Well, if you thought this was going to be easy, lesson learned.
The Bruins were tied for the second most points in the league and had the third-best goal differential. Game 1 did come easy and some of the responses to, “the Bruins played bad,” were met as though the Leafs were not being given their due. The Leafs did play well that game, but Boston is clearly much better than what they showed that night and Game 2 was proof positive.
They were physical, they dominated the offensive zone, their defense was much more active in the neutral zone (I thought this was a big adjustment by them, a bit more on that below), and they capitalized on opportunities.
Boston came out in Game 2 the way many expected this series to start – they got the puck in deep and ran the Leafs defense. After the first game, I noted I expected David Backes to be put back in; he was, and he landed an early big run on Frederik Gauthier. The crowd got louder and louder as the first few minutes went on, and the Bruins scored.
As well as the Bruins did come out, the Leafs made it easy on them, too. In the first minute of the game, Matthews, Rielly and Hainsey combined for a giveaway that led to a chance in the slot. The next shift, the Bruins get a 2v1. On the first goal, Jake Muzzin misplays the puck in the slot. It was a calamity of errors.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) April 14, 2019
On the second goal, Muzzin misplayed the puck in the neutral zone, leading to a 2v1 and another Bruins goal.
The Bruins were much more aggressive and physical this game and perhaps that’s why the Leafs kept coughing the puck up and making mistakes, but whatever it was, the Leafs definitely helped Boston on their way to scoring chances.
In the second period, there was a play where Nylander came down the wall in the offensive zone off a rush and tried forcing a pass across ice that was promptly picked up and turned into a Jake DeBrusk breakaway. Of course, later that period, Nylander also gifted the Bruins a goal to make it 3-0.
To that end, I thought an underrated big moment in the game was the breakaway Mitch Marner missed the next shift.
In the third period, the Bruins came out and had a few early chances and then the Leafs did finally start pouring it on. They were shorthanded for a quarter of the third and still put up 15 shots on net. Babcock summed up the game pretty well:
“I thought, in the first period, we weren’t good enough. I thought in our third, we were coming with good things, but to me, it took us too long. The way they played tonight I don’t think surprised anyone in our room. We didn’t execute and handle it, so the bottom line is, we’ll get another go at this. We’ll be in our house next and we’ve got to come out and get after them just like we did in Game 1.”
Other than being more physical, Boston made good tactical adjustments (deployment adjustments are in the notes below). Their defense stepped up more in the neutral zone and their forwards also pushed up and tracked back hard, which allowed the Bruins to be more aggressive since they had support if they were beaten. They played tight to the Leafs forwards in the neutral zone and the stretch pass was far less effective – the Leafs had very few odd-man rushes compared to Game 1.
After the Bruins established a forecheck, the Leafs started ceding the blue line easier as well, giving the Bruins many opportunities to gain the line with the puck and set up shop. This is the game they want to play – slow it down, contain the Leafs offense, and force it into a “half-court basketball” type of game. On the aforementioned breakaway for DeBrusk off a Nylander turnover, look how tight they are on Nylander, look at the man tracking back quickly to turn the puck up ice, and look how quickly they counterattack. The Bruins checked much better in Game 2:
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) April 14, 2019
The loss is one thing as this was never going to be easy. The way it happened, though, is cause for concern. The Bruins got back to their identity and the Leafs often looked like deer in headlights. Nazem Kadri is staring down yet another suspension against Boston. Many of the Leafs’ skilled players disappeared as the game got tougher instead of fighting through it. They are going to need to regroup.
- The Bruins got away from Bergeron – Tavares head-to-head. The line Tavares played the most against was Nordstrom – Acciari – Wagner. If games are going to go like that in this series, the Tavares line has to make them pay. By switching the matchup, the Bruins sought to get the Bergeron line out against the Matthews line, which is who was on for the Bruins second goal (largely due to Muzzin misplaying the puck).
- While changing the forward matchups, the Bruins went hard at getting the right defense matchups. Chara and McAvoy each played at least 10 minutes against Tavares at 5v5. The Leafs are now going home for last change, so it will be interesting to see how Babcock tries to manipulate it. If they learned anything from the Bruins adjustments, they don’t want Bergeron against Tavares all night and they are concerned about getting the right defensemen against the right lines.
