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Friday, May 4, 2018

The B's Rallied From Two Goals Down, Only To Lose Gm 4 in OT After Blowing a Third Period Lead

To beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 2018 playoff game, it requires a (cliche alert!) full 60-minute effort or in this case even longer than that. Boston did everything they could to tie up their series at two tonight at TD Garden but they still fell short as Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Girardi re-directed a pass from Harvard's Alex Killorn at 3:18 for a bitter 4-3 overtime victory. The Lightning took a commanding 3-1 series lead with the chance to end things on Sunday afternoon (3, NBC) at Amalie Arena. The B's were plagued by another atrocious start on their home ice-spotting Tampa a 2-0 lead less than halfway through the first period-but unlike Game 3, they were able to recover from that.

For the first time since Game 1, Boston actually led for a little while (6:20). Unfortunately, Tampa Bay wasn't a fan of that as Steven Stamkos tied it at three with a wicked one-timer at 12:56 of the third period. His third goal of the playoffs (2nd of the series/1st non-ENG) was assisted by J.T. Miller. The Bruins actually had a few nice shifts to start their first overtime session of the playoffs but they weren't able to cash any of them in. Like the rest of the Lightning goals in Game 4, Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask (24 saves) couldn't do much to stop Girardi's goal. Killorn took the puck down the right side then threw a backhander in front of Boston's net where it deflected off Brian Gionta (no clue why he had a shift that early in OT) and then Girardi got his stick on it. Yanni Gourde had the second assist on Girardi's game-winning goal, extending his point streak to four games.

I wish I could pinpoint a reason why the B's got off to such miserable starts in Games 3 and 4, my best rationale is that they were too tight. Whatever the case may be, the Lightning are ready to go every time so you have to match that or else your season will be over on Sunday night. Rick Nash's turnover led to Brayden Point skating in and splitting both Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy (how does that happen?) before beating Rask for his third goal of the postseason. Riley Nash was a healthy scratch along with Tommy Wingels and Danton Heinen, meaning that Ryan Donato, Gionta and Tim Schaller were in the lineup for Game 4. Rick's rough first period continued when he was called for a tripping penalty and then Chara put the puck over the glass in his own end for delay of game. Tampa Bay had a two-man advantage for 19 seconds which the Bruins were able to weather but they could do nothing to stop Nikita Kucherov's one-timer from Victor Hedman (4-game point streak) and Stamkos at 9:53.

It became a special teams game and Boston's top-ranked power play (in the playoffs) did its job by going 2-for-4. Their comeback fittingly began with a power play goal from David Pastrnak (5-game point streak) at 15:28 of the first period. It was an amazing bit of hand-eye coordination by Pasta since he was able to hit a floating puck out of mid-air before it dropped back to the ice. His sixth goal of the playoffs was assisted by Torey Krug and Brad Marchand (17th multiple-point playoff game). Trailing 2-1 after the first period, the B's were quickly able to tie it at two early in the second thanks to a power play goal by Patrice Bergeron (5-game point streak). His fifth goal of the postseason was assisted by Krug (7th career multiple-point playoff game).

The Bruins grabbed that 3-2 lead in the third period thanks to a brilliant play by their two best players: Marchand went up ice while they were shorthanded and threaded a pass to Bergeron (20th multiple-point playoff game) between two Lightning defenders that the center was able to deflect in for a beautiful goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy (29 saves) had to be stunned since he hadn't seen his team trail in either Game 2 or 3. I hate to harp on the officials-who have been consistently awful all series-but that particular goal felt like some sort of justice for the Black and Gold since they were only shorthanded because of a bogus hooking call on Noel Acciari (big, strong Hedman flopped like an Italian soccer player). After that, basically everything went wrong for the B's as Krug appeared to suffer a serious ankle (or foot) injury after crashing into the boards and a no-call on Kucherov holding McAvoy which led to the Stamkos tying tally set the stage for the first ever playoff overtime game between these clubs.

