BOSTON – Some players complained about TD Garden’s soft April ice and how it bobbled the puck and made execution on the three fruitless power plays troublesome.
Others bemoaned a grey-area goaltender interference call falling in favour of their opponents.
And multiple people closer to the Boston Bruins organization than anyone at Sportsnet have speculated that the club’s engine, Patrice “War of Attrition” Bergeron, might be trudging through an injury. You know, as an eight-time Selke Trophy finalist who hides broken ribs, torn muscles and separated shoulders does. (For those scoring at home, Bergeron’s playoff ice time, at 18:43, is actually up slightly from his in-season usage, 18:23.)
All these whispers of something resembling excuses is what happens when the third-best regular-season NHL team — and the best of the remaining 13, still with a shot at securing home ice throughout – finds itself a little surprised and a lot at risk of being snuffed out by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who can play defence after all.
In the aching moments following Toronto’s 2-1 victory Friday night, Boston’s lone scorer, David Krejci, was asked if the whole thing was frustrating.
“Yeah, it is. What do you think? It’s Game 5, right? At home. So, there you go,” Krejci said. “We’ll put more pucks in the net next game.
“Play desperate hockey and get a W, no matter what it takes.”
The Leafs’ man-on-man defence scheme wasn’t supposed to be this suffocating. Their breakouts weren’t supposed to be so clean.
But the difference between these five games in 2019 — four of which Leafs coach Mike Babcock has loved his group’s effort and execution — and the first five in 2018 is major.
At this point of last year’s opening-round tilt, the Bruins had scored 20 goals. They’re stuck at 14 now, a 30 per cent defensive improvement that can be accredited to the additions of John Tavares and Jake Muzzin, a matured commitment from Toronto’s young core, and the poise of goalie Frederik Andersen.
The triumvirate of Brad Marchand–Bergeron–David Pastrnak was supposed to soar at five-on-five, not get sawed off.
“We’d obviously like to see them generate more, but there’s not a lot of room out there,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
“We’ve said it: Toronto has done a better job defensively on us.”
Jake DeBrusk, a breakout star and clutch scorer 365 days ago, was supposed to find the net.
Once Nazem Kadri got booted, Charlie Coyle’s line was supposed to fare much better in comparison to winger-turned-centre William Nylander’s.
And the Bruins’ bottom six is generally getting drowned by the Leafs’ forward depth.
“We have to attack, attack, attack. Get all over this team,” Coyle said Saturday.
In Game 5’s loss, the Bruins’ fourth in their past five playoff home dates, Cassidy juggled his lines and shortened his bench, trying to adjust in this classic coach’s duel, with neither man guiding his troops to consecutive victories yet.
“I didn’t think we had energy in the bottom of our lineup. They don’t generally play their fourth line a lot,” Cassidy said. “I do believe the remedy is generating shots for rebounds and see if we can put them under duress in that regard.
“They made two helluva plays to score. Great seam passes. We broke down a little bit. Shame on us on those.”
Believing they’ve yet to play with required urgency, with the exception of Game 2, the Bruins wizened core has been reluctant to give too much credit to Toronto, which now has an opportunity to advance past Round 1 for the first time in 15 years.
They believe it’s on them to play to their own potential, to make smarter reads and move their feet.
“I don’t think either team was great,” Marchand downplayed Friday, minutes after the Leafs’ best defensive performance since god only knows.
Bergeron did concede that the Leafs are doing well to limit the B’s attack to the perimeter, and that they need to push to get into the slot during Easter Sunday’s matinee.
“I guess there’s no other answers than that,” Bergeron said.
“We have to rely on each other and put ourselves in a bubble and do the job. That’s the bottom line. Everything is on the line now.”
Buck up, kid.
Considering their championship experience and wealth of game-breakers, it would be silly to write the Bruins’ obituary 60 minutes early. This is hockey’s tightest first-round series going, its momentum swinging on a pendulum every other day.
“We’re pretty confident that we can bring it back home,” Pastrnak said.
“And we will.”