BOSTON – Nazem Kadri says he clung to the bitterness he felt watching the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 4-3 Game 7 lead blow up in third-period smoke in this same raucous barn, against this same ferocious front line, from April 25 until June 7, when the Stanley Cup playoffs finally ended.
“Watching the last two teams, you just wanna be there so bad. It’s part of the competitiveness we all have. Every single year, you try to turn the page and refresh and refocus,” Kadri said as he stepped foot back into TD Garden, where two of his three invites to the dance have ended in swift, stunning defeat to the Boston Bruins.
“It still stings a little bit, but it’s not something that we’re looking for any sort of revenge.”
Whether they were hunting for it or not, there was no revenge to be had for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their first meeting against their nemeses since they reloaded with John Tavares.
In a compelling, best-on-best matchup of star Atlantic Division forwards, the Bruins devoured the Maple Leafs 5-1, snuffing Toronto’s road winning streak at six.
Athletes pride themselves on goldfish memories, the ability to flush disappointment and focus on the now. They tout the power of the turned page and the clean slate, and yet, ironically, the importance of experience and wisdom pulled from mistakes.
So, it should be expected that Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock would argue that those of us outside the sanctity of the dressing room are making too big a deal about Round 1’s Game 7 collapse. That he “never thought about it” during his pre-game nap in Boston.
“Any time you lose in the playoffs, you walk through all the things you should’a could’a would’a done, and how you would like to be different,” Babcock said. “Nothing you can do about it, though.”
If most NHL defence strategists are being honest, “nothing you can do about it” is also the correct answer to “How do you solve Boston’s top line?”
During his free agency window, Tavares placed a phone call to Patrice Bergeron, his Team Canada mate, to learn what it would like to be a Bruin.
“Mostly family stuff and like the living situation off the ice and stuff like that,” Bergeron recalled in an interview with WEEI.com Friday evening. “So he just had more questions than, like, me doing a sales pitch. It was him wanting to know more about it.
“Basically, it wasn’t that much. I guess it wasn’t enough.”
On Saturday, the Leafs’ early onslaught wasn’t enough to solve Jaroslav Halak.
Boston’s backup-turned-starter turned away all 20(!) Maple Leafs shots he faced in the first period — a season high for Toronto — the Bruins’ dynamic trio cashed in on whatever opportunities it was afforded.
First, it was Bergeron tipping a crisp David Pastrnak crease pass past Toronto’s seldom-used Garret Sparks.
“They’re making passes 50, 60 feet and one-timing them, so it was just a different look,” Sparks said. “There’s not a lot of lines like that in the NHL.”
Then, Pastrnak — who strolled in wearing an electric-rose, three-piece suit he’d had custom-made on the team’s China trip — sniped three beautiful goals, giving the 22-year-old winger 15 on the season and 27 in his past 33 regular-season games. (He also beat Frederik Andersen five times in last spring’s playoff series.)
How slick is that? That projects to a 67-goal-season pace.
“It was good we got the first goal. Since then, we took over and didn’t give them much,” Pastrnak said on Hockey Night in Canada, after his second hat trick of this young season.
“I love beating Toronto.”
In the wake of their nine-point explosion, the Bruins’ Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trinity has accounted for nearly 60 per cent of all Bruins goals this season. It all starts with the centreman, and more often than not, ends with Pasta dining out.
This was an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Bergeron’s three points give him 24 on the year and move him into a tie with Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen atop the Art Ross race.
“He wins face-offs. His line has the puck all the time,” Leafs winger Zach Hyman said. “He’s relentless. That whole line’s relentless, and they just work.
“They’re one of the best lines in hockey, for sure. They’ve got three elite players.”
Toronto’s elite duo, Tavares and Mitch Marner, connected for a slick goal of their own in the final minute of the second period, but the Leafs’ un-killed penalties and Halak’s renaissance sealed the deal.
Sparks’s five goals-against after sitting cold for 25 days, however, is a sidebar worth watching.
“It’s a new challenge sitting long times between starts. It’s almost like you really forget that feeling of being in the net. You try to say that practice is your game, but you just can’t recreate gameplay,” Sparks admitted.
“Playing Boston in Boston on a Saturday night, you really start to feel playoff vibes and the intensity. So it was an enjoyable night even if it didn’t go entirely my way.”
The Leafs will get three more chances at their divisional adversary this season, and those four-point games will be crucial.
For Saturday underscored the importance of finishing ahead of the Bruins in the standings. Coming to Boston not only means walking into a loud and hostile environment.
It means trying to solve the best line in hockey.