So here we are, Krug left the Garden on crutches and in a walking boot therefore I doubt that he'll be available on Sunday. Get ready for Nick Holden trying to keep Boston's season alive! For real though, after such an unexpectedly fun and successful campaign for the Bruins, it would be a shame to see it end in five games in Tampa Bay. If I know the B's, I bet that they find a way to get it done in Game 5 only to return to TD Garden and lose in Game 6. Who knows? As you would expect, the numbers heading into Sunday are nothing but grim if you are a fan of Boston: they are 0-22 all-time in best-of-seven series when they trail 3-1 and 7-15 in Game 5s in which they trail in a series 3-1. Conversely, Tampa Bay's small sample size is pretty solid: they are 4-0 in best-of-seven series when they lead 3-1 and 3-1 in Game 5s when leading a series 3-1. Boston is 1-5 when they allow the first goal this postseason while Tampa Bay is 6-1 when they score first so clearly whichever team strikes first on Sunday will likely be a key factor.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Tampa Bay Jumps Out to Early 2-0 Lead & Never Look Back En Route to an Easy 4-1 Win In Game 3

To state the obvious: the Lightning are not the Maple Leafs. Nope, not one bit. After Boston managed to come away with a 6-2 victory in Game 1 on Saturday at Tampa Bay, the Lightning bounced back with a 4-2 win at Amalie Arena on Monday. As the series shifted to TD Garden, Tampa continued to be the aggressor as they scored twice in the first 3:19 of Game 3 to skate away with a 4-1 win and 2-1 series lead. Like an older brother to a younger brother, the Lightning completely smothered the Bruins in almost every facet of the contest that mattered: earning four more power plays (5-1) and recording eight more shots on goal (37-29).

This sets up what is basically a must-win for the B's on Friday (7, NBCSN) since it's hard to fathom that they could beat the Lightning three games in a row after what we've seen out of Tampa Bay in the past two tilts. Of course, it's hard to beat anybody in the playoffs when you combine for three goals in two games. The Tuukka Rask (33 saves) haters should take a night off since this wasn't his fault at all, in fact it could have been much worse since he made a bunch of saves when the outcome was still to be decided. Tampa's goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn't looked exactly picturesque in this series, but it's tough to argue with his results lately.

It was the first day of 2018 that felt like summer with temperatures around New England well into the 80s so you could excuse some of the Bruins' fans for showing up a few minutes late. The Lightning didn't take pity on us poor untanned Northerners as they scored not one but two goals before Boston could blink. Boston rookie defenseman Matt Grzelcyk made a mistake on a puck flipped into his defensive zone and Tyler Johnson was able to feed Ondrej Palat for an easy goal at 1:47. Palat's third of the postseason was also assisted by Anton Stralman. Giving up the first goal is one thing but another right on top of it is unforgivable, especially on home ice. Palat bagged another at 3:19 by deftly tipping in a shot from Victor Hedman. The ghost of Dan Girardi had his first assist of the playoffs on Palat's third goal in the last two games (2 periods to be exact).

The only time that Boston was really in it was for a brief few minutes late in the first period: they converted their only power play opportunity in only 29 seconds as Patrice Bergeron banged in a sweet one-handed pass from David Pastrnak. Brad Marchand had the second assist on Bergeron's fourth goal of the postseason which cut Tampa Bay's lead to 2-1. The Bruins defense let Rask and the rest of the club down on the third goal as rookie Anthony Cirelli was able to take not one (whiffed), not two (saved by Rask) but three shots that understandably were too much to survive in such a fast sequence. Cirelli's first career playoff goal was assisted by fellow rookie Yanni Gourde and Ryan McDonagh.

You waited for the Black and Gold to make a push in the second but they didn't. David Backes fought Cedric Paquette after Tampa Bay's resident wannabe tough guy jumped Backes who had had boarded Girardi. Paquette ended up with a 10-minute misconduct but that hardly mattered since he is an irrelevant buffoon. The scary part for the Bruins is that the Lightning two best players (and 2 of the top forwards in the NHL)-Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos-have been really quiet. Stamkos got an empty-netter with 41.2 seconds left in regulation, only his second goal of the postseason and amazingly, the first point of the series for Tampa's beastly top line.

To win Game 4 and get back in this series, Boston has to shoot way better than they did in Game 3. Tonight they had a whopping 19 shots blocked and if that wasn't bad enough, they missed the net with another 17 shots. This evening, Tommy Wingels was inserted on the fourth line for Tim Schaller but he didn't do anything notable (-1 in 11:24 with 1 shot on goal, 5 hits and 1 blocked shot). Since the Bruins have scored only three goals in the past two games (with just 1 from a forward), I would give rookie Ryan Donato another chance because putting the puck in the net is his specialty. Adam McQuaid wasn't hurt but only skated 9:46 in Game 3 so perhaps he could be scratched for Nick Holden, not that he would likely change the dynamics of this matchup.

