In a battle of two of the hottest teams in the NHL, the Boston Bruins snapped a six-game losing streak to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a battle full of playoff implication, defeating their division rivals 4-1, ending Toronto’s four-game winning streak in the process.
A lack of discipline from Toronto opened the door for the Bruins, who took full advantage with a pair of powerplay goals to claim their 20th win since the beginning December.
Defensive miscues lead to early scoring
Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey were back in the lineup after missing a few games with injury and illness respectively, giving the Maple Leafs a full defense corps for the first time since mid-December.
That failed to give Toronto much of a boost in the early stages, as a defensive mistake put them in an early hole. Rather than it being any of their D-men, it was Auston Matthews abandoning Patrice Bergeron in his own zone to pursue a puck.
Matthews would miss it and the puck fell to Danton Heinen, who fed it to Bergeron all alone in the slot. The four-time Selke Trophy winner ripped the puck top corner past Frederik Andersen to give the Bruins an early lead just under five minutes into the game.
The Maple Leafs wasted no time in responding. Just over a minute later, the recently-recalled Kasperi Kapanen broke in alone and nearly beat Tuukka Rask, but the puck fluttered harmlessly through the crease. Just over a minute after that, someone took an interference penalty, sending Toronto to the powerplay.
Midway through the man advantage, an innocent-looking point shot from Mitch Marner ended up getting redirected past Rask by Boston’s Charlie McAvoy to level the score at 1-1.
Penalties cost Maple Leafs
Things seemed to be going Toronto’s way to start the second period as David Pastrnak took a goalie interference penalty just over three minutes in. The Leafs had several close calls early on the power play, including a post that bounced across the open Boston cage.
Not long after, Bergeron broke in shorthanded and hit a post of his own. As Boston’s penalty mounted a shorthanded charge, Morgan Rielly took tripping penalty behind his own net, negating Toronto’s powerplay. The Bruins would pour on the pressure four-on-four and then on the power play but could not convert.
Almost midway through the period, Patrick Marleau took a tripping penalty nine minutes in, and this time it proved costly. Early in the powerplay, Hainsey misplayed a dump in, leading to a foot race, won by Pasternak.
He fired an innocent looking shot on net that trickled through Andersen to reclaim the lead for Boston. With just under five minutes to go, Hainsey sent Boston back to the power play with an interference powerplay. The Bruins set up their cycle, leading to Torey Krug one-timing Austin Czarnik’s pass under Andersen’s arm to give Boston a two-goal lead, which they took into the intermission.
Bruins hang on
Once again, the Maple Leafs had an early opportunity when McAvoy took a holding the stick penalty. They set up their cycle well but failed to put a good shot on net. Midway through the period, the Leafs suffered a scare when hot young defenseman Travis Dermott went knee-on-knee with David Backes.
Backes was sent to the penalty box for kneeing, but Dermott was slow to get up and had to retreat to the dressing room. Much to the relief of Leafs Nation, he returned before the end of the powerplay. Once again, the Leafs failed to generate any scoring chances.
Throughout the third period, the Maple Leafs were in control of the play, but the Bruins did a good job of preventing any genuine scoring chances. Auston Matthews was essentially a non-factor and Toronto did not manage to make Rask’s life very difficult.
The Leafs pulled the goalie with over two minutes to go but even the extra man failed to help crack the Bruins defense. With 1:39 remaining, Boston’s Tim Schaller fired the puck from his own end and hit Toronto’s empty net to seal the victory.
By the numbers
Boston’s ability to clog up their own slot proved crucial in the victory, as Toronto only managed to put 24 shots on net. It is worth noting that their lone goal was a shot that was going wide, only to be redirected into the net by a Boston defender.
The Bruins had 30 shots of their own. Special teams also made a big difference, as the Bruins went two-for-three on the power play while killing three out of four penalties.
The win was crucial for the Bruins in the battle for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Boston, who sits second in the Atlantic Division, now leads third-place Toronto by five points in the division with four games in hand.
It is highly unlikely another Atlantic team will knock Toronto down, as the fourth-place Detroit Red Wings trail the Maple Leafs by 15 points.
While a Boston-Toronto first-round meeting is highly likely, the Bruins now only trail the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning by three points with a game in hand, meaning first in the Atlantic is not out of the question for the red-hot Bruins.
The Maple Leafs now return home to meet the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, while the Bruins will look to do the Leafs a favour when they pay a visit to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.