TORONTO – It was exactly 50 seconds after Jake Gardiner scored to bring the Leafs to within one that the Bruins zapped the electricity out of the playoff-starved Air Canada Centre and ultimately snatched Game 3.
“That takes the wind out of your sails,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said mournfully of the third Boston goal afterward. “It was very unfortunate that we give up the third goal because it was a 2-1 hockey game and we had the building going our way and there was a lot of energy and momentum going.”
That energy and momentum of the first playoff game in Toronto since May 4, 2004 was sullied in a matter of moments. Unable to outmuscle the bruising Milan Lucic for a puck at the top of the right circle in the defensive zone, Mark Fraser lingered helplessly atop the crease as Lucic slid a pass to the hard-charging Nathan Horton, who subsequently beat James Reimer for the deciding marker in a 5-2 Bruins victory.
The error was one among too many for the Leafs as Boston regained control of the series, now up 2-1 with Game 4 on deck in Toronto Wednesday night.
"We made some mistakes that ended up in our net. When you do that, it usually ends up you're on the wrong side of the score."
Opining on the danger of turnovers earlier in the day Carlyle couldn't help but to have been frustrated by his team's mismanagement of the puck in defeat on Monday night.
It was just two minutes after Horton's goal made it 3-1 and snuffed out a previously energetic crowd that Phil Kessel handed the puck to Daniel Paille at the Toronto blue-line, the Boston winger beating Reimer on a shorthanded breakaway. Earlier that period there was a similar moment of indecision from Ryan O'Byrne, the hulking defender turning the rock over behind the home goal, Rich Peverley ultimately capitalizing on the error for the Bruins second marker.
“We didn't take good enough care of the puck,” said Cody Franson regretfully. “We made some sloppy plays and it seemed like every mistake we made bit us tonight.”
“The mistakes were huge in this game," Gardiner added. "We made a few of them and they capitalized on them. That was a big reason for us losing.”
The Leafs pelted Tuukka Rask with 47 shots in defeat, pucks from Gardiner and Kessel the lone markers to find twine. On this night, however, they were ultimately edged by a veteran squad that profited from unnecessary mistakes, coolly snuffing out hope in a building that hadn't seen playoff hockey in nine years.
“This is a war of attrition,” Carlyle expounded upon the loss. “There's skill involved in it, there's will involved in it, and there's luck involved in it, but you have to earn every one of them.
“We didn't do enough and we made too many mistakes to give ourselves the proper chance to win.”
It was of central focus for Carlyle heading into Game 3 of the first round series. While his Leafs rose above the Bruins in an emotional Game 2 victory at TD Garden, the effort was not without concern as it related to turnovers.
“I don't think any team can afford some of the giveaways and turnovers we committed and expect to continue to have success,” he said on Monday morning. “When you talk about turnovers they're not something that will just go away,” he continued. “Every team turns the puck over. To limit the number of turnovers and where they happen is the most important thing for teams and our team to focus on. Turn the puck over consistently and you're going to be on the receiving end and when you start receiving you start to get worn down in your own zone; you start to play more of a receiving game of getting the puck out and here they come again.”
2. Lost on the draw
The Bruins were the NHL's best faceoff team in the regular season and they showed it again on Monday evening. Boston won 60 percent of the draws in Game 3 (45 of 75), now at a sizzling 58 percent for the series (119-205). Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri proved their greatest targets; Bozak dropping 12 of 29 draws (41 percent), Kadri falling in all but three of the 12 he lined up for (25 percent).
The constant defeats were not without some frustration for the Leafs, Bozak in particular thrown out of the circle in increasing fashion. “They're pretty good at cheating,” he said of a group that includes the NHL's best, Patrice Bergeron. “They're the best team in the league at them… I mean, I cheat, too, we all cheat – they just were cheating a little better than we were tonight I think.”
The matter of "cheating" was discussed with the officials at one point in the game. “Usually the explanation is its visitor down, home team down, puck down," Carlyle said, recalling a conversation with one of the linesman on Monday night. "Our guys felt that there were some things going with it … and thus we were getting removed from it unfairly.
“That was his explanation, he felt our guys were impeding on the circle.”
The Leafs proved weakest in the offensive zone, winning only 30 percent of the 34 draws.
3. Line matching theory
Carlyle made clear to his group upon arrival in Toronto that the Leafs would become a “line-matching” team. And it was non-negotiable. “We're going to match in the exhibition games. I don't care, get used to it',” he recalled of the message to his players. “That's part of playing for this coaching staff,” he continued. “We've explained the reasons behind it. Some days it doesn't work in your favour, I'm sorry, but we make decisions that are based on what's best for the team.” Of his enjoyment with line-matching, Carlyle grinned, “When it works. When it doesn't work you're left scratching your head.”
