After a nine-year wait, it wasn’t a very auspicious start to the playoffs for the Leafs.
The Leafs went down 4-1 to the Bruins who outplayed, outmuscled and mercilessly pounded the youthful upstarts, supplying a stark reality check. Mikhail Grabovski in particular had a rough night suffering an Andrew Ference elbow to the head and was woozy after being plastered into the glass late in the game by Johnny Boychuk. Ference faces a hearing later today as a result of his questionable hit. But it’s really more of a statement that the Bruins came to play hard; something the Leafs had no answers to. Kessel pulled his usual disappearing act facing his old team while #2 scorer Nazem Kadri looked completely overmatched.
Toronto now has to re-group for game two Saturday and return with a much improved game plan or this series could be done in a week. The Leafs have shown this season they are resilient and have often followed ugly losses with strong efforts.
Maybe it was opening night jitters and the piled up expectations of a pent-up hockey market after such a long playoff drought that contributed to the overall ugliness of their effort.
The flaws that have hampered the Leafs of late were even more exposed by the Bruins’ aggressive play. The month-long trend of being outshot by the opposition continued with the home team outshooting the Leafs 40-20. The two-to-one margin allowed the Bruins some alarmingly wide open shots and scoring chances on frequent turnovers — you could almost see the steam coming out of Randy Carlyle’s ears. The book on Reimer was obviously read by the Bruins — shoot high glove as Johnny Boychuk demonstrated for the fourth Boston goal, a save Reimer needed to make to stave off the nail-in-the-coffin goal.
Expect some changes on the defensive end as Mike Kostka in particular appeared not quite ready for playoff paced hockey. To be fair, so did most of this young Leafs team, 11 of whom got their first taste of the post season last night. Experience for this group is extremely thin compared with a playoff-hardened Bruins squad still living on the vapours of their Stanley Cup win two years ago.
Despite the Bruins drift into the post-season, they’ve obviously found the reset button turning up fierce and ready for the playoffs. Last night they looked a lot more like the 17-3-3 team that began the season, rather than the 2-7 one down the stretch. If it’s the former version, these Maple Leafs can congratulate themselves on being invited to the dance but unfortunately won’t be staying very long.