Many people have been calling this the most important game of the year, but the reality is, until a playoff spot is clinched, every game is the most important game of the year. Every point is critical. That said, it would be nice to pass Boston in the standings, and it would be nice to sweep the season series against them, and neither of those things were likely to happen without a win tonight.
This game started out pretty tentatively from both sides. It was also a slow start from a game ops perspective as the time clock didn’t work and wouldn’t throughout the game until the start of the third period. Freddie Andersen made a couple of saves, and the Matthews line had an extended cycle in the Boston zone, but nothing really happened until just after seven minutes in, when Brad Marchand got the puck in transition. Jake Gardiner played a step to a step and a half too loose on Marchand, allowing him to make a great pass to David Backes, who fired it short side, past Andersen, making it 1-0 Bruins. It would have been easy for the Leafs to fold up at this point, but the opposite happened. The Leafs began to generate shifts in the Boston end. Nikita Soshnikov hit Patrice Bergeron from behind and was set to go to the box for boarding, when Bergeron lost it and attacked Soshnikov, drawing a roughing penalty and evening things up at four on four. The Leafs’ speed took over with the extra room on the ice, as they generated a ton of chances before Mitch Marner found Morgan Rielly cutting to the net, and Rielly buried the puck to tie the game at one. The Leafs would then draw a late period five on three power play, but would be unable to capitalize as the frame ended tied 1-1.
The Bruins came out and took it to the Leafs to start the second period, aided in part by a cross checking penalty to Nikita Zaitsev on Brad Marchand. Marchand flew through the air as if he’d been shot by a bazooka, which apparently only qualifies as embellishment if it’s done by Nazem Kadri. The Bruins had a couple of good chances on the power play, but Freddie Andersen stood tall in the Toronto net, and the Leafs penalty kill was effective, and much like the February game in Boston, the Leafs were energized by their PK and started taking it to the Bruins again, as Matt Hunwick and Connor Brown were robbed by Tuukka Rask, who matched Andersen save for save as the second period ended with the score still locked at 1-1.
As was the case on Saturday night, the Leafs came out and played an extremely defensive style, keeping the puck to the outside for the most part, except for a sequence late in the period where the puck was bouncing around near the Leafs’ net, however Freddie Andersen was able to come up with a couple of huge saves and eventually fall on the loose puck in the crease. The Bruins continued to control things, until Dominic Moore got called for interfering with Nikita Soshnikov in front of the Leafs net. With 2:52 left in the third, the Leafs headed to the power play. Tuukka Rask held his ground for 55 seconds, until JvR found Tyler Bozak, who made no mistake, ripping the puck past Rask to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. Boston pulled Rask at this point, firing multiple shots at Andersen until Auston Matthews poked a loose puck to William Nylander, who launched it down into the empty net, giving the Leafs a 3-1 lead. Seconds later, Nazem Kadri would slide one down into the empty cage to make it 4-1, a lead we’re all familiar with. There would be no collapse this time, although Dominic Moore cut the lead to 4-2, but it was too little too late as the Leafs would hang on for a 4-2 victory, extending their lead on the Islanders to three points in the race for the second wildcard spot. The win also moves them to within one point of the Bruins for 3rd in the Atlantic division. They’ll be in action again Wednesday as they head to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets.
SCORING BY PERIOD
Boston Goal 7:26 D. Backes (16) assisted by B. Marchand
Toronto Goal 14:05 M. Rielly (6) assisted by M. Marner and J. van Riemsdyk
Toronto Goal 18:03 T. Bozak (17) (power play) assisted by J. van Riemsdyk and N. Zaitsev
Toronto Goal 18:47 W. Nylander (19) assisted by A. Matthews
Toronto Goal 19:09 N. Kadri (29) assisted by C. Brown and R. Polak
Boston Goal 19:50 D. Moore (11) assisted by N. Acciari
SHOTS ON GOAL
MIKE BABCOCK POST GAME
Did the Toronto Maple Leafs organization take a big step forward tonight? Let’s ask the President. pic.twitter.com/PqHsdCVtv2
— Jude MacDonald (@JudeMac_17) 21 March 2017