Carlyle's creativity behind the bench worked effectively in the Leafs' Game 2 win on Saturday, but he warned prior to Monday's game the dangers of over-matching. “The one thing you can't do is you can't get caught in the trap of not getting your players out on the ice enough. If they decide to put, for instance, Chara out for every defensive zone faceoff does that mean Phil Kessel doesn't get an offensive zone faceoff? Those are the things that you weigh through the course of the game.”
Kessel logged about 20 minutes on Monday, much of it against Chara, but also a sprinkling of shifts away from the 6'9 Bruins captain, including a 2-on-1 chance with Joffrey Lupul that was stopped by Rask just moments before the Peverley goal.
“It's not as easy as you think when you know that he's going to be out there for every defensive zone faceoff,” Carlyle said afterward of Chara. “So you can try and work around it but in some situations you have to play your offensive players. You can't keep [Kessel] off the ice on any offensive zone faceoffs. That'd be unfair to the player and you're not giving your team the best chance for success by doing so.”
4. Gardiner more and more ‘noticeable'
In the opening moments of his first playoff game Jake Gardiner coughed the puck up to Gregory Campbell only to be bailed out moments later by Reimer. And while he's been prone to similar errors and bodied off the puck in some defensive sequences, Gardiner has injected a much-needed puck-lugging and facilitating dynamic to the Toronto back-end, on display most prominently in the third period of the Game 3 defeat.
“His positives are far outweighing his negatives,” Carlyle said of Gardiner, who played 21 minutes. “Hopefully that's a sign that the young player is developing. He separates himself in some of the things that he does out there with his skating ability and puck-moving ability. We just want to limit the amount of mistakes and if he continues along this line it's very noticeable that he's making an impact on the game.”
5. The goalies
Rask was the better of the two, edging Reimer with 45 saves. “He played well,” Carlyle said of the Bruins netminder and Maple Leafs draft pick. “He made the stops when he needed to.” But while his team mustered a lot of rubber at Rask, the amount of sustained pressure in the offensive zone was not to Carlyle's liking.
“I don't think we had enough traffic or enough concentration of offensive zone time,” he said. “We didn't have the flurries of two and three shots off the rebound. There were a lot of shots taken from the outside and that's what teams do; you push things to the outside. We didn't do a good enough job of getting inside.” To Carlyle's point, the Toronto defence combined for 17 shots – led by Franson with seven – while attempting 28.
Reimer meanwhile stopped 33 pucks, four eluding him on this night. “It felt like I was making some saves, making some big saves, but still when four go in something's not going right,” he said. “I don't think it was a terrible night, but I think I could've been better too.” The 25-year-old could hardly be faulted on the final three goals, what with the errors of his teammates, the first goal from Adam McQuaid more in question. After Bozak dropped the defensive zone faceoff cleanly, McQuaid fired a point shot in and around Reimer. “It felt like it kind of dipped, dived and what not,” he said.
After three games, Rask has posted a .928 save percentage, Reimer slightly behind with a .915 mark respectively.
Bonus Point – Shot totals
The Bruins didn't quite eclipse the 40-shot plateau for the third straight game, managing 38, but they again threw a lot of pucks at the Leafs crease. Boston has outshot Toronto 119-99 so far this series, which shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. The Leafs yielded the fourth-most shots per game in the regular season (32.3), the Bruins meanwhile averaging the second-most (32.4). “They shoot from everywhere,” said Franson. “That's the way they do things. They shoot pucks from everywhere and try and crash for rebounds. A lot of the stuff that comes from the outside we just [need] to make sure we're clearing the front of the net and making sure the rebounds they do get don't end up in the back of our net.”
Quote of the Night I
“This is a war of attrition. There's skill involved in it, there's will involved in it, and there's luck involved in it, but you have to earn every one of them.”
-Randy Carlyle on playoff hockey.
Quote of the Night II
“They're pretty good at cheating. They're the best team in the league at them… I mean, I cheat, too, we all cheat – they just were cheating a little better than we were tonight I think.”
-Tyler Bozak on the Bruins faceoff dominance.
Quote of the Night III
“Even if you have him beat he has an eight-foot span that he can get to that puck before you so you've got to get on there first or maybe counter-hit early before and throw him off balance.”
-Matt Frattin on the challenges of eluding Zdeno Chara.
Game 3 Stat Watch
47: Shots for the Leafs in Game 3.
52: Shots for the Leafs in the opening two games.
30-75 or 40 percent: Leafs on the draw in Game 3.
10-34 or 30 percent: Leafs on the draw in the offensive zone in Game 3.
86-205 or 42 percent: Leafs on the draw in the series.
118: Shots faced by James Reimer after three games.
4: Power-play goals for the Leafs in the series, including one from Kessel on Monday night, his second marker of the playoffs.
3: Points for James van Riemsdyk, the only Leaf with a point in each of the three games so far this series.
25:43: Cody Franson, team-leader.
Game 4 at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday evening.