As you can imagine, the numbers don't look great for the B's heading into Game 4: they are 8-23 all-time in best-of-seven series when they trail a series 2-1 and they are 16-15 in Game 4s when trailing a series 2-1. The Lightning are 5-3 all-time in best-of-seven series when they lead a series 2-1 but they are 3-5 in Game 4s when leading a series 2-1. The simple remedy for the Bruins appears to be a fast start in Game 4: put some actual pressure on the Lightning and make them play from behind while the Garden goes bananas. Boston's fans wanted something to cheer about tonight (with Pedro Martinez and Bobby Orr in the house) but the B's hardly gave them anything to truly appreciate and savor.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Down 4-3 Going Into the 3rd Period, the B's Rally For a Thrilling 7-4 Game 7 Win vs. the Leafs

Survive and advance, that's all that matters in the NHL playoffs. In a first-round series that featured more twists and turns than a road in San Francisco, the Bruins outlasted the Maple Leafs 7-4 in Game 7 tonight at TD Garden. Toronto scored first (the team scoring 1st had been 5-1) and actually led 4-3 going into the third period (teams leading after 2 had been 3-0 in the series) but they couldn't hang on as Boston followed up probably its worst frame of the season with undoubtedly the best, outscoring the stunned Leafs 4-0 to advance to the second round vs. top-seeded Tampa Bay. Game 1 is Saturday afternoon at 3 pm on NBC from Tampa Bay.

This was the only Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs this year and it certainly lived up to the sizable hype. The first period was bonkers as it featured five goals and non-stop highlight reel plays. Patrick Marleau gave Toronto a 1-0 lead just 2:05 into regulation as he tipped in a Jake Gardiner shot for a power play goal. William Nylander had the second assist on Marleau's third goal of the series. Countless times in this airtight series, the Leafs had scored right after the B's had lit the lamp. This time, Boston turned the tables on them as Jake DeBrusk scored a power play goal at 4:47. He tipped in a shot/pass by David Pastrnak for his fourth goal of the series with David Krejci notching the second assist.

An ugly turnover by Torey Krug in his own end led to another goal by Marleau at 6:12 of the first. Mitch Marner extended his point-streak to six games with the lone assist on the tally. Rookie Danton Heinen subbed in for veteran Tommy Wingels in Game 7 and Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy's instinctual move paid off immediately as Heinen tied things at two at 9:10 of the first. Krejci and Rick Nash had the assists on Heinen's first career playoff goal. Patrice Bergeron gave Boston its first lead of the night at 19:23 of the first after Kevan Miller smartly shot the puck intentionally wide of the net for Bergy to tap it in. His first goal of the series was also assisted by David Backes.

Both Tuukka Rask (20 saves) and Frederik Andersen (29 saves) got off to rough starts in this do-or-die tilt but only Boston's goaltender was able to recover in time. It also helped that Boston's defense wasn't the complete sieve that Toronto's was for much of the series (particularly at the Garden). The Leafs tied it at three as Travis Dermott's shot through traffic found its way into the net for his first career NHL playoff goal at 2:07 of the second period. The ghost of Roman Polak (who was a stiff to begin with) and Nylander had the assists on another goal that Rask really didn't have much of a chance to stop. Things really weren't going Boston's way as they squandered a power play opportunity and even worse, Kasperi Kapanen skated in on a breakaway (after Brad Marchand fell down) before beating Rask for a shorthanded goal (his 1st of the series) and 4-3 advantage at 6:05.

With their season on the line and on the verge of blowing a 3-1 lead in the series, the B's showed their mettle and winning mentality with a third period for the history books. Torey Krug tied it at four with a blast from the point, his second goal of the series was assisted by Miller and Bergeron. Boston never looked back from there as DeBrusk put his team ahead for good with an unforgettable speed rush up the right side. He got his shot off before Jake Gardiner crushed him but I'm sure he didn't care one bit as the Bruins were up 5-4 at 5:25 of the third period. Krejci recorded his third assist on what has to be the biggest goal of DeBrusk's young life. Pasta had started off the series so brilliantly so it was poetic that he also ended it (basically) with another sick goal. Boston's top line had been held scoreless for Games 5 and 6 but they all came to play in Game 7. Pasta's fifth goal of the series, from Bergeron and Marchand came at 11:39 as it gave the Bruins a 6-4 lead. Marchand's empty-netter with 50.9 seconds left in the contest allowed Bruins fans around New England, the United States and the world to finally exhale. On the other side, the Leafs continued to be some of the biggest big game losers in the NHL-year after year and decade after decade (their last Stanley Cup came in 1967).

