Tuukka Rask Lifts Bruins to 4-1 Victory Over Maple Leafs

Boston (4) Toronto (1) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Since adjusting their forward lines to favour speed and skill rather than grit and toughness, the Maple Leafs have been playing some of their best hockey as of late.  

During this stretch, Toronto has enjoyed a four-game winning streak and have outscored their opponents by a margin of 16-3. Most recently, this includes back-to-back shutouts from Frederik Andersen and Curtis McElhinney, respectively, in their two previous appearances. 

For how dominant they have been, it begs the question, how long can this Leafs team keep the momentum rolling? Well, a highly-anticipated matchup with Boston might have just answered that…

Saturday night marked the third meeting between the two long-time Original Six rivals, with Boston looking to improve upon their 0-1-1 record in the season series. Toronto entered a hostile environment that is TD Garden, only to be greeted by a sea of black and yellow—certainly not a welcoming place for travelling Leaf fans.

On the injury front, the Maple Leafs would welcome back a pair of reinforcements on the back-end with the ever-important return of Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey. This closely follows the return of Nikita Zaitsev and appears to reinforce Toronto’s blue-line ahead of the trade deadline.

With Rielly’s activation from Injured Reserve, Justin Holl was the odd-man out and sent back to the Marlies following a historical NHL debut with the big club. Many believed he would be given another opportunity to play after becoming just the sixth defenceman in NHL history to record two goals in their first two games—but that was not the case. 

It’s a nice problem to have if you’re Toronto, especially when defensive depth is perceived to be an issue.

For Boston, they would welcome Charlie McAvoy back into the lineup after missing four games recovering from a heart procedure. Additionally, Brad Marchand served the fourth of his five-game suspension.

A special congratulations would be in order for Bruins' captain, Zdeno Chara, who would play in his 1400th career game.

As the action got underway, the home crowd was treated to an early goal from fan-favourite—Patrice Bergeron.

Defensive giveaways would prove costly as Boston corralled the puck and gained possession in a prime scoring area. Both Auston Matthews and Nikita Zaitsev failed to exit their own zone and instead surrendered the puck to a determined Danton Heinen on the counter-attack. Heinen stripped Zaitsev below the face-off circle and fed the eventual goal scorer located in the high-slot, to which Bergeron unleashed a wrist shot and recorded his 22nd goal of the season.

That lead was short-lived, however, as Charlie McAvoy’s return was spoiled by an own-goal that allowed Toronto to even the score at 1-apiece.

A power play opportunity allowed the Leafs to spread apart and exploit Boston’s penalty kill, with a plethora of puck-movers at the helm no less. The Bruins were caught puck-watching and left Toronto’s blue-line options untouched, which is when Nazem Kadri located Morgan Rielly sitting alone at the point. Rielly opted to feed his defensive partner, Mitch Marner, who rifled a shot towards Tuukka Rask—but it would instead take a favourable redirect, with McAvoy swiping the puck into his own net.

Boston went on to flip the script in the second frame and managed to convert on several power play opportunities of their own.

David Pastrnak broke the second-period silence with a slick short-side snipe at the 9:22 mark to give his team a 2-1 lead. Ron Hainsey failed to handle a soft dump-in and was instead caught flat-footed attempting to chase-down the speedy Czech, who won the foot race and then fooled Frederik Andersen from a poor angle.

The Bruins’ power play success was not done there either, as Torey Krug would go on to record his 8th goal of the season while on the man-advantage. A simple cycle around the offensive zone found the stick of Austin Czarnik, who slid the puck over to Krug for a blistering one-timer past Andersen. His 8th goal of the season would give the B’s a commanding 3-1 advantage shortly before the second intermission.

Toronto came out firing on all cylinders and managed to outshoot the opposition 10-6 in the final twenty minutes—but would ultimately come up short on the scoreboard. An empty-net tally sealed the victory for Boston in front of their home crowd, courtesy of Tim Schaller.

Schaller's 7th goal of the season ties a career-high. 

Despite an effort that can be improved upon, Toronto could also be running into a case of the hot goaltender, as Tuukka Rask has gone 18-0-2 over his last 20 starts. That’s a stretch that has not seen him lose in regulation since November 26th, 2017. 

Luckily for Toronto, they will get a shot at redemption versus Boston at the end of the month. In another Saturday night showdown, that game will go on February 24th.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the Leafs will have a quick turnaround before challenging the Anaheim Ducks on Monday and will need to move past it. Puck drop is set at 7:00 p.m. EST.

Additionally, Toronto should be looking to take advantage of their upcoming five-game home-stand and give the Bruins a run for home-ice advantage down the stretch run.

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca

On Twitter - @GordBrown_

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs