By Mike Miccoli
Before the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped the puck on their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, I made a prediction. “Bruins in six,” I’d tell anyone who’d ask, even going as far as hinting that the Maple Leafs had every chance to upset the B’s in the first game. I’d circle back to the fact that the Bruins had won only two of their last nine games (against an awful Tampa Bay team and a worse Florida club) and basically backed into the playoffs.
They couldn’t protect the lead. They’d often give up at points during the hockey game. Their lack of interest seemed appalling and a bit disturbing. The Bruins just weren’t playing good hockey.
Then, Wednesday night happened and a Bruins team appeared on the ice that hasn’t been seen in quite some time. They were hitting, shooting the puck, connecting their passes and bringing a whole other level of intensity that has gone missing for most of the season. They played the full-60.
So, about flipping that switch.
The Bruins 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs in Game 1 is both a blessing and a curse for Boston because now everyone knows what this team can be capable of. Any expectations that were lowered to start the series have no doubt risen with the Bruins’ win. If they can play like this every game, this series will be over quicker than it started.
The Bruins did a lot of things right on Wednesday, even after giving up the first goal of the game, a power play tally less than three minutes after puck drop. The Bruins responded by firing away shots at James Reimer and keeping the pressure consistent in the offensive zone. The physicality was there and, even down 1-0, the momentum was clearly shifting in Boston’s favor.
Players stepped up and embraced their roles. Wednesday night’s game was one of the best in some time for guys like David Krejci, Wade Redden, Johnny Boychuk and even Brad Marchand who, while not appearing on the scoresheet, clearly got into the heads of the Toronto skaters.
Tuukka Rask made “timely saves” after giving up a softie to James van Riemsdyk early in the game. The defense settled down and held the Maple Leafs to 20 shots and every Bruin, with the exception of Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton and Adam McQuaid, registered a shot on net. And even they made their presence felt at some point during the game.
So now, no more excuses. No more talking about the grueling schedule. No more talking about how this was the longest, shortest season ever. Now, it’s just hockey and the Bruins proved in Game 1 that they can still play the game and be damn good at it. Peter Chiarelli talked to 98.5 The Sports Hub about how teams don’t just flip a switch when the playoffs come, which is true. The Bruins still need to prove that they’re a consistent team who can play to this level every game. If they can do that, they’re as tough of an opponent as anyone in the postseason. They just can’t revert back to the sloppy style of hockey that they had played over the past month or two. One game, after all, doesn’t mean everything is back to normal.
But it’s getting there.
My prediction of the Bruins winning the series in six games stays the same. The Maple Leafs will bounce back and James Reimer will steal a game for Toronto because let’s be honest, Reimer, who made 36 saves in Game 1, kept his team in the game. The difference is that now we know the Bruins have it in them. We know what they’re capable of and we know just how dangerous they can be. For now, that should be plenty to get them past Toronto in this series if they’re able to maintain the momentum and continuously play strong hockey.
Just…no more excuses, please.
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Mike Miccoli covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers and has been a credentialed member of the media for all Bruins’ home games for the past five years. As a former player, coach and official, Miccoli has been around the game of hockey since the age of three. Along with his work on THW, Miccoli has also been published in the New England Hockey Journal, Improper Bostonian magazine and on BostInno.