As crazy as it sounds, I'm actually more confident for the Bruins heading into this meeting with the Lightning since they simply match up better with their other Atlantic Division rival (Boston went 3-1 vs TB in the regular season) that reached the playoffs in 2017-18. Game 2 is on Monday (7, NBCSN) with Games 3 and 4 coming back to Boston on Wednesday (7, NBCSN) and Friday (7, NBCSN). This was Boston's first playoff series win since 2014 and you'll remember that in that campaign, they fell in seven games to Montreal in the second round despite having won the meaningless Presidents Trophy. Pittsburgh vs. Washington is the other Eastern Conference series with Las Vegas-San Jose and Winnipeg-Nashville in the Western Conference. At least on paper, all of those series have the potential to be classics.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Maple Leafs Never Trailed In Game 5, Stave Off Elimination With a White-Knuckle 4-3 Victory

Unlike the NBA playoffs where most teams pack it in when they are down two or three games, they say that the toughest thing to do in the NHL playoffs is to eliminate a team and while that old adage is somewhat flawed, it was definitely the case on Saturday night at TD Garden as Toronto beat Boston 4-3 to cut the Bruins' series lead to 3-2. Game 6 shifts back to the Air Canada Centre on Monday (7, NESN). When you look at the final stats, it's hard to believe that the B's lost: they outshot the Leafs 45-21 (including 20-5 in the 3rd) and had six power plays to one for Toronto.

Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (42 saves, 2nd win of the series) was the star for Toronto and he was also helped by the fact that his teammates gave him multiple two-goal leads (2-0 and 3-1) and even a three-goal advantage to play with (4-1). You couldn't help but think of the epic 2013 playoff series between these clubs as Boston cut it to 4-3 early in the third period on Noel Acciari's goal but it wasn't to be as the Leafs held on for the improbable win. After Tuukka Rask was so brilliant in Game 4 (31 saves), it was only befitting of the roller coaster nature of the postseason that the next time out he was nothing like that. He made nine saves and allowed four goals before being pulled although to be fair, you can't really fault him for any of those tallies. At that point, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was just looking for a way to spark his club and it helped as Anton Khudobin stopped all eight shots he faced in his NHL playoff debut. Before you can say goalie controversy, there is no doubt in the universe that Rask will start Game 6. Haha hopefully playing half of Game 5 will give him a little more energy.

The team that has scored the first goal has won every game of the series and that continued this evening as Connor Brown notched his first career NHL playoff goal at 6:36 of the first period. He batted the puck out of mid-air, assisted by Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman. Before the Bruins knew what hit them, it was 2-0 Toronto as Andreas Johnsson also bagged his first career playoff goal, assisted by Nazem Kadri (who returned from being suspended for Games 2-4) and Jake Gardiner at 10:12. Boston had only trailed once after the first period in the series and that came in Game 3 (their only loss).

The B's had outshot Toronto 15-6 in the first period but things seem to break their way when Jake DeBrusk's shot went wide of the net but David Backes was there to tap it in for an easy power play goal at 9:45 of the second period. Backes' second goal of the series was also assisted by Torey Krug. The problem was that Toronto responded 51 seconds later with a tally from Tyler Bozak (his 2nd of the series), assisted by Morgan Rielly and James van Riemsdyk. It was a backbreaking goal for the B's after it looked like they had swung the momentum back in their favor. JVR roofed one past Rask at 11:55 of the second which ended Rask's night (he basically sprinted to Boston's dressing room after getting off the ice). Mitch Marner (who's been Toronto's best player all series) and Bozak had the helpers on what turned out to be a game-winning goal for the UNH product (JVR).

Sean Kuraly potted a one-timer off a nifty backhander feed from Matt Grzelcyk at 17:18 of the second period. Kuraly's second goal of the series was also assisted by Acciari. Toronto was their own worst enemy for much of this contest as they repeatedly got stupid penalties to put Boston's top ranked power play (in the postseason) back on the ice. In fact, they survived a two-man advantage for 1:34 that ended shortly before Kuraly's goal. Boston was down two goals headed into the third period but with 33 seconds remaining on yet another power play, they had more than a flicker of hope. Boston couldn't have dominated the third in every facet (except on the scoreboard) any more as they outshot Toronto 20-5. Andersen didn't exactly make every save look routine or easy but credit to him for getting the job done. Acciari's classic fourth-liner goal (his 1st of the series; assisted by Tim Schaller and Krug) at 5:58 cut it to 4-3 Leafs but that's how it would end.

