The Bruins and Leafs skated in a playoff atmosphere in Toronto. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports)
It was the most important game of the season for the Bruins. Same for the Maple Leafs, too, actually. And it lived up to the billing.
It was a game that would have led you to believe that it was being played in April and not March. No check went unfinished. No whistle went without some post-whistle shoving. No line change went unmatched by Bruce Cassidy and the Leafs’ Mike Babcock.
It was the kind of game you would never want to see decided by a questionable penalty call one way or the other.
So naturally, that’s exactly how a 4-2 final between the Bruins and Leafs ended in their fourth and final regular season head-to-head.
With the Bruins in pursuit of the go-ahead goal against the Leafs’ Frederik Andersen, B’s forward Dominic Moore was whistled for an interference on a drive to the front of the Toronto net. Matched up with Nikita Soshnikov, Moore outmuscled the Maple Leaf forward, who knew he was coming, and as Soshnikov tumbled down to the ice, the hands of the official went up almost immediately.
In a game that ramped up in physicality and intensity as it got deeper — and with numerous non-calls that benefitted the Bruins, be it the Kevan Miller high-stick on Auston Matthews, or Torey Krug practically hugging a forward in the defensive zone — the referees chose that by all meaningless play in front of Andersen’s crease, and with 2:54 left in the game, to blow a whistle.
And when top-ranked Maple Leafs power play went to work, they did not miss, as Tyler Bozak scored the game-winning goal with just under two minutes left in the third period. The Leafs then added empty-net goals from William Nylander and Nazem Kadri to make it 4-1 and the Leafs had their first season sweep of the Bruins (more than three games) since they were called the St. Pat’s.
Double yuck. Triple yuck. Yuck City.
“It is,” Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said when asked if that was a tough call against the club. “But what can you do?”
The Moore penalty was not the only gaffe of the night for this crew. There was also a stretch where they blew the whistle down because Matt Martin was back in the Boston zone with a skate malfunction. Not a big deal… but the Bruins were in the attacking zone and had possession of the puck. Martin’s skate issue is not a reason for the play to be blown dead. There was also the fact that the Bruins were on a four-on-four when the Leafs scored their first goal of the night. A four-on-four that happened because Patrice Bergeron was upset after Nikita Soshnikov tried to board him into the year 2018 on a ridiculously dangerous hit.
And as difficult as it may be to sit here and say that these calls did not do the B’s in tonight in Toronto, they didn’t.
In a game that meant so much for the Bruins, their effort left quite a bit to be desired.
Aside from the usual excellence of the Bergeron line, it was difficult to find another line that was able to build off that pressure. With the exception of the fourth line with Moore, Riley Nash, and Noel Acciari — who finished the night with one goal on a combined 11 shots and seven hits to their name — the Bruins got almost nothing from those below the Bergeron line. When you’re a team like the Bruins and your fourth line is your second-best line, you’re often not going to have a great night.
In over 21 minutes of time on ice, David Krejci was by all means a ghost, with zero shots and a minus-3 rating. He wasn’t the only Bruins skater that finished the night without a shot, though, as he joined by Drew Stafford and Brad Marchand in that regard.
It just wasn’t good enough across the board, and it showed, as Rask had to stand on his head for 25 saves on 27 shots, and did just that for the most part, with an additional punch to the throat coming with the fact that both of the goals the Leafs scored on Rask came almost immediately after Rask made a straight-up ridiculous save or sometimes two.
And for the first time since Cassidy took over the club, the Bruins have losses in back-to-back games.
There’s little time for the Bruins to sulk, however, as the Senators are waiting in Boston for tomorrow’s equally huge showdown.