John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

Leafs 4, Bruins 2: The Leafs have arrived, time for a series

Sara Civian
April 16, 2018 - 10:33 pm

What, you thought the team that took the 3-1-0 regular season series over the Bruins wasn’t ever going to show up in the playoffs?

It took two games of total domination via David Pastrnak, and Auston Matthews’ invisibility cloak had a nice run there for sure. But the Toronto Maple Leafs stopped fixating on Brad Marchand long enough to focus on themselves.

The collective realization that they didn’t have to just react to what the Bruins were doing -- maybe they could even (gasp) set the tone -- arrived in the first period of their 4-2 Game 3 win.

It was almost startling to see Toronto’s defense assemble in front of the net in a way that made sense. Then, what seemed to be a robotic simulation of a d-core in Game 2 became sentient. Defensive tricks like checking the opponent and battling for the puck were now up Toronto’s sleeve, so head coach Mike Babcock’s never-ending quest to match up against the Bruins’ first line became a byproduct of actually playing the darn game.

The Leafs contained that first line well enough to take their first lead of the series, regardless of how questionable the delay of game call on Riley Nash was:

The Game 2 Leafs would’ve let Tim Schaller convert their power play into a shorthanded goal. The Game 3 Leafs capitalized on the bad call seven seconds in, with a James van Riemsdyk snapshot at 17:05. The Leafs had a 12-8 shot advantage at the end of the first. They unleashed the speed that’s been promised of them since before Game 1, they opened up the ice with their passing, and they didn’t let the Bruins bully them in the neutral zone.

It was all drastically different from Saturday night in Boston, and there would’ve been more to show for it if Tuukka Rask hadn’t come up with a few huge saves.

If you were getting used to the tempo of these games, you might’ve expected the floodgates to open in Toronto’s favor.

Not if the reunited Bruins’ fourth line, and uhh, Adam McQuaid had anything to say about it.

43 seconds later, Patrick Marleau stole the Toronto lead back. That’s when this started to maybe resemble the series it was supposed to be. Zdeno Chara answered from a weird angle, as he did 14 years ago against the same team in the playoffs. The puck bounced off Frederik Andersen and into the net. So there were no floodgates.

Auston Matthews delivered the game-winner, and it was like he convinced a city, a team, and himself that the Leafs are still in this thing. That’s exactly when this became the series it was supposed to be.

We can talk circles around the depth of this Bruins team, but its first line is the object of Babcock’s obsession for a reason: It’s as unstoppable as 20 points in two games when it’s on, and tonight the Leafs shut it off.

The Bruins' best shot to get it back, the power play in the third, hit at least three posts. The team as a whole missed 18 shots. The loss wasn’t for lack of trying, so don't worry about this team reverting back to pre-playoff form. It’s just that the Leafs decided they’re going to try now, too.

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