Tampa Bay did their job earlier today by knocking out New Jersey (3-1 in Game 5) when they had the first opportunity to do so. That means that regardless of who wins this series, the Lightning are looking at a few days off in the Florida sun. That doesn't sound so bad, huh? You could say that Rask and the B's stole Game 4 in Toronto and despite all the big leads, I think you could also say the same for the Leafs in Game 5. It was in Boston's best interest to end things tonight so needless to say, they really want no part of a Game 7 even though it would be back in Boston on Wednesday. When you have a chance end a series, you have to go for it (see: Winnipeg last night vs. Minnesota).

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Behind Pastrnak's Transcendent Night (3 goals, 3 assists), B's Take a 2-0 Lead In the Series vs. Leafs

It can't possibly be this easy right? Through the first two games of what was expected to be a very tight, competitive series, the Bruins have looked like world-beaters while the Maple Leafs have been anything but ready for primetime. Similar to Game 1, tonight in Game 2 Boston won by four goals yet again (7-3) but this was a little spicier dish at TD Garden as David Pastrnak (3 goals, 3 assists) had the first six-point performance by a Bruin in the playoffs since Rick Middleton (2 goals, 4 assists) on April 18, 1983 vs. Buffalo. The B's took a 2-0 series lead as similar themes from Thursday continued: Boston's power play is unstoppable (2-for-4 tonight and 5-for-10 in the series) and the same can be said for their top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron (4 assists) and Brad Marchand (4 assists) who have already combined for 20 (!) points.

Minus forward Nazem Kadri who was suspended three games for his gutless hit on Tommy Wingels in Game 1, you figured that Toronto would respond with a more solid performance. Haha not so much as the Bruins scored four goals in the first 15 minutes of the contest and they simply cruised from there. Pasta began his bonanza with a sweet spin-o-rama into a backhander for a 1-0 B's lead at 5:26. Torey Krug (3 assists) and Bergeron had the helpers on that highlight reel tally. Jake DeBrusk went hard to the net and was rewarded with his first career NHL playoff goal at 9:46, tipping in a zipped pass from Krug with Bergeron picking up the second assist. Before you could blink, it was 3-0 Bruins at 12:13 as Kevan Miller bagged his first career playoff goal by throwing the puck toward the net and watching it go in off of Nikita Zaitsev's skate. That was all she wrote for Frederik Andersen who faced five shots on goal and saw three of them go by him. Backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney (4 goals allowed, 23 saves) did not fare much better so I'm sure that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock will go back to Andersen to start the must-win Game 3 on Monday (7, NESN) at Air Canada Centre.

DeBrusk's goal was on the power play and Boston's man advantage cashed in again as Rick Nash deposited your garden variety rebound at 15:00 of the first. Nash's first career playoff goal as a Bruin was assisted by Pastrnak and Krug. Toronto actually outplayed Boston in the second period (outshooting them 16-14) and outscored them 2-1 but Tuukka Rask (30 saves) made enough quality stops to keep the B's safely in front. Mitch Marner got the Maple Leafs on the board at 1:22 of the second when he re-directed a pass from Zach Hyman for his first goal of the postseason. David Krejci restored that four-goal Boston lead a few minutes later as he tipped in a shot by Pastrnak for his second goal of the postseason with Marchand providing the second assist. Toronto played with an urgency that they lacked for the first four periods of the series and Tyler Bozak notched his first goal of the playoffs with a sneaky little one-timer from Connor Brown and Morgan Rielly at 9:02 of the second.

Things got a little loose in the third period as Maple Leafs left wing Leo Komarov left with an upper-body injury. Pastrnak completed his hat trick, sandwiched around a meaningless power play goal by James van Riemsdyk (his 1st goal of the series). Anybody seen Auston Matthews? The young Leafs superstar was -2 and so far, he has been held without a point in the first two games. Pasta's hat trick was the first by a Bruin in the playoffs since Krejci did the deed on May 8, 2013 vs. Toronto.

