We’ve all been on that traffic-filled drive you have to mentally prepare for before leaving the house. It may not even be that far distance-wise, but the volume of cars means you internally prepare for the worst. Then, one random time you make the trip, you just fly, soaring past key landmarks. You start to believe it’s your lucky day. Then, just as you’re about to tell the navigator to send a, “We’re gonna be early!” text, the glow of brake lights crushes your soul and makes you wonder how you got duped into believing it could ever be this easy.
Right, Boston Bruins?
Let’s get a few things out of the way. The Bruins remain squarely in the driver’s seat in their series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, holding a 2-1 advantage. Boston entered this first-round tilt with a powerful Leafs squad expecting to earn everything it got and, for that reason, the Bruins are fully justified in their expected stance that life is just fine right now. There will be no hand-wringing during an extra off-day at Boston’s hotel.
So why does it feel like Boston whiffed on a golden opportunity in Game 3?
Down 2-0, playing their first game at home, you knew the Leafs were going to come out flying and they did. Toronto took a 1-0 lead into the second frame and scored two more goals during that period to put itself up 3-2 after 40 minutes. But while Toronto was winning the scoreboard’s most significant battle, Boston was actually wresting control of the play. The Bruins outshot Toronto 16-11 in the middle period and 18-7 in the third, a stanza that began with Boston’s only man advantage of the contest. The B’s power play that fired at 50 per cent through Games 1 and 2 went right to work, clanking a couple posts and giving the impression that it was only a matter of if, not when, they’d score, until they didn’t and Patrick Marleau stepped out of the box.
When the final siren blasted, the Leafs had narrowly won a game they positively had to have. The flip side, though, is that Boston dropped a contest that was so very there for the taking, one that would have all but sealed Toronto’s fate and allowed the second-best team in the Eastern Conference to put one skate in Round 2.
“We knew they were going to be better and they were,” said Bruins defenceman Torey Krug. “They were out there flying around, made some good plays, pushed us back on our heels. But then we had some great responses in the second period. It felt like it was there for the taking and it just slipped away.”
Pro athletes are conditioned to keep things in perspective. It’s that — and their enviable body mass index — that separates them from nervous fans and media types who love asking, “But hey, what about this?” The 30,000-foot view is that things even out over the course of a seven-game series, so just stick with the plan and wait for good results.
“When you look back at the first two games, some of the goals that probably shouldn’t have [gone] in went in,” said Boston left-winger Rick Nash. “And [Monday] night, some of the goals that should have gone in, didn’t go in. That’s hockey. You can’t let the frustration creep in.”
No argument here. That said, there is a slightly concerning set of plausible things that suddenly came into play with the Leafs’ win that wouldn’t have mattered a hill of beans had Boston grappled away Game 3. What if Frederik Andersen is just unbeatable for a full 60? What if Tuukka Rask has a jittery outing in your own net? What if Auston Matthews has the front-to-back game that reminds you he’s a six-foot-three beast capable of elevating an average team to a ‘W’ on any given night, let alone a good squad?
None of those things have happened yet and, quite frankly, if the Bruins were up 3-0 now, they could withstand a disaster or two and still comfortably arrive at their desired destination. Yeah, a third victory in three tries would have been tantamount to bringing a luxury item into your house as opposed to something you really need. But speaking as someone who just came from Boston’s media availability at the Ritz-Carlton, let me just confirm there’s nothing wrong with luxury.
Anything you want to twist into a potential negative for Boston is actually a positive first. Sure, they failed to convert some great opportunities. Put another way, they came to Toronto with a 2-0 series lead and nothing that happened in a Game 3 when the Leafs were positively desperate for a victory suggested Boston won’t be able to handle its business over the long haul.
That’s certainly where the smart money still sits. But any wrong turns now, and this thing is officially up for grabs.