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First Round

Maple Leafs can't overcome poor penalty kill in Game 4 loss to Bruins

Allow two goals on two chances, drop to 6-for-11 in series

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs spent a significant chunk of time during meetings Wednesday morning meticulously planning a scheme to combat the Boston Bruins power play.

Somehow the message got lost in the ensuing eight hours prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round.

The Bruins went 2-for-2 on the power play in a 6-4 victory at Scotiabank Arena and have scored with the man-advantage in each of the first four games of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series.


[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Maple Leafs series coverage]


Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock shrugged his shoulders in frustration when asked after the game what ails their penalty kill.

"They've got real good players -- let's not kid ourselves -- but those two goals tonight, we covered this morning, and we didn't look after it," Babcock said. "We've got to fix it. The bottom line, you can't give those power-play goals up. To me, those are just freebies, those two. Not that they didn't make plays or anything like that, but we weren't in the spots we were supposed to be in. In the end, you've got to do what you're supposed to do.

"If their scheme is better or their player executes, then albeit. But you've got to do what you're supposed to do."

By not doing that, the Maple Leafs allowed the Bruins to even the series 2-2. Game 5 is at Boston on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NESN).

Penalty-killing was the Maple Leafs' Achilles' heel the past two postseasons, each ending in the first round, and it has been so far in this series.

They went 12-for-17 (70.6 percent) in a six-game loss to the Washington Capitals in 2017 and 14-for-21 (66.7 percent) in a seven-game loss to the Bruins in 2018. Through four games this year, they are 6-for-11 (54.5 percent). That adds up to 32-for-49 (65.3 percent), last of any NHL team in the playoffs the past three seasons.

Babcock had no definitive solution when presented with those numbers.

"I don't know," he said. "I think we've had pretty good penalty kills since I have been here. Pretty good. But it isn't good enough right now. The great thing about it is the series is not over, so we don't have to live with that number. We can still fix it."

The obvious solution is to not take penalties. Unfortunately for Toronto, an early one in Game 4 had them chasing the game all night.

Connor Brown was called for holding 68 seconds after the opening face-off, and Boston pounced on the opportunity. Charlie McAvoy scored on the ensuing power play at 3:03 of the first period to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead, siphoning the electricity out of the crowd in the process.

Video: BOS@TOR, Gm4: McAvoy pots PPG off pretty passing play

David Pastrnak scored Boston's second power-play goal at 4:51 of the second period in a game when it never trailed.

Credit must go to Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy and his staff for their work dissecting the Maple Leafs penalty kill.

"We have a few ideas with Toronto," Cassidy said. "We've seen them now the last year quite a bit on the PK, so certain plays we look for."

Thanks in large part to their power play, the Bruins have regained home-ice advantage in the series. History shows that has been a key for Boston during the past two playoff matchups between these teams.

In Game 7 of the 2013 first round, the Bruins came back from down 4-1 in the final 10:42 of the third period and won 5-4 in overtime. Last year, they scored four straight goals in the third period to rally for a 7-4 win in Game 7 of the first round.

Each game was played at TD Garden. Now the Maple Leafs, who won Game 1 in Boston, 4-1, must win at least one more game there to advance to the second round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Video: BOS@TOR, Gm4: Pastrnak buries one-timer for PPG

"We feel great about our team and our game," center John Tavares said. "Obviously, you always want to clean things up and be better. Special teams, obviously, tonight could be a little better on that side of it too.

"These games, this time of year, it's very small differences, so just stay with it and build off the good things. Just be ready to bounce back. We've obviously done some good things here over the course of four games."

The penalty kill isn't one of them. And it will have to improve if they expect to get past the Bruins and win a playoff series for the first time since 2004.

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