- If you were a reader of this space throughout the season, and in many other places too, it was noted that Matthews and Marner should get some run together in the regular season because there will be times that they will be down in the playoffs and they will want to unite them for a spark. They played 114 minutes together, which was the fifth most ice time Matthews shared with a forward this season. It wasn’t much time together, and they actually were on for more goals against than for in the regular season (although they were above water in almost every metric together except having a terrible save percentage). Low and behold, in Game 2, the Leafs are down going into the third and don’t have a lot going on, and who goes out together?
- In past years, there have been criticisms of ice time to the top players – the Leafs didn’t have a single forward average even 18 minutes of ice time last year in the playoffs. That is not the case this year. Matthews has played over 20 minutes in both games. Marner is averaging just under 20 minutes, Tavares is averaging just under 19 minutes, and Hyman is over the 18-minute mark as well. The Leafs are putting it on their top players much this season.
- Only 16:31 for Gardiner, after playing 16:32 in Game 1. In fairness, he was the only defenseman that did not play on the penalty kill and that impacted his total number a bit. He looked more comfortable in Game 2 and that is a good step for the Leafs. He was engaged a bit more physically, stepping up in the neutral zone a few times, but again, he’s clearly not 100%.
- Best player for the Leafs was Frederik Andersen, and it was not particularly close. The Bruins could have scored seven or eight goals easily that game and he kept battling. He has been the biggest positive for the team through two games; there were many questions about his health and fatigue levels, and he has been fantastic so far. That gives the Leafs as good of a chance as any.
My two options would be Marleau or Willy. I haven’t… That is what the flight is about here tonight, getting that figured out and go from there. In the meantime, it is a regroup opportunity for us.
– Mike Babcock on who moves to center if/when Kadri is suspended
If these are his only two options — and realistically they are — I don’t think it’s even a discussion. Interesting side note: If they still had Par Lindholm, they might have been okay having him at 3C, as they did when Matthews was hurt earlier this season when he acquitted himself reasonably well.
“We’re going home and the series is split. It’s 1-1 and we’re going home. At the end of the day, you flush this one out and get ready for Game 3.”
– Zach Hyman on moving forward
This is the truth. Game 2 was a mess, but there isn’t a soul that wouldn’t have taken a series split going back to Toronto for Game 3. So let’s see how the Leafs elevate their play now.
“He’s certainly responded physically, good hit on Krug. We’re able to get on top of him more last night. I think that’s the key for us with that pair (with Zaitsev), force them to break out. Those guys are more old school.”
– Bruce Cassidy on the Leafs shutdown pairing of Muzzin – Zaitsev
Babcock likes the physicality of this pairing, but the Bruins know they can counter and forecheck that pairing because they struggle with moving the puck. That is a problem against such a complete Bruins top line. This would be the reason to consider splitting this pairing up.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
- I think either you play the Bruins the way the Habs used to — which was whistle to whistle, take the hits and keep playing — or you step up and go toe to toe. But this thing the Leafs are doing where they pick and choose their spots to engage, sometimes scrum after whistles, and take hits and look at the ref for power plays, it just plays into the Bruins’ hands. They know they are in your head at that point. Either you ignore it, keep playing, and act as if it doesn’t bother you. Or, when you’re in the situation Kadri was where DeBrusk was essentially rag-dolling him on the ice while he looked at the ref, you just drop the gloves and settle it. I don’t understand this in-between stuff. It completely plays into the Bruins’ hands.
- I think moving forward (as in next season at this point, not really now), it would be nice to give Kadri a physical running mate. Play at the end aside, he was involved in that game, throwing hits, taking hits, getting a goal, etc. He had no support at any point from any of his linemates.
- I honestly don’t think the Nazem Kadri play should warrant a suspension. DeBrusk is not missing anytime from that. He got up on his own power (I’d argue he milked it a bit). I just don’t understand how you suspend that, then? Because it might have been worse? To that extent, DeBrusk could have torn Kadri’s ACL earlier. Maybe I’m crazy, I don’t know, I just don’t see how that should be suspension-worthy.
- I think if/when he is suspended, I’d move William Nylander to center and I would make his two wingers Moore and Brown. Moore and Brown have been effective and feisty, and that is what Nylander needs to be surrounded by.
- I think they have to have an honest conversation with Patrick Marleau and drop him down to the fourth line and relegate his minutes – nothing is happening with him on the ice, which is just an extension of the regular season. He has one shot on net so far this series.