At some point, the real Maple Leafs are going to show up in this series. Maybe? All the pressure is on them now since Boston held serve at home with authority. Things could quickly change if Toronto can win Game 3 and climb back from this pit of misery. However, if the B's can find a way to pull out a victory on Monday, it feels like the Leafs will fold up shop and get ready for the off-season. We were all so scared of this team and thus far, they have been nothing but frauds. What happens in Game 3 should tell us plenty about the mental makeup of the Toronto since all Boston really needs is a split North of the border to return here with a chance to close things out in a Game 5 on Saturday.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Bruins Rolled to a Surprisingly Easy 5-1 Victory in Game 1 of the 1st Round vs. Maple Leafs

The easiest thing to do after a blowout win (especially in the playoffs) is to overreact and think that things will continue to be that easy. Haha yeah right dummy, get real. The first round of the 2018 NHL playoffs began for the Bruins tonight at TD Garden and what was expected to be a tight contest turned into a laugher as they drubbed the Maple Leafs 5-1. After Toronto tied it late in the first period, Boston took off with a pair of goals in the second period and another pair in the third. The Bruins power play was humming to the tune of 3-for-6 while their penalty kill was 3-for-3.

Leafs center Nazem Kadri should be hearing from the NHL's Department of Player Safety as he destroyed Tommy Wingels in the third period with a very dirty and reckless hit along the boards that was ruled to be charging (major) and a 10-minute game misconduct. Wingels didn't return and it doesn't take a doctor to guess that he probably suffered a concussion (hello, Ryan Donato). Toronto's goaltender Frederik Andersen (35 saves) entered with a 10-1-0 all-time record against Boston but like his teammates, he just wasn't up to the task in Game 1. The Bruins had lost their last three games in the regular season but a few days off seemed to put plenty of jump back in their collective steps. Another reason that the meetings earlier this year probably mean very little: Toronto had been 3-1 against the B's before this evening.

Boston's top forward line of Brad Marchand (goal, assist), Patrice Bergeron (assist) and David Pastrnak (goal, 2 assists) was dominant all night. Marchand entered with no goals in his last 16 home playoff games but he put that lengthy drought to bed quickly with a pretty backhander just 5:28 into the first period. Torey Krug and Pastrnak had the assists on Marchand's 18th career playoff tally and first power play strike of the tilt. The Maple Leafs tied it on a similar goal at 16:52 of the first: a backhander by Zach Hyman after he sped past David Krejci and Charlie McAvoy. Connor Brown and Morgan Rielly (who spells it like that?) had the assists on what turned out to be high-powered Toronto's only goal. After that, the Bruins' superior defense and goaltender Tuukka Rask (26 saves) locked things down.

Boston outshot Toronto 9-7 in the even first frame but they started to take control in the second by outshooting their Original Six foe 16-11. David Backes put the B's ahead for good at 15:43 of the second period when he cleaned up a loose puck by kicking it to his stick blade and lifting it over Andersen. Backes' 14th career playoff goal was assisted by Krejci and McAvoy. The biggest goal of the game and backbreaker to the Leafs was the one that they allowed with 38 seconds left in the second: Pastrnak took a feed from Marchand (and Bergeron) and sniped a shot over Andersen's blocker side before he even had time to fully react. Pastrnak's third career playoff goal was a beauty, a fitting way to firmly take control of the game.

Credit to the Bruins for not taking their feet off the gas in the third as they outshot the Leafs 15-9 and scored two more memorable goals. Sean Kuraly had missed the last seven games of the regular season with an upper-body injury but he announced his postseason presence with a highlight reel goal-Sidney Crosby style-where he basically bunted the puck out of mid-air after Pastrnak had driven to the net and caused a huge pileup. Kuraly's third career playoff goal was also assisted by Chara. Toronto head coach Mike Babcock stuck with Andersen the whole way, even after he gave up a goal to Krejci at 11:29 that went five-hole on him when the Bruins center was behind the net. It was that kind of a mess for Toronto as Krejci bagged his 30th career playoff goal, assisted by Jake DeBrusk (1st career playoff point) and Krug.

I'd be shocked if Saturday's Game 2 (8, NESN) resembles Game 1 in any shape or form. The Maple Leafs will be desperate to get a split at the Garden so expect a much better effort from them (Andersen I'm looking at you). Kadri's likely suspension won't help matters since he's their second line center that plays in every situation, he's basically a poor man's version of Marchand. Likewise, the Bruins are sure to face a little more adversity than they did in this cakewalk. Still, if they can find a way to win Game 2, this series could be over much earlier than anyone would have expected. PS what's better than playoff hockey? I know I say this every year but it's so great to have it back in our lives, the crowd for Game 1 was superb.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

B's Choke Away the Atlantic Division Title & #1 Seed in the East So They'll Face Leafs in Rd. 1

It's been an unexpectedly wonderful 2017-18 regular season for your Boston Bruins (50-20-12) but there is no way to sugarcoat tonight's result: their 4-2 loss to the Panthers (44-30-8) at TD Garden was an unmitigated disaster that ultimately could cost them the chance at the Stanley Cup this spring/summer. A win would have netted the B's many nice things: the Atlantic Division title, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference (with home ice throughout) and perhaps most importantly, a first-round date with New Jersey (44-29-9), a team that they went 3-0 against this season and is undoubtedly the worst outfit to make it from the East. Instead, Boston finished second in the Atlantic Division which means that they'll face Toronto (49-26-7)-one of the best teams in the NHL and a club that went 3-1 vs. their Original Six rivals during this campaign.

The oddest part of this evening is that with so much on the line, the Black and Gold came out flat yet again (an all too common theme lately). Panthers rookie Henrik Borgstrom (who just a few weeks ago was playing at the University of Denver) scored his first NHL goal at 1:22 of the first period, assisted by former Bruins great Frank Vatrano. The Bruins seemed to wake up less than seven minutes later as David Backes deposited a rebound by James Reimer (33 saves, 2 goals allowed). Kevan Miller and David Krejci had the assists on Backes' 14th goal of the season. Vatrano is apparently becoming something of a Bruins killer as he bagged a goal in his second straight game vs. Boston. His one-timer at 16:46 of the first period restored Florida's lead while Jared McCann and Jamie McGinn (say that ten times fast) provided the assists on Vatrano's seventh goal of the season.

The B's successfully flushed a crappy (get it?!) first period down the toilet last night against Ottawa (28-43-11) but it proved to be not nearly as easy against the Panthers who have to be one of the best non-playoff teams in NHL history (they had 96 points, only one less than Columbus and New Jersey). Something called Maxim Mamin (what a great name!) beat Tuukka Rask (22 saves) with another one-timer at 13:33 of the second period for a 3-1 Florida advantage. Reimer stopped Jake DeBrusk on a breakaway later in the frame as the Bruins were still down two goals when the second had mercifully ended.

Boston finally woke up in the third period but it was much too late. Jonathan Huberdeau's double-minor for high sticking on Zdeno Chara sparked a short-lived comeback attempt by the B's as David Pastrnak cashed in with a power-play goal at 9:54. Pasta's team-best and career-high 35th goal of the season was assisted by Patrice Bergeron (3 goals, 6 assists in his last 9 games) and Ryan Donato. Reimer actually left late in the third with a leg injury but Roberto Luongo (8 saves) of all people managed to hang on for the win. Evgenii Dadonov sent Bruins fans running to the exits when he put in a juicy rebound at 18:11. McCann assisted on Dadonov's 28th goal of the season which handed their Sunshine State neighbors (Tampa Bay) the Atlantic Division and top seed in the East.

In the last week or so, the Bruins appeared to be understandably gassed. They lost four out of their last five games which is not exactly what you want to see from a team that will be expected to make a deep playoff run. Still, it sounds like the Nashes (Rick and Riley) should hopefully be back for Game 1 vs. Toronto on Thursday (7, NESN) which would give their forward lines some additional quality depth. Game 2 is Saturday night (8, NESN) with the series shifting to Toronto for Game 3 on Patriots Day (7, NESN) and next Thursday (7, NESN).

Thankfully, I'm not in the prediction business but you are crazy if you think that Bruins-Maple Leafs will be decided either way by a sweep or in five games. This has epic six or seven-game tight playoff series written all over it. Besides Tampa Bay (54-23-5) vs. New Jersey, the other Eastern Conference series are Washington (49-26-7) vs. Columbus (45-30-7) and Pittsburgh (47-29-6) vs. Philadelphia (42-26-14). I would argue that there is nothing in sports better than the Stanley Cup Playoffs so you have to savor all of them that you can get. Like the Bruins, we all could use a little rest before the fun begins on Wednesday for some teams and Thursday for them. See you then.