A total team effort Thursday night led the Leafs to a 4-1 victory as they draw first blood in the opening round series against the Bruins.
LEAFS SHAKE OFF BRUINS TAKING GAME'S FIRST LEAD, EVEN SCORE ON MARNER'S GOAL PRIOR TO FIRST INTERMISSION
The Maple Leafs were in Boston to begin their first-round playoff series against the Bruins, and after a lengthy and passionate buildup to Game 1, the teams squared off for the first time Thursday. And it was the Bruins who took the game's first lead when centre Patrice Bergeron scored at 9:31 of the first period.
However, with 3:16 left before the first intermission, winger Mitch Marner evened the score when he swatted a rebound (off his own deflection, which hit the post before coming back out to him) past Boston netminder Tuukka Rask:
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm1: Marner scores after hitting both posts
The Leafs played a solid first frame, outshot the home side 10-8 in the first 20 minutes, and cleaned the slate for themselves to begin the second period. In terms of sending a message to Boston - that message: we're ready to compete - Toronto couldn't have done much better. Their defense was solid, goalie Frederik Andersen was dialled in, and Marner was one of a slew of Leafs forwards who controlled possession and pressured the Bruins consistently.
MARNER GIVES LEAFS LEAD WITH SECOND OF NIGHT ON PENALTY SHOT; NYLANDER EXTENDS LEAD AFTER PHENOMENAL BREAKAWAY SETUP BY KADRI
The Bruins pushed back against the Leafs in the second period, outshooting Toronto 21-14 - but Andersen was stellar, turning aside every shot he faced in the middle frame. And at the other end of the ice, Toronto continued to be opportunistic: after being awarded a penalty shot while the Bruins were on a power play, Marner skated down toward Rask and patiently waited the Bruins goalie out until Marner had a wide-open net to the left of Rask. Marner made no mistake, firing it into the net for his second of the night:
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm1: Marner pots second goal on penalty shot
The pressure of being all alone didn't get to Marner, who put in a superb effort at both ends of the ice. And after he gave the Leafs their first lead of the game, the scoring stopped - until there was just 1:35 left in the second, when centre Nazem Kadri sprung winger William Nylander on a breakaway, and Nylander put the Buds up by two goals:
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm1: Nylander goes five-hole on breakaway
Kadri's breakout pass was a thing of beauty, as he was in Toronto's zone when he saw Nylander moving down the ice and connected on a perfect pass with him to set up the breakaway. The fact the goal also came just prior to the second intermission was a mental boost for the Leafs, who needed to continue to pressure Boston in the third and slow down the number of shots allowed on Andersen.
ANDERSEN HOLDS FORT IN THIRD AS LEAFS PLAY IDEAL ROAD GAME, EARN HOME ICE ADVANTAGE IN REST OF SERIES
Carrying a two-goal lead into the third, the Leafs played an ideal period, getting important non-scoresheet contributions from fourth-line players such as Trevor Moore and defencemen Jake Muzzin, as well as crucial minute-munching performances from centre Auston Matthews (who led all Leafs forwards with 20:42 of ice time) and D-man Morgan Rielly (who led all Leafs in ice time with 24:34). This was a first-rate team effort, as Toronto limited the Bruins to nine shots in the third period and didn't allow Boston to put forth any sustained time in and around the Leafs' net.
Toronto maintained a 3-1 lead until the final couple minutes of the third, when the Bruins pulled Rask in favour of the extra attacker; at that point, centre John Tavares battled hard on a faceoff near the Leafs' zone, picked up a loose puck, and lifted it down the ice and into the empty net to make it 4-1 at 18:41. The goal locked up the win for the Leafs, who'll remain in Boston for Game 2 Saturday night. If the Buds can continue to frustrate Boston's top line, allow Andersen a clear view of shots, and take advantage of the handful of Bruins defensive lapses, there's a better-than-decent chance Toronto can return home for Game 3 Monday with a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm1: Tavares seals win with empty-net tally
But that's looking a little too far ahead. For now, Leafs Nation can be elated by their team's performance Saturday. At both ends of the ice, Toronto was determined to win, and it showed in virtually every facet of the contest.