After trailing twice early in periods, the Maple Leafs kept battling back before a late goal carried them to victory and moved them ahead of Boston into second in the division.
With star Auston Matthews injured, Nazem Kadri and Mitch Marner stepped up, carrying the Buds to one of their most important wins of the season.
Kadri had a pair of goals, as did Boston’s Brad Marchand. But Toronto generally controlled the play, outskating, outshooting, and eventually wearing the Bruins down before burying them late.
Big guns trade blows
After their first three meetings were more defensive battles, the second and third place teams in the Atlantic division wasted no time in sending their offenses to work.
Just over six minutes in, it was Boston drawing first blood, as David Pastrnak battled across the Leafs’ blue line before finding Brad Marchand alone in the slot. The Bruins’ leading scorer’s shot deflected off the stick of Leafs’ defender Morgan Rielly and past Frederik Andersen to give Boston an early 1-0 lead.
With star centre Auston Matthews out approximately ten days with an upper-body injury after being sandwiched and leaving the game early on Thursday night, Mike Babcock was forced to make some serious line juggles.
Toronto came into the game with a drastically different top line, with William Nylander shifting to centre and Mitch Marner moving up to Nylander’s right wing.
The move paid off just over a minute after the Boston goal. A full-line effort saw Zack Hyman keep the play alive in the Boston zone down low, shoveling the puck around the net which eventually ended up on the stick of Nylander in the left faceoff circle.
The centreman flipped a pass across the zone to Marner at the side of the net, who patiently fired the puck past a sprawling Tuukka Rask to tie the game at one.
The goal gave the momentum to the home team, eventually drawing Boston into a too many men on the ice penalty. Toronto would execute a perfect powerplay that lasted all of seven seconds. After the Leafs won the draw, Rielly’s point shot was expertly deflected by James van Riemsdyk.
Rather than chipping the puck into the net as he often does, van Riemsdyk poked it laterally across the crease to Nazem Kadri who easily tucked the puck into the open cage to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead.
After failing to convert on a powerplay of their own, a strong offensive shift from the Bruins’ top line evened the score once again. After Marchand battled to keep the puck in, it found its way to Pasternak down below the Leafs goal line. From the corner, Pasternak shoveled a pass back to a
Bruins limit onslaught
It appeared that Toronto was poised to take the lead early in the second, as a strong offensive shift pinned the Bruins back into their own zone.
But after failing to take advantage, a quick counterattack by Boston saw Jake DeBrusk chip a past from Ryan Spooner past Andersen to give the lead back to the Bruins.
The goal was the lone blip for the Leafs in a dominant period. Toronto was relentless throughout the second, pouring the pressure on Rask and the Bruins defense.
But despite a ton of chances, the bounces were simply not going the Leafs’ way and they could not buy a goal.
With three and a half minutes to go in the period, Zdeno Chara was sent to the penalty box for slashing. Even with the extra man, Toronto could not find a way to get the puck over the goal line.
With exactly two minutes left in the period, a tripping penalty gave Toronto a five-on-three followed by a power play that would have lasted the remainder of the period.
Finally, after nearly three minutes down at least a man, Boston’s bend-don’t-break defense gave out. After Nylander narrowly kept the puck in, a series of back-and-forth passes between Marner and Kadri ended with Kadri ripping a one-timer top corner to level the score at three. Toronto outshot Boston 16-2 in the second period.
Hainsey the late hero
Like the second period, Boston had some early chances, putting as many shots on the Toronto net in the first two minutes of the third period as they did in the entire second period, only this time Andersen kept them out.
The period progressed with the two teams exchanging opportunities, but neither came particularly closing to taking the lead.
With 1:23 to go in the game, Ron Hainsey blasted a point shot past Rask to seemingly give Toronto a lead. Boston challenged, arguing the Hyman had interfered with the goaltender, but it was called a good goal, putting the Leafs up 4-3 in the dying minutes.
Toronto buckled down defensively and hung on for the last 83 seconds to score a massive win.
By the numbers
Toronto was generally the stronger team statistically. They narrowly led in the faceoff circle, winning 51 percent of faceoffs, and dominated in the shot department 36 to 23. In their last meeting, special teams went a long way in Boston’s victory.
The roles were reversed tonight, with the Leafs killing both of their penalties while scoring twice on three power plays.
The win moves the Maple Leafs past Boston into second in the Atlantic division, which would give them home-ice advantage in a potential first-round showdown with the Bruins. However, Boston still has five games in hand over the Leafs.
This was the final meeting between the two teams, with Toronto winning the season series for the second year in a row having won three of four.
The win also allows Toronto to keep pace with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who beat the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. Toronto trails Tampa by four points, although the Lightning still have two games in hand.
The Maple Leafs will host the Lightning in a major divisional battle on Monday night. Boston will head down the QEW to Buffalo to visit the Sabres Sunday afternoon.