TORONTO - Hustling with a dead-sprint out of the gate this season, the Leafs ran smack into a brick wall for the second time in a matter of weeks.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins delivered the harsh and emphatic lesson, thumping the Leafs (9-4-1) by a 7-0 final at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. It was only two weeks earlier on October 20th that the Leafs were trounced 6-2 by the Bruins at the TD Garden in Boston.
"This was a big game for us, Stanley Cup champs coming in, and they kicked our ass every which way," said Joffrey Lupul
, following the game. "I don't know what it is about them. We didn't compete right from the opening puck-drop."
It all happened in a hurry, although not as early as Lupul may have indicated.
The first period was actually close to even, with the Bruins jumping ahead 1-0 on a power-play goal from Tyler Seguin
. Within a minute of the second period (42 seconds to be precise), however, the wheels snapped off in dramatic fashion with Seguin - off a Clarke MacArthur
neutral zone turnover - and Milan Lucic
- with Dion Phaneuf
and Carl Gunnarsson
caught stationary at the blue-line - scoring eight seconds apart. From there, the Bruins suffocated whatever life may have remained, notching two more goals in the middle frame, before adding an additional pair for good measure in the third.
"We started the second period sound asleep," explained Ron Wilson following the game, "two major blunders in the first minute and now you're down three, the Bruins have you right where they want you. Instead of just sticking with what was working in the first and digging in around their net, we tried looking for home runs, D getting caught jumping in the play and two-on-ones and turnovers and it's over."
"I don't know if we even really had any chances to score today," added Lupul. "They kept us to the outside. We turned pucks over all night and left guys alone in front of our net.
"It was everything. They outdid at every aspect of the game. We're not going to be able to put our finger on it. We've just got to go back to the drawing board and circle these guys next time we play them." Ben Scrivens
made his second consecutive start in goal - after a 38-save performance in Columbus - but was admittedly not at his finest in the loss. He was hooked after five goals on 14 shots, replaced by Jonas Gustavsson
in the second. The 25-year-old Scrivens apologized to teammates on the bench for his performance, a noble move considering the mistakes in front of him.
"I said 'I've got to be better for you guys'," explained Scrivens. "At the end of the day, mistakes are going to happen in front of me and it's my job to try and bail my team out. I didn't think I did a great job of that tonight so that's what I was apologizing for."
The loss was the first in regulation on home ice this season (5-1-1), an effort that was almost predictable after a deceptive 4-1 win in Columbus two days earlier. While they emerged with the victory against the Blue Jackets, the Leafs were outshot (39-18) and outplayed by the home side, saved only by faulty play of Steve Mason
(four goals in eleven shots) at one end and the sterling performance of Scrivens at the other.
"We actually talked about that between the second and third period in Columbus," said Wilson, "the way we were playing is an indication of a team that is going to let things get out of hand at some point. We were lucky in that game to have been up 4-0; we were allowing bad habits to creep in that hadn't been there and we relied in the third period on Ben Scrivens
to make a lot of saves."
The Leafs thrive on speed, an element they failed to establish against the Bruins.
"We've got to dictate the pace of play, said Wilson, prior to Saturday's game. "The last game in Boston we sat back and spent too much time watching.
"If we're executing we'll be tough to play against, but if we're turning pucks over in the neutral zone and not getting the speed to our game activated early then you end up behind and it's tough in this league against anybody - best teams or the worst teams - to play when you're behind."
Running comfortably behind the league's fourth best offense (3.14 goals per game), the Leafs have managed to skip past their flaws at certain points this season. They dropped to third-worst in the NHL defensively (3.29 goals against per game) after the game against Boston, while their penalty-kill remained at the depths of the league, 30th overall (70.9%). It's not often how you win that matters, but victories this week revealed troubling signs. Incomplete efforts against the Devils - shaky goaltending from Martin Brodeur
paved the way - and Blue Jackets masked the build-up to Saturday.
"It's actually probably better for us to go through a game like this right now so that we can focus," said Wilson. "If we lose 2-1 or 3-2 or something like that or 1-0, 'Oh, we were just a shot away' but we weren't anything close to that tonight so it'll be good to learn from."
Gustavsson is likely to be back in between the pipes when the Leafs take on Florida at home on Tuesday, a critical response game after an ugly effort.
"We should feel bad about this one," concluded Lupul. "It was embarrassing in front of our home fans. It's not a very good feeling around this locker room right now. But we've got Florida coming in on Tuesday; it's a big game, we'll see how we react."