Toronto Maple Leafs came out strong, but ultimately fell to the Boston Bruins 4 – 3 in overtime of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals. The Leafs had no answer for David Krejci, who scored a hat trick to steal the victory from the Buds. The battle of Vezina snubs didn’t disappoint either, with James Reimer making 41 saves in the loss and Tuukka Rask again stopping a phenomenal 45 shots tonight.
1. The most regimented aspect of the game was the Anthem singer. Sloppy play and both ends required James Reimer to stand on his head, especially in the first 40 minutes of play. But in a series that has seen the Leafs regularly get victimized after seemingly every mistake, it was no surprise to see the bounces go in Boston’s favour in OT. A solid game from the boys, who again fired nearly 50 shots on Rask, without the desired result. Few teams ever get goaltending this good.
2. Two big saves less than three minutes in by Reimer on Jaromir Jagr and Dan Paille proves the adage ‘big saves lead to big goals’ as Joffrey Lupul tallies the game’s opener on the ensuing counter attack. After the Leafs recovered Paille’s rebound and skated it down to the Bruins zone, Lupul feeds Kessel, then sifts to the front of the net. Kessel circles the net and reconnects with Lupul who makes no mistake going up over Rask’s left pad to make it 1 – 0 good guys. It was Lupul’s third of the playoffs, and Jake Gardiner picked up the secondary assist (and third point in as many games).
3. Lady luck had the hots for Lupul (and who can blame her, amirite people with functioning eyes?) in the first tonight, as the Palindrome picked up an assist on Cody Franson’s 2-0 goal with just over a minute left in the period. Franson took a wide shot on the rush that bounced into the corner, stopping dead at Lupul’s stick. The surprised Bruins defenders barely had time to process the play before Lupul threaded the pass back to Mark Fraser. Fraser astutely deferred to his partner, and Franson’s patented Seeing Eye Shot from two feet inside the blueline eluded Rask’s vision and the Leafs closed out the first period up a pair.
4. Right as the first period closed, Milan Lucic took a deflected shot to the face and left. He returned for the second period, but wasn’t as effective in the corners, and was regularly taken off the puck. His loss or deterioration would almost certainly come as Toronto’s gain, as the Sasquatch-man from Vancouver has been a Leaf killer this series with six assists in the first four games. Less than three minutes into the second, Johnny Boychuk left the game for a while, barely able to stand after taking some heavy punishment in front of the Bruins goal. Mark Fraser took a Milan Lucic shot right in the forehead (as he wears no visor), and didn’t return. The war of attrition goes on…
5. After a questionable penalty call on Leo Komarov, Patrice Bergeron rips home a power play goal to bring the Bruins back into the game 32 seconds into the second period. If anything, the Bruins goal only woke the Leafs up, and the Leafs responded by doggedly harassing the Bruins on the forecheck, creating turnovers, and peppering Rask with difficult point blank shots. But despite some great chances by Komarov and James van Riemsdyk in close, the Leafs couldn’t get the 3-1 dagger.
6. The Bruins tie it up 2-2 as David Krejci makes Dion Phaneuf pay for not effectively clearing the zone. The puck bounced off the Czech forward and passed a tired looking James Reimer. Colton Orr takes a marginal elbowing penalty on Zdeno Chara, and then Krejci connects for his second of the period to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead.
With a resilience not often seen in Toronto sports clubs, the Leafs soldiered right back, with press box fresh Clarke MacArthur scored his first career playoff goal on an ugly rebound by Rask. Matt Frattin and Gardiner picked up the assists on the play. Were I Colton Orr, I’d be buying MacArthur dinner for the next month, as his reckless play quite nearly cost the Leafs a chance at a victory.
7. With 41 seconds left in the second and already up a man, the Leafs pressure Bruins forward and future NHL Office nepotism hire Gregory Campbell into taking a penalty. With a 5 on 3 to close the period and start the third, the Leafs power play went to work. While they scored on 4 of 12 PP chances in games 1-3, they were brutal tonight going 0-4. There were some key moments in the game, and the power plays in the third period were wasted opportunities with disjointed, ungainly passing plays and no possession.
8. Nazem Kadri, little used in the game, was caught flat footed and ended up taking a four-minute high sticking penalty on Chris Kelly – who had a nasty gash on his face – at the close of a Toronto PP. The Leafs penalty kill came into the game having killed eight of nine in the series, but only one of the three they had faced through 40 minutes. With 3:35 of shorthanded time on the clock, the Leafs, led by Carl Gunnarsson and Jay McClement, put together some of the stingiest defense witnessed all season. When everything else was failing with special teams tonight, this PK kept the Buds hopes alive.
9. As the period wore on, the young legs of Jake Gardiner were the driving force of the Leafs attack. After Fraser left the game, it appeared that one of Gardiner or Phaneuf was on the ice without fail. He provided offense and mobility from the back end tonight, and he gave the Leafs their best chances to take a lead late in the third period.
Alas, no one could convert, and for the first time in nine years, there’s OT hockey in Toronto.
10. 13 minutes into the most exhilarating period of hockey seen in Toronto in nearly a decade, Dion Phaneuf pinches in from the blueline and clips Nathan Horton, who makes a pass to Krejci who hustles down the ice on a 2 on 1. Krejci holds, fakes, pumps and scores his third goal of the night. While Reimer let in a marginal goal, and Ryan O’Byrne misplayed the 2 on 1, the lion’s share of blame for that goal is on the Captain’s plate. Had Phaneuf connected better with either the puck or the player, it might have been a different story. It’s only fitting, with such a cardiac pace, that the game ends in a heartbreaker. The Leafs will head back to Boston for Game 5 on Friday, in what has become an incredibly entertaining and close series despite the 3 – 1 series deficit.