Johnston: Leafs know where they went wrong

The Maple Leafs had tried to stay upbeat after the Bruins third goal, but the weight of the moment was impossible to ignore. (AP/Elise Amendola)

BOSTON — Say this about the Toronto Maple Leafs: They seemed to have a pretty good understanding of where things went wrong.

The team was put through a video session and instruction-heavy practice one day after a humbling loss in the series opener against the Boston Bruins and the players emerged with some candid comments about their performance.

“We were responding too much to what they were doing,” Leafs defenceman Mark Fraser said Thursday. “We had a pretty good start but they weathered the storm nicely and then just kind of brought it right back against us. We really need to dictate.

“They had a great forecheck (Wednesday) night and just kind of kept us in our zone.”

Or how about this from forward Jay McClement:

“It seemed like we weren’t getting a lot of puck possession time, a lot of time in their end. We had tired legs by the time we got out of our zone a lot.”

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether they can do anything about it.

As much as the gap between the Leafs and Bruins appeared to have narrowed during four regular-season games this year, it was as wide as the Grand Canyon during a 4-1 victory by the Beantowners in Game 1.

Now the inevitable adjustments start … some by necessity and others by choice.

The Leafs saw two defencemen go down with injuries during a 27-second span of the second period in Game 1. Cody Franson had a Zdeno Chara one-timer go off his left foot — he could be seen limping noticeably on his way to the team bus Thursday — before Mike Kostka had his right index finger broken on a harmless-looking wrist shot by Kaspars Daugavins.

That would appear to open the door for both Jake Gardiner and Ryan O’Byrne in Game 2 on Saturday. Any of Matt Frattin, Joe Colborne and Ryan Hamilton could draw in up front.

“I just think we’ve got to get more from our group from a work ethic standpoint and an execution standpoint,” said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. “We didn’t execute very well and then we didn’t get anything really going for our hockey club. You’ve always got to credit the opposition — they played a hard trapping game and they forced us to make some mistakes.

“We didn’t handle the pressure that they applied to us very well.”

The major focus will be on doing a better job with the puck. One NHL coach privately noted that the Bruins play a simple game that pays off at playoff time — “chip it out and chip it out” is how he described it — and the Leafs essentially did the opposite of that in Game 1.

They turned the puck over repeatedly and expended an untold amount of energy chasing the Boston players around their own zone as a result. It was draining and a tad discouraging.

“It felt like we were going uphill,” said Fraser.

No wonder they only managed 20 shots on goal compared with 40 for the Bruins. The ice was tilted in one direction.

“We didn’t do the little things,” said Leafs winger Phil Kessel.

Added goalie James Reimer: “It’s not indicative of how we can play.”

One piece of good news arrived for the Leafs on Thursday evening when NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan announced that veteran defenceman Andrew Ference was suspended one game for elbowing Mikhail Grabovski in the head during Game 1.

Ference has been a mainstay on the Bruins blueline for several years and saw almost 20 minutes of action Wednesday on the team’s second pairing with Johnny Boychuk.

He’s an important member of the team who could be replaced by rookie Dougie Hamilton.

“They have guys on each line that score so you have to be able to have a second pairing that can shut them down,” said Boychuk.

Despite that news, there was almost a buoyant atmosphere around the Bruins following the performance in Game 1.

It wasn’t so much that they had registered a decisive victory — this is an experienced group that knows not to take anything for granted, after all — but there was an undeniable enthusiasm after finally playing up to their expectations.

A 2-5-2 finish to the regular season had clearly worn on this group and there was concern around Boston that they wouldn’t be able to pull out of the tailspin.

That storyline was swiftly put to rest.

“It’s been awhile,” said top centre Patrice Bergeron. “It was nice to see our game being played the way it should be. … We knew it was in us and we had to do it.”

The Leafs can identify with the feeling.

They’ve also struggled in recent weeks and believe that they are about to turn the corner. There wasn’t too much in Wednesday’s performance to support that view but the players seemed to have a positive attitude at practice Thursday and confidently expressed that better times are ahead.

“They honestly are small things (that need to be corrected),” said Fraser. “We didn’t play a good game at all (Wednesday) night and again it’s a credit to them. They were all over us.

“Looking back at a few of the clips we looked at as a group, they are minor adjustments thankfully.”


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