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Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Maple Leafs Most Certainly Look Like a Playoff Team In 2016-17 While The Bruins Sadly Do Not

You could make an easily compelling case that tonight was the most important game of the season thus far for the Bruins (26-23-6). So you can probably guess how things turned out for them at TD Garden vs. the Maple Leafs (24-17-9) as Tuukka Rask faced 14 shots and only made 10 saves therefore he was pulled halfway through the contest with his team trailing 4-1. The Bruins made a valiant comeback attempt (tying it at 4-4 midway through the 3rd period on Ryan Spooner's goal and then 5-5 late in the 3rd on Patrice Bergeron's power play goal) but earned zero points as UNH's James van Riemsdyk scored the game-winner (his 2nd of the game) at 18:24 for a 6-5 Toronto victory.

This was the third of four meetings in 2016-17 between the Bruins and Maple Leafs with Toronto improving to 3-0. To make matters worse for the B's, they are now only one point ahead of their Original Six rivals who have a whopping five games in hand on them. To further illustrate just how vital this tilt was, SportsclubStats.com says that Boston's playoff chances dropped from 37.2% to 27.8%. They would have gone up by 7.0% with a regulation win, ugh. Fatigue (and injuries) have clearly caught up to Rask who was making his 12th straight start in goal for Boston (and 18 out of the last 19 games).

The B's actually led 1-0 2:17 into the first period as David Pastrnak (21st goal of the season) finished a pass from Bergeron and Chara. Frederik Andersen (36 saves) remains unbeaten (7-0-0) vs. Boston in his career despite such a high-scoring back and forth affair. Toronto has a scary amount of uber-talented rookies led by William Nylander (1st NHL hat trick) and Auston Matthews (3 assists). Nylander tied it up at one after pretty passing with Nazem Kadri and Matthews before he wove around Rask for his 11th goal of the season. The roof caved in on Rask in a rough second period as Toronto scored three goals in the span of 1:46: van Riemsdyk capitalized on an Adam McQuaid turnover then Nylander scored a pair of goals 38 seconds apart (2nd was on a power play) to complete his hat trick. Bruins head coach Claude Julien called his timeout after the third goal and Rask was pulled after the fourth but neither move seemed to produce much of a jolt.

Pastrnak regained some momentum by cutting it to 4-2 (assisted by Bergeron and Chara) at 10:55 then McQuaid and Matt Martin had what might be the fight of the year in the NHL. Both guys traded haymakers for nearly a minute which is a lifetime in a bout. When it was over, the Garden was rocking and Martin had a large cut behind his left ear. Krug's power play goal at 15:53 made it 4-3 Toronto as Pasta and Ryan Spooner assisted on his fifth goal of the season. Spooner put in a rebound at 10:06 of the third period to knot it at four. Chara's third assist tied a career-high (for assists and points in a game) and Dominic Moore notched the other helper.

This isn't your father's Maple Leafs since Toronto didn't seem fazed by blowing a three-goal lead at all (somewhere James Reimer cries himself to sleep). Another rookie Connor Brown made it 5-4 at 15:15 (his 12th goal of the season) with assists going to Zach Hyman and Matthews. Boston cashed in on another power play as Bergeron (13th goal; 5-game point-streak) backhanded in a loose puck at 17:06 from Krug and Brad Marchand (5-game point-streak). It looked like the Bruins would at least steal a point by going to overtime and/or a shootout but Zane McIntyre (10 saves, 2 goals allowed) couldn't get them there, not that it was solely the rookie's backup goaltender's fault. JVR wheeled around the net and beat him with a wicked shot that went top-shelf at 18:24 for his 19th goal of the season. Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner (2 assists) had the helpers on van Riemsdyk's game-winner which was matched by his younger brother Trevor who had the game-winning goal in Chicago's 5-3 win at Dallas this evening.

Boston's next game isn't until Thursday (7, NESN) when they host last season's Western Conference champions-the Sharks (33-17-2). They have a practice tomorrow and then they are getting two days off which they could use. It should be a wacky week as the Bruins have three games (all at the Garden) in four days. Vancouver (23-22-6) is here on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN) and then Montreal (30-16-7) on Sunday night (7:30, NBC Sports). With tonight's loss, the B's fell back under .500 (12-13-0) at the Garden and 3-6-1 in their third jersey (with 5 more games scheduled to wear them) that they might as well burn at this point. The Sharks and Canadiens are both really good and the Canucks are mediocre (plus it will feel like a 10 am start for their bodies) so make of that what you will.



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