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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Maple Leafs Record Their 1st Playoff Win In 9 Years

The Maple Leafs looked like a completely different team tonight in Game 2 at TD Garden than the shell-shocked, overwhelmed squad that lost 4-1 to the Bruins in Game 1 on Wednesday. Toronto got what they came for-a road win-with a 4-2 victory over Boston. Game 3 shifts back to Toronto's Air Canada Centre starting on Monday (7 p.m., NESN).

This was the Maple Leafs' first playoff win since April 30, 2004 and they certainly earned it. Unlike in Game 1, they didn't score the game's first goal but that didn't matter since they hit the Bruins with a three-goal run spanning the second period and start of the third. James Reimer (39 saves) gave up some juicy rebounds all night but the Bruins were only able to capitalize on one of them. He was good enough to notch his first career playoff win.

Tuukka Rask (28 saves) actually played really well with some outstanding stops but there is only so much he can do when his leaky defense is giving up breakaways and not taking care of guys right on his doorstep. It wasn't the reason they lost the game but Boston certainly missed the services of Andrew Ference (suspended for Game 2 after his elbow of Mikhail Grabovski in Game 1). That changed all the defensive pairings, the excellent combo of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg was broken up in favor of Chara and Adam McQuaid; Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk; rookie Dougie Hamilton (playing in his first career NHL playoff game) and Wade Redden. As you'd expect, things didn't go that well. That's why I think Hamilton will be a healthy scratch again in Game 3 when Ference returns.

Speaking of suspensions, don't be shocked if Maple Leafs goon/ladies man Dion Phaneuf misses a game after he elbowed Daniel Paille in a very similar play to what earned Ference a seat on the ninth floor.

Nathan Horton scored a goal for the second straight game, at 1:56 of the second period to give Boston its only lead (1-0). Milan Lucic and David Krejci assisted as Horton drove to the net and was lucky enough to have the puck bounce off his skate (which he didn't mean to do) past Reimer.

Toronto is a Canadian hockey team (you learn something new every day) so just like the Canucks and Canadiens, they have to dive like their life depends on that. There must be something in the water up there. It turned out well in Game 2 since a flop earned a tripping call on Chara which led to Joffrey Lupul's goal at 5:18 of the second period. Lupul tipped a shot from the point and then fought for his rebound, assists went to Jake Gardiner and Carl Gunnarsson.

Lupul gave the Leafs the lead for good at 11:56 with a backhander from Matt Frattin and Phaneuf. For whatever reason, Toronto seemed to win most battles for the puck and they were rewarded time and again.

Things went so well for Toronto that even Phil Kessel managed to score a goal. Seidenberg and Boychuk were caught napping in the Leafs' zone and Nazem Kadri hit Kessel with a stretch pass for a breakaway. He beat Rask 53 seconds into the third period for a 3-1 advantage. Ryan Hamilton had the second assist.

At least the Bruins didn't give up as Boychuk was credited with a goal at 10:35 that appeared to bounce off Seguin (who had screened Reimer). The Bruins had a boatload of chances for the next few minutes but the Leafs hung on and James van Rimesdyk notched his second goal in as many games with a beautiful backhander at 16:53.

Shawn Thornton and Mark Fraser fought with 0.5 seconds left, showing you how nasty this series is starting to get. The Maple Leafs actually had nine more hits (44-35) than the Bruins so that must have been a point of emphasis after they were manhandled in Game 1.

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