By DAVID SHOALTS
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
TORONTO -- After two games of getting run over by the Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs took their fans for one of their familiar roller-coaster rides.
Mixing the running and gunning that was not seen in the first two games of this NHL playoff series with lots of close calls in their own end, the Leafs took a 4-2 win Monday night. The wildly entertaining win gave them some breathing room in the series by cutting the Bruins' lead to 2-1.
The tension didn't release until 16:25 of the third period when Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner flew off on a two-on-one rush and Marleau scored his second goal of the night to put the Leafs up by two.
It all started with head coach Mike Babcock giving his critics the bird in the morning.
Babcock is nothing if not stubborn. In the face of unanimous scorn from the fans and media toward invisible centre Tomas Plekanec, Babcock doubled down. He promoted Plekanec to second-line centre, Nazem Kadri's job before he was suspended for three games due to a massive brain cramp.
This was unveiled at the game-day skate, with Plekanec between Kadri's regular linemates, Patrick Marleau, whose switch to centre for Game 2 was a flop, and Mitch Marner. Plekanec and his new linemates were also assigned to the Patrice Bergeron line.
Clearly, Babcock must have stumbled on that old YouTube footage of Brad Marchand saying Plekanec, more than any other NHL forward, drove him crazy.
Of course, Marchand was talking about the Plekanec circa 2009-12 roughly, when he was still with the Montreal Canadiens and still interested in playing.
The coach was not quite as supportive when the topic of another passenger, forward William Nylander, came up. Especially when Nylander and the rest of the Leafs' top line is compared to the Bruins' big three, Bergeron, Marchand and David Pastrnak.
"At this time of the year, we've talked a lot about this in our room, it's great to have skill but without will, nothing happens.
You're just out there," Babcock said.
When the puck dropped to start the game, the Leafs players came out with the determination their coach was talking about.
Nylander must have been listening, because by the end of the second period he and Matthews were flying like it was the regular season.
The Leafs' defence, while improved, still had the habit of throwing pizzas across the middle of the defensive zone. There were at least three giveaways in the first period, two by the defence, and in the first two games the Bruins would surely have put those pucks in the net.
Another big difference from the first two games was the special-teams play. The Leafs managed to stay out of the penalty box in the first 40 minutes, which was enough to finally put a dent in the Boston power play.
Then the Leafs scored a firstperiod power-play goal thanks to an iffy delay-of-game call on Bruins centre Riley Nash when he may or may not have sent the puck directly over the glass.
James van Riemsdyk, another of the absent ones, scored one of his patented redirects in front of the net at 17:07.
Not only was it the first goal of the game, it was the first time the Leafs held a lead in the series and it was their second powerplay goal in eight chances.
Things grew tighter in the second period, a little tighter than they should have thanks to goaltender Frederik Andersen. He made a great glove save on David Krejci to start the period but then let a routine shot from the point by Boston defenceman Adam McQuaid squeeze between his legs to tie the score.
A few seconds later, Marleau and Marner got the lead back for the Leafs on a nice two-on-one with Marleau finishing on a great pass from Marner. But Andersen committed the cardinal sin for goalies - he let in another softie after his teammates worked mightily to get the lead back.
Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara bounced a shot off Andersen's helmet from in close for the goal.
Fortunately for the Leafs, Matthews and Nylander stepped forward in the last half of the period with their best work of the series.
Matthews put the Leafs back in front, 3-2, with a great shot on a great feed from Nylander at 14:42.
It was his first goal of the series.
Andersen redeemed himself in the first minute of the third period when the Leafs took their first penalty. Familiar culprits Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev let Rick Nash and Pastrnak get loose in front but Andersen made a great save on Pastrnak and the Leafs managed to kill the penalty. Then he saved a sure goal with two minutes to go, diving backward to get the blade of his stick on a shot.
Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen and defenceman Roman Polak scramble against Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk to locate the puck in front of the Toronto net on Monday.
FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS