BOSTON – Randy Carlyle dubbed it self-destruction.
In their first playoff game in nine years the Maple Leafs were flattened, overwhelmed by the speed, size, depth and experience of the Bruins, crunched in game one by a 4-1 final at TD Garden.
"We didn't play well enough to give ourselves a chance and that's what we ask of our group all the time is give yourself a chance, don't beat yourself and tonight I thought we beat ourselves," Carlyle opined following the loss. "We know that this is going to take more than an ordinary effort and tonight our effort wasn't anywhere near close enough to put us in a competitive position."
His team got the start it wanted, barreling out of the gate with the requisite peskiness and belligerence, even scoring on a power-play – James van Riemsdyk – less than two minutes into the game.
Then, as Carlyle noted, "we just stopped". Their agitating pace on the forecheck evaporated, their loud physical signals were put to rest, their defence was punished and unable to move the puck upon waves of Bruins on the attack, and maybe most frustrating to the coach, they fed the transition attack of their opponent with turnovers.
Boston would score four unanswered, in form that was reminiscent of their enduring dominance, the home thunder too much for the Leafs to withstand.
"Obviously it's not the way we wanted to play, but having said that, that's maybe the best scenario because we know that if we play up to our ability we can bring a lot better game," James Reimer said optimistically of the one-sided defeat. "If we were playing our best and getting hammered then we'd be in trouble. We didn't bring our best and we got beat and that's the way it goes, that's the way it should be."
The unraveling began shortly after the quick start, punctuated in the final five minutes of the opening frame. Wade Redden snuck the first shot by Reimer to knot the score at one, Nathan Horton following up with just 12 ticks left in the period, redirecting a blast from Redden on a power-play to snatch a lead that would not be relinquished.
The Bruins would add two more in the second, David Krejci capitalizing on a pair of errors from Mark Fraser – first a giveaway and then a blown tire at the blue-line – Johnny Boychuk adding the final nail to a Boston victory with a booming canon beyond the glove of Reimer.
"It felt like for the second half of the game they had the puck pretty much exclusively," Lupul said.
Be it because of inexperience or sheer talent disparity, the Leafs just could not sustain the level of intensity required for success in the postseason in game one. It was there early, but wilted quickly under the strain of the Bruins force. Now with two days off before game two on Saturday, with changes promised to the lineup, they'll look to regroup.
"We've had performances that we're not happy with and I would say that there's always going to be a concern," Carlyle said. "But the one thing that's in the back of our minds, it's that we know we can play better than we did tonight."
"The series is not over," Lupul added, asked how his team would find belief after the trappings of the opener. "It's one game. You've got to win four. You don't worry about that, there's plenty of belief in here."
1. Reimer's first playoff game
James Reimer was busy all night, facing 40 Bruins shots in his first bit of playoff action. The 25-year-old yielded four, the first marker from Redden catching the bottom of his hand before dipping through, partially screened on the play by Michael Kostka. "I felt good for the most part," Reimer said afterward. "Obviously there were a few goals that I wish hadn't gone in, but I felt like I was on my angle and positioned well, but pucks just seemed to sneak in tonight. It's unfortunate, but it's how she goes sometimes." Of the four markers that found daylight, it was the first from Redden and fourth from Boychuk that were appeared most glaring. Carlyle believed, however, that his goaltender was screened in each instance. "It looks like it's a bad goal," said Carlyle of Boychuk's blast from just inside the blueline, which made it 4-1 for Boston, "but it's post and in and our guy screened him. Yeah we're trying to make a valiant effort to block the shot, but we didn't allow the goaltender to pick up the puck. "
Before the game the Bruins stressed their intention of driving pucks and bodies to the crease of Reimer, also seeming to feverishly attack his most prominent weakness, the high glove side. Noting the difference between the regular season and his first experience in the playoffs, Reimer concluded that it's "just a little more intense" before adding, "It's a good learning experience".
2. Slowing the Bruins
The Leafs were often overwhelmed by the darting attack of the Bruins forecheck on Wednesday, their defenders and even forwards unable to make composed plays with the puck under increasing strain. "Don't give them the puck so often," Carlyle said of means to slow the Bruins down. Of needed changes for game two and beyond, Lupul noted that "everyone just really want the puck a little bit more, want to be the guy that makes the play. A lot of times today we were not under as much pressure as we thought and we were throwing it away. And that's pretty much up and down the lineup. It's not like it was guys whose first playoff game it was or anything – it was everyone. We didn't have as much composure and again execution as we would've liked."
3. Containing the Leafs
Blanketed by the Bruins top pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, in addition to the feisty Patrice Bergeron line, which also included Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel managed only a single shot in fewer than 14 minutes of ice-time, the lone shot coming in the third period. Additionally neutralized Wednesday were the likes of Lupul (two shots) Nazem Kadri (one shot), and Tyler Bozak (one assist, one shot), van Riemsdyk managing the lone goal and a team-leading five shots. "Like with every offensive guy that's really skilled, that's got speed, you want to be tight on them," Seidenberg said of containing Kessel, who proved a non-factor, still pointless against Boston this season. "You want to have a good gap and don't want to give them a lot of room to get speed, so the forwards [did] a good job putting back pressure on him and the defensemen just stayed really tight on him for him not to get any room to make plays." Rarely engaging the Bruins with speed or any semblance of sustained pressure on the forecheck, the Leafs were doubled up in the shot department, managing just 20 on Tuukka Rask. "We had some flurries," Carlyle said, "but we didn't really have much offensive zone time."
4. Finding offence
While they finished as the sixth-highest scoring team in the NHL, the Leafs were increasingly dependent on Kessel in April, the likes of Kadri, Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin among others falling quiet. "In the last while as a hockey club we would say we weren't as good offensively as we needed to be," Carlyle concurred prior to the game before detailing the needed adjustments opposite the third-best defensive club in the NHL. "At times you have to get the ugly goals, the greasy goals, you've got to get to that tough area and direct pucks there, the second and third opportunities are things that you're going to have to strive for and you're going to demand out of your group." In four games against the Bruins in the regular season, the Leafs managed just seven goals, efforts that will need to increase as the series inches forward. Their lone marker Wednesday came with the man advantage, an area that haunted the Bruins down the stretch and perhaps one that can be pinpointed heading into game two.
5. Lineup changes
Carlyle left no doubt in regards to lineup changes for Saturday evening. Adjustments to the defence would seem to be required. All three pairs had their troubles against the Bruins combination of size and speed, none more so, however, than the third grouping of John-Michael Liles and Michael Kostka, the latter on the ice for all four Boston goals. Change is almost certain, either in the form of Ryan O'Byrne or perhaps Jake Gardiner, though that would seem unlikely at this point.
The challenge for Carlyle is two-fold. Under duress all night, his defenders had difficulty with the Bruins speed and size, also troubled by an inability to move the puck with composure. While more capable to withstand the strength of the opponent, O'Byrne is neither fleet of foot nor a swift manager of the puck. His injection into the lineup therefore – for either Liles or Kostka – helps in one sense while hurting in another. The only other option for Carlyle is Gardiner, a capable puck distributor, but one that has been in and out of the defensive rotation all year, his lacking defensive sturdiness and strength unlikely to appeal.
(All of which demonstrates the Leafs lacking front-line prominence on defence, upgrades that will be imperative this summer.)
Up front, Carlyle could look to add additional offence and skill, Matt Frattin, Joe Colborne and Ryan Hamilton all at his disposal. Of question prior to the series, the Leafs coach remained faithful in game one to the fourth line combination of Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr, perhaps a point of alteration heading into game two.
Quote of the Night
"I just thought we self-destructed."
-Randy Carlyle on his team's performance in game one.
Quote of the Night II
"A lot of times today we were not under as much pressure as we thought and we were throwing it away. And that's pretty much up and down the lineup. It's not like it was guys whose first playoff game it was or anything – it was everyone. We didn't have as much composure and again execution as we would've liked."
-Joffrey Lupul on the lack of composure his team displayed on Wednesday.
Quote of the Night III
"The series is not over. It's one game. You've got to win four. You don't worry about that, there's plenty of belief in here."
-Lupul on the belief factor heading into game two on Saturday.
Game 1 - Stat Watch
40-20: Shot disparity between the Bruins and Leafs.
12: Career playoff goals for James van Riemsdyk, including his first with the Leafs on Wednesday night.
1: Shots for Phil Kessel.
3: Shifts in the third period for Cody Franson, who was nursing an injured foot, noting afterward that the limited ice-time was for precautionary reasons.
1-3: Toronto power-play.
13:51: Phil Kessel.
Minute Watch II
24:00: Mark Fraser, the team-leader.
Game 2 at the TD Garden on Saturday evening.