BOSTON – The first-game jitters are gone. Their top players are scoring. And the Toronto Maple Leafs are home for the next two games.
Everything seems to be going their way.
But everything seemed to be going the Boston Bruins’ way after a dominant 4-1 win in their playoff opener. Then the Maple Leafs took control with a hard-hitting first period and a 4-2 victory in Game 2.
So all the cheering on Monday night in the first playoff game in Toronto since 2004 won’t help if the Bruins bounce back the way the Maple Leafs did.
“There’s going to be a lot of, I guess, media coverage and a lot of things said and a lot of things done,” Toronto Coach Randy Carlyle said, “but we have to stay focused on what we can control and we have to prepare ourselves to play a better Boston hockey club.”
The win that evened the best-of-seven series came exactly nine years after the last postseason game in Toronto. The Maple Leafs overcame a 2-0 deficit in the third period but lost 3-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Jeremy Roenick’s goal 7:39 into overtime in Game 6 of the second round.
On Saturday night, there were plenty of loud fans sporting blue-and-white Maple Leafs jerseys in Boston. Imagine how many there will be in Toronto.
“I don’t think we’re a team that lets those things distract us,” Bruins Coach Claude Julien said Sunday. “We’ve been through that before and we’ve played Montreal so many times in the playoffs, and that’s a pretty hostile environment as well.”
The Bruins also will have to handle opposing players who are better prepared for the playoff intensity than they were before the series. Thirteen Maple Leafs players have made their postseason debuts this year — 10 in the first game.
Boston’s playoff experience — 17 current Bruins were on the team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago — is no longer as big an advantage.
In Game 2, Toronto forwards Matt Fratin and Ryan Hamilton and defenseman Jake Gardiner saw their first postseason action. Each had an assist.
“It’s a great sign when they step in and make a contribution. It’s worthwhile because it’s not a lot of fun when you’re not playing for extended periods of time,” Carlyle said. “All three players were young players, youthful, and added some enthusiasm to our hockey club.”
So did players Carlyle has come to rely on, forwards whose scoring ability is critical to any success the Maple Leafs have.
Joffrey Lupul scored twice Saturday after getting 11 goals in just 16 regular-season games.
Phil Kessel scored on a breakaway after leading the team with 20 goals.
And James van Riemsdyk scored after tying for second on the team with 18 goals.
“You want your best players to be your best and lead, but it takes every guy in the playoffs,” Lupul said, “from defense blocking shots and getting pucks out and playing physical in front of our net to forwards.
“You can’t win playoff hockey games with just three, four guys going. It’s going to take a team effort.”
The Bruins had that in the opener.
They were the more physical team and continually stymied Toronto’s efforts to get the puck out of its zone. They were more aggressive around the net and forced numerous turnovers.
But in the second game, the Maple Leafs set the tone early, delivering 22 hits in the first period while the Bruins dished out only 10.
“Probably the biggest challenge for our hockey club was finding that consistency in our game” in the past month, Boston left wing Milan Lucic said. “And there’s no better time to find it than now.”
The return of Andrew Ference should help, although no one blamed the loss on his absence.
The defenseman who plays in Boston’s second pairing was suspended for Saturday’s game for elbowing Mikhail Grabovski in the head in Game 1.
“We had different partners as the year went on,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “We do have chemistry with each other no matter who you’re playing with. You’ve just got to talk a lot and talk loud and be the eyes for your partner when he’s going back for the puck.”
No one was back far enough when Kessel got behind the defense and took a pass from Nazem Kadri. The former Bruin who has been jeered on his visits to Boston since he was traded to Toronto in September 2009 shot the puck between Tuukka Rask’s pads for a 3-1 lead 53 seconds into the third period.
It was just his fourth goal in 24 career games against Boston and only the first at even strength.
“It was nice to get one,” Kessel said, “but we’ve just got to keep going.”