The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs have quite the history. Normally when the divisional rivals meet it’s a spirited affair filled with physicality and intensity. While the Leafs started off kind of flat in the first, their Saturday night tilt in Boston wasn’t any different from it’s usual heated affair.
The game marked the start of the Leafs’ sixth five-game segment as coach Mike Babcock likes to call them in which he would like the see the Leafs pick up six of a possible ten points. Not only was it important for the Leafs to pick up two points in the wild card race, but to be able to do it against a divisional rival that currently sits ahead of you in the standings is that much more satisfying.
While it certainly didn’t look like the Leafs were going to have an impressive outing early on, the team pulled together and seemingly improved as the night went on.
As mentioned, Toronto seemed quite sluggish off the hop. While they dominated in the face-off circle in the first period, Boston led the way in most other categories. Boston owned the only power play of the period after Mitch Marner was sent off for hooking about eight minutes into the period, but still the Bruins weren’t able to capitalize.
The Bruins out skated, out checked and really out played the Leafs all period. They out shot Toronto 11-2 in the period with the Leafs blocking another five shots. Still, Toronto was able to escape the period unscathed – a feat the team certainly rallied around throughout the remainder of the game.
The Leafs did lose Martin Marincin about seven minutes into the game when he went awkwardly into the boards after David Krejci’s stick seemed to take his skate out from under him. As you watch the video, you can hear Babcock in the background questioning why it wasn’t a penalty as it could’ve been called tripping.
Needless to say, the Leafs were lucky to have Frederik Andersen manning the crease as he came up with a series of big saves to keep the game tied early.
Andersen 🔥. #TMLtalk
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 11, 2016
But Andersen’s impact didn’t stop at the sound of the first buzzer. For the first time in quite a while the Leafs have a legitimate starting goalie who’s been able to help them pull out some wins – including this one.
The Leafs came out flying to start the second frame. They were winning puck battles, getting to the loose pucks faster than the Bruins and it seemed as though the tides had changed in Boston. Suddenly, the Bruins looked like the tired team in a game that was being taken over by the young kids in Toronto jerseys.
Only two minutes into the new period, Auston Matthews took a pass from William Nylander high in the slot and sniped home his 12th goal of the season to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 11, 2016
The goal is Matthews’ sixth in his last seven games and continues his consistent streak since his 13-game goalless drought.
Following the goal, the Leafs continued to carry the play dominating the neutral zone. They stayed out of the penalty box – as did the Bruins – and continued to play a team game in their own end. They blocked another 11 shots, had a number of takeaways and started to get back into the physical side of the game.
The hard work paid off again with just under five minutes left in the period as a point shot was redirected right in front of Rask by Zach Hyman to give the Leafs a two-goal lead.
While the Leafs looked to have the period won, the Bruins continued to out shoot the blue and white with 10 second period shots to the Leafs eight for a two-period lead of 21-10. Their efforts and dominance when it came to shots finally paid off as Brad Marchand was able to put his eighth of the season past Andersen with about 1:30 left in the second.
While the Leafs did give up a late goal to cut their lead in half heading into the third, the fact that they were able to stay out of the box and play a physical game within the rules was certainly a positive for the team to take away from the game.
The third period started much like the second. The Leafs came out and used their speed and physical play to dominate the loose pucks. Usually when you’re able to used speed, you’re able to open up the game and often draw penalties. And the Leafs did. About four minutes into the period, the Leafs’ Nikita Soshnikov entered the Boston zone only to get tripped up by Zdeno Chara who went off for two.
However, the Leafs weren’t able to set up their power play in the Boston end and the opportunity fell by the wayside.
But the Bruins’ third period penalty parade didn’t stop there. With 12 minutes left, Marchand was called for tripping after he slew footed Roman Polak on a dangerous play as the two went into the end boards.
The Bruins were able to get a few shorthanded chances – including a point-blank opportunity for Czarnik in front of Andersen. But the Toronto net minder turned that away and the Leafs were able to turn the play back up the ice. Just as the power play ended – and following the big save by Andersen – the Leafs were able to get the puck in deep in the Boston end for Tyler Bozak. Without having the puck for more than a second, Bozak threw it out in front and James van Riemsdyk was able to tuck home his 12th of the season to restore the Leafs two-goal lead.
Following the goal, there were reminders of the Leafs Game 7 loss to the Bruins in 2012-13 as Boston pinned the Leafs in their own end for about two minutes. However, Andersen was able to stand tall and shutdown the Bruins’ top line as they started buzzing around the Leafs net.
With Rask pulled, Boston once again pinned the Leafs in their own end only to have Connor Brown toss his fourth of the season into the empty net to extend the Leafs lead to 4-1.
After all the talk of whether Nylander should be back on a line with Matthews, Babcock reunited the young guns in an attempt to boost his scoring and it seemed to work. That line managed to score the first two goals for Toronto – including the game winner – as the Leafs were able to hold onto their third period lead and win a big divisional game against the Bruins.
TOR – Auston Matthews (12) assisted by William Nylander
TOR – Zach Hyman (4) assisted by Jake Gardiner and Matt Hunwick
BOS – Brad Marchand (8) assisted by David Backes
TOR – James van Riemsdyk (12) assisted by Tyler Bozak and Matt Hunwick
TOR – Connor Brown (4) assisted by Morgan Rielly
THW Three Stars
First: Frederik Andersen (32 saves and 11th win of the season)
Second: Matt Hunwick (2 assists, +2 and 4 blocked shots)
Third: Zach Hyman (GWG)
Colorado Avalanche at Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre – 7:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, December 11
Broadcast channels – Sportsnet
2016-17 Season Series: First Matchup of the Season
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.