BOSTON – When the first round playoff series against the Maple Leafs is over with and the Boston have either advanced or started making tee times, one thing will remain true about the games played. It feels pretty clear at this point that many people, the fans, the media and perhaps some people in the B’s organization as well, vastly underestimated how difficult things would be against the Maple Leafs, and just how much that Toronto team has grown in a season.
One would have assumed that the Bruins would be the victorious team in a scoreless defensive battle that went into the third period before the first goal was scored. That assumption would have been wrong in Game 5 as Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen scored third period goals to pace the Leafs to a tight, defense-heavy 2-1 win over the B’s at TD Garden.
The Bruins have now lost two of their three home games in this series and have been held to just one goal in two of those three defeats at TD Garden. It’s a far cry from the Leafs team that ranked 20th in the league in defense during the regular season averaging three goals allowed per game, and the B’s are learning that the hard way.
Clearly some credit is due to the Maple Leafs for the way they’re playing, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy also sounded like he’s pretty tired of watching his team fail to get to their highest level of play in this series.
“This is a whole new group, and they’ve got to find their way. That was the message [to the team]. There was a lack of urgency in our play [in Game 5]. At times it was there, but in general I don’t think this team has reached where it can get to in the playoffs in terms of team play,” said Cassidy. “We’ve had pockets of it and we’ve played well at times, with value for both of our wins. But we have to reach our level if we expect to advance.”
While it’s clear that the Bruins aren’t playing at their level best, it’s also about the Maple Leafs improving from last season. It’s almost as if adding a world class two-way center in John Tavares and a shutdown defenseman in Jake Muzzin have made the Maple Leafs significantly better than they were last spring.
“We obviously would like to see them generate more, but there’s not a lot of room out there. We’ve said it. I think Toronto has done a better job defensively on us. We have to fight our way through it, find different ways to crack at it, and I think we did out there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I thought we got some goals [in Game 4] because we caught them in between on a pinch. We recovered a puck, got it to the top of the crease for the Marchand goal.
“Obviously, our power played helped, but we did get three even-strength goals, and I thought tonight we were having a tough time.”
So what are the Bruins to do if they want to change things in the series?
It starts with getting offense from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak given the overwhelming success the Bruins have enjoyed when they get on the score sheet, and it continues with getting Jake DeBrusk going after he was a key offensive figure with five goals in last spring’s first round series. It sounds like the Bruins think part of the problem has been worrying too much about what Toronto is doing, and not putting enough into dictating terms in the series with their own play.
One would expect that’s going to change in Sunday’s Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena with the B’s backs against the proverbial wall.
“We’re all capable of so much more, especially collectively as a group. We have the ability to beat anyone in this league and play at the top consistently, and we showed that throughout the season,” said Torey Krug. “Now we reach this point where both teams are working hard. They’ve done a good job, but I think we just need to play up to our potential, focus on ourselves and make them adapt to us. Don’t worry too much about what they’re doing and instead focus on ourselves.”
If the Bruins carry through with all of their real talk following Game 5, there will be probably be a good result in Game 6 and an ensuing Game 7 at TD Garden next week. If they don’t then everybody will be left to wonder how this 107-point team from the regular season never quite made it to that level once they hit the Stanley Cup playoff circuit in April.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.