David Pastrnak’s healthy return has to be giving Maple Leafs nightmares

Matt Kalman
March 21, 2019 - 9:27 pm

Home in Toronto, the Maple Leafs were idle Thursday after splitting a road back-to-back – a loss at Nashville on Tuesday and a win in Buffalo on Wednesday.

Perhaps the Bruins’ future first-round Stanley Cup playoffs opponent tuned in to Boston’s 5-1 win against the New Jersey Devils. Maybe the Maple Leafs are now wishing they went to see Jordan Peele’s “Us” instead because it would probably inspire fewer nightmares than watching the Bruins’ first line do its damage in the victory.

In his second game back from thumb surgery, David Pastrnak proved he was rust-free with one goal and one assist, his goal coming as the result of a set play off a Patrice Bergeron faceoff win. Brad Marchand swooped in toward the dot to grab the puck and then threaded the needle to Pastrnak in front for a 2-0 Boston lead with 7:02 left in the second period.

The Bruins had taken a 1-0 lead in the first period after Pastrnak set up Bergeron in front. Marchand also assisted on the goal

Bergeron scored his second goal into an empty net in the final two minutes, with an assist from Marchand.

The Devils were the victims on this night, but the Maple Leafs know the Bruins’ top line is coming for them. And to this point Toronto has not figured out how to stop Marchand, Bergeron or Pastrnak.

Last spring that trio combined for nine goals and 30 points in Boston’s seven-game first-round win. This season the dominance has continued. Bergeron had one goal and two assists in two games against the Maple Leafs. Marchand and Pastrnak each played in all four games against Toronto and didn’t let the Maple Leafs up for air. Marchand had seven assists, and Pastrnak had six goals and three assists.

Amazingly the Maple Leafs have done little to counter an opponent they knew they were going to face as far back as two months ago. Sure John Tavares’ addition makes the Maple Leafs more dangerous and puts more defensive responsibility on one of Boston’s top lines, possibly Bergeron’s line. And one has to figure Nazem Kadri will avoid a suspension this year. But the emergence of the Bruins’ third line – consisting of some combination of Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, Danton Heinen, Noel Acciari and David Backes – has proven capable of matching up against some of the best lines in the league, at home or on the road. That'll free up energy for Boston's best offensive weapons to attack the Maple Leafs.

The Maple Leafs still haven’t added a Grade A, shutdown defenseman. They picked up Jake Muzzin in advance of the NHL trade deadline, and he could provide some size and snarl, but he has struggled in recent weeks. Ron Hainsey can be exploited, especially over a seven-game, every-other-night grind. It’s almost as though the Maple Leafs’ goal is to outscore the Bruins. That’s rarely worked in the postseason in the past 25 years.

No one wishes for another player to get injured, but one has to assume a teensy, tiny piece of the Maple Leafs’ minds had to think that perhaps they were catching a break when Pastrnak had his pratfall and tore ligaments in his thumb. Unfortunately for Toronto, he seems to have healed up just in time to heat up for the postseason and the splint he’s playing with doesn’t seem to be hampering him either.

The Bruins have eight games left in the regular season and with a six-point lead on Toronto it looks like home-ice advantage will be Boston’s. Beyond playing for second place, the Bruins are just tuning up for Toronto and that has to be causing the Maple Leafs to lose some sleep.

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