TORONTO – Toronto Maple Leafs fans showed up for a party. Instead, they were treated to a blast from the past.
Former Maple Leafs goaltender Tuukka Rask played superbly in a 45-save effort and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr put on a stick-handling clinic as the Boston Bruins defeated Toronto 5-2 at Air Canada Centre to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.
Game 4 is Wednesday in Toronto.
David Krejci paced the Bruins with a goal and two assists while Nathan Horton, Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley and Adam McQuaid also scored.
Phil Kessel, with his second goal in as many games, and defenseman Jake Gardiner scored for Toronto.
While Jagr, 41, has clearly slowed down – and that was quite evident in Toronto's Game 2 victory Saturday in Boston – he is still a magician with the puck and able to control the pace of the game when he is allowed to roam freely in the offensive zone. Try as they might to get the puck back from him, the Maple Leafs were rarely successful. Skating alongside Peverley and Chris Kelly, Jagr had one assist in the game and was noticeable every shift.
"Jags hadn't been feeling that great and had to turn a corner here," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He has new linemates and they haven't played that much together and I felt it was just a matter of giving him some time. Sometimes you have to be patient, and tonight it paid off.
"It doesn't matter how old Jagr is or how long he's been in the League; he's a real proud competitor and he takes everything to heart. The fact that he hadn't been doing too much, he was determined to be a difference-maker tonight and I thought he did a really good job. The other two guys were a lot more comfortable with him tonight. He's strong on the puck and every time he had it they needed one or two guys to try to get it back and that means somebody is open."
Jagr was acquired from the Dallas Stars at the NHL Trade Deadline and is the only player on either team who was alive when Toronto and Boston last hooked up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1974. In 18 shifts (14:53 ice time), he managed six shots on goal.
"His linemates created a lot of space for him and even when they carried the puck, they got it back to him," Julien said. "The fact is he may not have the speed he used to have, but he still has the hands. His forwards are getting used to playing with him so instead of being ahead of him, they are supporting him. It was vintage Jagr in the offensive zone."
For Toronto, it was the first time the Maple Leafs have hosted a playoff game since May 4, 2004. The energy in Air Canada Centre was electric and the Maple Leafs responded by pumping 47 shots at Rask, whom they drafted in the first round (No. 21) in 2005. Rask was traded to the Bruins on June 24, 2006 for the long-departed Andrew Raycroft.
"He was good … he was solid," Julien said of Rask. "You need good goaltending in the playoffs and in the third period, they came out a very desperate team down 4-1 and we knew they were going to throw everything at us. We tried to minimize their chances and they scored an early power-play goal which gave them some life, but he held us in."
For the Maple Leafs, too many giveaways were the difference between winning and losing. In particular, an attempted pass by Kessel to defenseman Dion Phaneuf at the Maple Leafs' blue line while the team was on the power play allowed Paille to intercept the puck, skate in and make it 4-1 for Boston with a shorthanded goal.
Although Kessel made up for his gaffe with a goal 47 seconds into the third period, the Maple Leafs were never really a serious threat to get back to even.
"If we want to be blatantly honest, we made some mistakes that ended up in our net," said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. "When you do that, usually you end up on the wrong side of the score. In the playoffs, you can't give the opposition (chances). I'm not taking it away from the Bruins, that they didn't earn it, but when you make mistakes with the puck that lead to Grade-A scoring chances and they score, those are tough ones for our group."
Carlyle wasn't totally displeased with his team. Unlike Game 1 when Toronto lost 4-2, he felt his players gave it a solid effort. He also tipped his cap to Rask.
"I thought our work ethic was really strong," Carlyle said. "We worked hard and did a lot of good things, but our execution level and the mistakes we made aren't going to allow us to win a hockey game playing like that. Rask played well … he made the stops he needed to make and I don't think we had enough traffic at the net and enough concentration of offensive zone time. We didn't have the flurries of two and three shots off rebounds. There were a lot of shots taken from the outside. We didn't do a good enough job of getting inside."
It took nine years, but Maple Leafs die-hards finally got to see their beloved team in a playoff game at home. They will wait until Wednesday to see if the Maple Leafs can actually win a postseason game for them.