Maple Leafs get lesson in consistency, persistence in uneven Bruins loss

Pavel Zacha scored a pair of goals, David Pastrnak dished out three assists on the night, and the Boston Bruins cruised to a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

TORONTO — In Sheldon Keefe’s eyes, you could tell the story of Monday night’s undoing at the hands of the Boston Bruins with one sequence, one back-to-back set of near-identical plays, from the second period. 

The pair of chances came five minutes into the middle frame, concluding with a backbreaking third goal from the Bruins. Brad Marchand had picked up the puck in the neutral zone, had dished to Charlie Coyle as they entered Toronto’s end, before No. 63 bee-lined towards the Maple Leafs goal. With Marchand driving through the middle, Coyle had spied Jake DeBrusk streaking down the left side, and whipped the puck over to the winger, who sniped one past Joseph Woll.

[brightcove videoID=6348238945112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

It wasn’t so much the tally itself that stung Keefe — it was what played out just prior.

“Ten seconds before they score their third goal, Bobby McMann has basically the exact same shot off of an entry, the same play. … In fact, our shot was more wide open than theirs was,” Keefe said Monday night from the bowels of Scotiabank Arena, after the final buzzer sounded on the eventual 4-1 loss. 

“It doesn’t go in for us. It goes in for them. Which I think tells some of the story of the night.”

While the mirrored chances swung Boston’s way, by that point in the tilt, the Bruins were already rolling over these Leafs, had already punished the home side with two goals a period earlier. That third tally was simply a twist of the knife.

Pinpointing where it all went off the rails to begin with, Keefe rewound to the opening 10 minutes of the game. His club had started well, the coach said, weathering Boston’s early storm, building towards a pushback, biding their time until their own chance came.

And then it did, and the Maple Leafs stumbled.

“I loved our start, our first six minutes — right up until we got our power play,” Keefe said. “We didn’t get a lot in terms of scoring chances, but it takes time to get chances against this team. They don’t make many mistakes, so you’ve got to really earn your opportunities. And I thought we had a good process in place to do that. We had lots of time on their half of the ice, and we earned a power play. 

“The power play struggled to get in on their entries, which created a little bit of frustration. And then, you know, they take it to us. They get momentum off of our power play with their short-handed chances. And then I thought they grabbed a hold of the game for a period of time there. And scored, obviously. 

“And then they get their power play. And they score.“

[brightcove videoID=6348238138112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

It was that kind of night for Keefe’s club, the home side ringing chances off posts, watching passes bounce over sticks, coming up just short time and time again — all while the B’s showed them what it looks like to make good on your opportunities.

After a sterling stretch that’s seen Toronto win nine of 10, there will be no panic after a loss to the No. 2-ranked club in the league. But there’s no denying it’s not the way this group would’ve wanted this night to go against a team that always seems to have their number, a team consistently among the league’s best — and most importantly, a team that, as of right now, is in line to be their first-round playoff opponent. 

In a tightly-contested battle against one of the league’s elite, it came down to details, and persistence, and the Maple Leafs fell short on both fronts.

[brightcove videoID=6348245936112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“I thought that they played well for most of the game. I thought that we were streaky,” assessed Morgan Rielly from the locker room at the end of the night. “I thought we were good for periods of time. But when you let your foot off the gas against a great team, they make you pay.”

As for the key misstep that his coach highlighted — the power play that went 0-for-4 on a night when there wasn’t much to be had against netminder Jeremy Swayman when every advantage mattered — Rielly again pointed to his club’s uneven approach Monday night.

“I think that the power play, at times we were good, and able to tilt the ice. And at times, not so good. I think that was kind of the story of it for us,” he said. “Against these teams, down the stretch here moving forward, we’ve got to be more consistent over the course of 60 minutes and play harder. 

“And not take our foot off the gas.”

[brightcove videoID=6348239127112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

The home side had their moments throughout the tilt, strung together some promising sequences — particularly the top-line trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Matthew Knies — and managed to get one back courtesy of a John Tavares snipe early in the third. 

But against an opponent that requires excellence to be beaten, the Maple Leafs, on this night, simply didn’t measure up.

“We did a lot of good things here today, but you can’t just do ‘good’ things against a team like Boston,” Keefe said of his squad. “You’ve got to do ‘great’ things, you’ve got to be ultra-competitive, you’ve got to be great on special teams. 

“A lot of things need to line up, and there weren’t enough of those for us tonight.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.