Anderson: Bruins' struggles unlikely to repeat in Game 4

Ty Anderson
April 17, 2018 - 1:42 am

Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

The Maple Leafs proved that they’re not spineless losers Monday night.

Good. Great. Happy for them. Their regular-season win total (a franchise-best) alone should have told you that they were going to show up at some point in this series. And if they didn’t… well, we’ve already established what that would have made them.

Now let’s see if they can do it again on Thursday night against a Bruins team unlikely to miss 18 shots, ring four posts, and allow every home run pass to connect in Game 4.

I give credit to the Maple Leafs. I honestly do.

They found ways to connect on their chances -- James van Riemsdyk outmuscled Zdeno Chara for real estate in front of Tuukka Rask on the first goal and with the tone set, the Leafs capitalized on what felt like every single Boston miscue at the attacking blue line or neutral zone (and there were more than a few) -- and the B’s did not.

The Maple Leafs also somewhat stopped their self-sabotaging ways in the defensive zone, and came through with their series-best 19 blocked shots against the Bruins. Jake Gardiner, who was downright disastrous in the opening two games of this series, came through with a noticeably stronger performance. Morgan Rielly also rebounded.

The benefit of last change also allowed Leafs head coach Mike Babcock to give Auston Matthews a break from Patrice Bergeron, with just 4:19 of 17:10 of five-on-five ice-time in Game 3 coming against Bergeron. This, of course, compared to Matthews seeing Bergeron for a combined 12:49 of his 27:32 in Games 1 and 2 in Boston made an obvious difference. And there’s something to be said for Matthews’ confidence after his first goal of the series came with Bergeron on the ice, and with that line pinned in their zone for what had to have been the first and only time in the opening three games of this series.

The Bruins should have expected this, too. Take a look around the league and you’ll see similar results across the board. With the exception of the Kings, those that returned home in a series deficit responded with a resounding, confidence-lifting Game 3 win. The Leafs, for what it’s worth, are the best among that group (Wild, Devils, Avs). Two-way dynamo Nazem Kadri suspended or not, an agitating Leo Komarov still out and wheezing or not, the Bruins were always going to be on the receiving end of the Leafs’ best possible punch -- or falling ice -- upon their arrival to the Air Canada Centre.

...But the Bruins were still in this game until the 56th minute and 25th second.

When the Maple Leafs tried to run the Bruins out of the building in the first period (they doubled the Bruins up in scoring chances and had Boston just swimming in their own zone), Rask was there for some big stops. That carried over into the second period, too. Had it not been for goals from Adam McQuaid and Zdeno Chara -- the two goal scorers we all expected to step up and lead the charge in this game, I'm sure -- 3-0 would have felt like 6-0 after 40 minutes of action. 

And hammering Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen for 42 shots in the losing effort, the Bruins did everything but tie this game up when it mattered most.

Knowing what we do about the character and makeup of this team, that all seems unlikely to repeat.

The Bruins, a team that drew the ninth-most penalties in the regular season, did not earn their first power-play opportunity until the 40th minute of play on Monday. Barring another ‘let them play’ kind of night, their lethal unit will get more cracks come Game 4.

Their defense, which was a turnstiling nightmare for large chunks of this game, will know what the Leafs want to connect on in Game 4. They should anticipate the stretch passes and long-bomb connections from a mile away, in essence. A healthier Matt Grzelcyk bumping Nick Holden from the lineup would work wonders, too.

And again, it’s admittedly tough to see the Bruins whiffing on these kinda chances again. Especially those aforementioned missed shots by way of unforgiving iron.

For additional context to their four posts in the 4-2 loss, the Bruins rang iron just 59 times in the regular season. That means that Game 2 featured six games of posts condensed into 60 agonizing minutes. That kinda spam-posting gets you banned if you’re online, and is considered just plain unlucky if you’re wearing knife-shoes.

No group embodied this more than the Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak trio.

While Babcock did an obviously great job pulling his top talents away from Bergeron, his move to put Tomas Plekanec on Bergeron’s unit was far from a success. Sure, the trio that combined for an unfathomable 20 points through the first two games of the series went without a point, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. In fact, they still controlled the pace of play, and found their offensive chances, even with a turtleneck draped on them.

Give them this matchup again, which seems like Babcock’s only call with Kadri still suspended, and they’ll feast.

With two days to rest and adjust, and the same can be said for the rest of a largely underperforming Black and Gold squad that struggled on Monday.

Especially now that they have something to prove.