The Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t trending in the right direction heading into the playoffs, with questions about their goaltending and defensive play. But despite falling behind 1-0 to the Boston Bruins in the first period, it was Toronto that looked like the more experienced team, better prepared to start the playoffs on the right foot.
Boston gave up a few breakaways and odd-man rushes, exposing Tuukka Rask to a variety of high-danger chances. Meanwhile, Zdeno Chara didn’t look like his usual self and the Bruins as a whole often didn’t look like the polished team that was able to string together a 19-game point streak this season.
Out West, there was some consternation in Calgary over Bill Peters’s decision to start Mike Smith in Game 1 following his 23-16-2 season with a 2.72 GAA and .898 save percentage. But Smith looked much closer to his 2012 self and was the difference in Game 1.
Now optimism abounds in Leafs Nation and among the C of Red. But what are they saying about the start in these series elsewhere? Here’s your out-of-market look:
UNLIKE IN 2013 AND 2018, MAPLE LEAFS TOPPLE BRUINS IN GAME 1
Kevin Paul-Dupont wrote about the opening game of the series, focusing on how out of character their mistakes were, which opened the door for a quick, opportunistic Leafs team to take advantage of:
After finishing the regular season with 49 wins, their game most nights characterized by deft puck management and smart play in all three zones of the ice, the Bruins suddenly, and uncharacteristically, summoned their late-1960s California Golden Seals from within.
…Silver lining for the Black-and-Gold? Only the probability, a high one, that they can’t play worse.
It was not like the Tampa series last year in which they folded in four straight after taking a 1-0 series lead. In all four losses, they didn’t aid and abet the Bolts by beating themselves. Tampa simply was the better team, winning the series with better scores and greater grind.
It’s possible the Leafs, too, are the better team in this series. They certainly are faster and they also have the trickiest player on the dance card in the gifted Marner.
Adam Denhard wrote about how the style of play in Game 1 favoured the Maple Leafs and that when Boston, desperately, tried to match the Leafs in that regard it exacerbated their issues. When the Bruins were getting chances, he writes, they did so playing a type of game they want around the net:
Toronto, meanwhile, had no ill effects of the long change. Over and over again, the Leafs found skating and passing seams, and capitalized thoroughly on Boston’s turnovers at their attacking blue line. Marner and Tavares both had golden breakaway chances, and Marner’s conversion to a penalty shot goal was the backbreaker.
…As play wound down, the Bruins tried to compensate by playing Toronto’s game, turning their east-west passing into longer and longer attempts at breakouts/breakaways. The passes were off-target or were called for icing. The ‘identity’ chances for Boston were where the better scoring chances came, as Charlie Coyle was a man possessed near the Toronto net. His flurry of shots and good forecheck were unfortunately paired with less backcheck in the third period – and let’s hope that it was a coaching instruction that’s correctable, and not a habit for the forward.
The main area of concern coming into the series for Toronto was that Frederik Andersen, for the second year in a row, posted a save percentage under .900 over his last 12 regular season starts. The fact he looked so good in Game 1 was worthy of recognition from Emily Kaplan:
Yes, Marner got two goals and should be recognized. But if the Maple Leafs are going to advance, they’ll need more nights like this from Andersen. He looked confident. He weathered bursts of pressure. He did it all in a hostile environment. By turning away 37 of 38 shots, Andersen was a huge boost for Toronto.
Steve Conroy wrote about a contrast in the start to this year’s Bruins-Maple Leafs series to last year:
This time around, the Bruins were the ones who looked like playoff neophytes.
They looked jittery at times, especially some young players. They turned the puck over in high danger areas. They allowed breakaway after breakaway in a disastrous second period. They passed when they should have shot much of the night. And, no, the Bruins did not get the timely save when they needed it, but they also allowed far more Grade A chances than any team who thinks of itself as elite ever should.
All of that led to a total flip of the script from last year’s first round series against these same Toronto Maple Leafs and a 4-1 loss in Game 1. Now, after the B’s battled through a brutal, injury-filled 82-game season to somehow win home-ice advantage against these Leafs once more, they handed it right back to them in one game.
CALGARY, THE BEST REGULAR-SEASON TEAM IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE, SHUTS OUT AVALANCHE
Mike Chambers wrote that the difference in Game 1 was in net. While many in Calgary were unsure of the decision to start veteran Mike Smith over David Rittich, the 37-year-old came through with a shutout:
Game 1 was won by Mike Smith, the Calgary Flames’ 37-year-old goalie.
His teammates obviously played a role in defeating the Avalanche 4-0 late Thursday at the Scotiabank Saddledome, but Smith and the penalty killers in front of him were the clear-cut difference before Calgary scored two late goals in the final minutes of the third period.
…Smith “only” made 26 saves, but the Avalanche generated numerous grade-A opportunities that Smith turned aside. “Smitty, Smitty, Smitty” was the popular chant all evening.
Chris Micieli saw a closer game than the 4-0 score would indicate. With the crowd becoming less of a factor before Andrew Mangiapane opened the scoring 14:25 into the second period, the story of the game could have been much different had Colorado found a way to score first on one of their early power plays:
That goal really woke up Calgary and their crowd who had been pretty lethargic once the first period high wore down. The sea of red (branded “C” of Red by Calgary) started to become a factor again, and when the Avs went a man down it didn’t take long for Calgary to score again and rile up the home crowd again. This time a tip in by Matthew Tkachuk on the power play to give the Flames two goals a little over four minutes apart.
…For 55 out of 60 minutes the Avalanche were every bit as good as the Flames and while some will look at the final score and think ‘blowout’, those who watched saw what a goalie on his game can do to tip the scales in his teams favor.