5-1 win for the Bruins. For the Leafs, the Bruins were probably their biggest obstacle to get past round one, but because the possibility of playing them was known for the last two months, the Leafs had time to prepare for one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
But ‘prepared’ was not the word to describe their game last night.
For Leafs fans, the hope was that the Bruins would continue to suffer injury after injury and lose a key player just as they did last year with Torey Krug. Heading into Game 1, they thought newly acquired forward Rick Nash would be watching from the press box after missing the last 12 games with a concussion. But he played on the second line with rookie Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci.
Riley Nash, on the other hand, didn’t play due to an ear laceration he received after taking a slapshot to the side of the head from Krug. Defenseman Brandon Carlo underwent successful surgery on his fractured ankle but will be out for the rest of the postseason, and rookie Ryan Donato was a healthy scratch. None of these absences, however, was expected to cripple the Bruins and, going forward, Maple Leafs fans will have to put their hopes on something else.
Bad Matchups Result in Goals
Since the Leafs have a ton of depth at the top, it seemed more likely that the second, third and maybe even the fourth lines would produce more scoring chances since the Bruins have a jacked first line with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. They can easily tie up the Leafs’ first line by forcing them to play a more defensive game.
However, the Leafs’ only goal of the night was scored by Zach Hyman, a fifth-round pick who posted 15 goals in 82 games this season. He zipped by defensemen Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy while David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk (second line) and Pastrnak (first line) were on the ice.
But, when each team’s first lines aren’t matched up against each other, something’s gotta give. That’s what happened with the Leafs’ first goal and it’s what happened with the Bruins’ third goal when Mike Babcock decided it would be a good idea to pit the fourth line against the league’s best first line.
Besides the uneven line matchups, the thing that really hurt the Leafs last night were penalties, as they got 23 penalty infraction minutes (PIM) and gave the Bruins six power plays.
Penalties in the Playoffs
The Leafs can’t afford dumb penalties, and although Nazem Kadri matured in ways no one could have expected this season, we saw a glimpse of his old self in March against the Buffalo Sabres. After getting hit by defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen they fought, which was completely out of character for Kadri, and that grew into a rivalry that carried into their next meeting 10 days later.
That’s when Kadri cross-checked Ristolainen in the second period, which led to a Sabres power-play goal. Luckily for Kadri, the Leafs beat the Sabres 5-2 that night, but that lack of discipline can’t happen during the playoffs. Just look at what happened to the Leafs in last year’s run against the Washington Capitals.
It seemed like there was some sort of race between Alex Ovechkin and Kadri. Instead of trying to out-hit, out-punch or out-skate each other, they were trying to ‘out-draw’ penalties on each other. During Game 5, at the tail end of the first period, when Kadri got a tripping penalty for colliding with Ovechkin, Ovechkin had to go to the dressing room for further inspection on his knee.
Ovechkin turned out to be fine but T.J. Oshie scored on the power-play and the Leafs lost 2-1 in overtime. That one goal could have been the difference for the Leafs that night, and based on the close scores in the other five games in that round, which were also won or lost by one goal, it goes to show the ripple effects of a single penalty.
Unfortunately, Kadri is predictable and he received three penalties last night, including a charging penalty (major penalty: five minutes) and a game misconduct (10 minutes), which allowed Krejci to score a power-play goal.
Bruins’ Vulnerability: The Penalty
As much as the Leafs have a decent penalty kill percentage (11th in the league), the Bruins have an even better one (second in the league). That being said, the Bruins are prone to more penalties, which probably has to do with their style of play, as they rank seventh in the league for most PIM per-game-played (PIM/GP), with 9:29 PIM per game. The Leafs rank fourth for fewest, with 6:57 PIM per game.
The Bruins rank eighth in the league for most hits and are known for playing a bruising game while the Leafs have the sixth-fewest hits and are instead known for their speed. Basically, the Bruins will have to make a change in the way they play and move farther out of their comfort zone in order to reduce their penalties. It’s probably not in their best interest to resume play as usual and continue giving power plays to the team with the second-best power play percentage in the league (the Leafs).
The Boston Bruins were one of the worst teams for the Leafs to get paired with in this year’s playoffs but perhaps there’s a way for them to earn consecutive wins through special teams. As long as they can match up the right lines, stay out of the penalty box and keep Kadri from showing emotion, there’s a chance they can move on to the second round.
I’m a Hockey Journalist based out of Barrie, Ontario, a Contributing Writer for The Hockey Writers covering OHL, and NHL prospects with an insatiable thirst for all things LA Kings, and PR gal for Abel Sports Management.