BOSTON — Those Beantown ghosts haven’t been exorcised just yet.
And really, they won’t be until the Maple Leafs eliminate the Boston Bruins in the playoffs one spring.
The Leafs, with goaltender Garret Sparks making his third start of 2018-19, were strong early at TD Garden on Saturday night but eventually were overwhelmed by Patrice Bergeron and company, losing 5-1 to suffer their first road loss of the season.
For Sparks, facing the line of Bergeron between David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand was an eye-opener. The trio had nine points, paced by Pastrnak’s hat trick.
“I think the immediate, obvious thing is their chemistry and how they look for each other across the zone,” Sparks said. “It’s not like they’re looking to set each other up 10 feet away, they’re making passes 50, 60 feet and one-timing them.
“It’s just a different look. There’s not a whole lot of lines like that in the NHL and it was an interesting experience going up against them. I know what I have to do next time if I want to get the best of them.”
In the Leafs’ first appearance in the arena since the Game 7 debacle this past April, Sparks finished with 29 saves. The Leafs had 41 shots on Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak, pressed into carrying the load with Tuukka Rask on personal leave, but only John Tavares scored. The Leafs goal came with 30 seconds remaining in the second period after Boston had a 3-0 lead.
With 19 points (10 goals and nine assists) in 17 games, Tavares is on pace for 48 goals and 92 points. Both would be career highs.
Starting a four-game trip, Toronto failed in its attempt to win its first seven road games for the second time in team history.
The only time it happened was in 1940-41, and it should come as no surprise that the first Toronto road loss that season came in Boston by a 5-2 score on Dec. 17. So yes, the Bruins have been breaking the Leafs’ hearts forever.
With the Leafs gathering themselves in the dressing room during the second-period intermission, Elliotte Friedman reported on Hockey Night in Canada that Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has told interested teams to indicate what players they would offer — and to indicate which players they would not be willing to trade — for unsigned winger William Nylander.
Through the team’s media relations staff, Dubas declined to comment on Nylander and was not made available to reporters.
With the Dec. 1 deadline to sign Nylander now inside three weeks, it’s prudent for Dubas to seriously explore all avenues that involve the restricted free agent. This is keeping in mind the Leafs’ first desire is to re-sign Nylander, but it’s the responsibility of Dubas to have contingency plans in place if it becomes clear that will not be possible.
The Leafs have been getting by quite fine without Nylander, but without both the injured Auston Matthews and Nylander in the lineup, are 3-3-0.
Before Tavares scored to end Halak’s shutout bid, the Bruins got a pair of goals in the second period from Pastrnak, one at even-strength and one on the power play.
Bergeron assisted on both goals, and with his first goal in the first period, has 62 points in 65 career games against Toronto.
The Leafs were unable to build off the Tavares goal in the third, as Pastrnak scored on a power play and Joakim Nordstrom got Boston’s fifth goal 26 seconds later.
The Leafs had 20 shots on goal in the first period — their most in any period this season — and held the Bruins to six shots on goal. Bergeron scored the only goal in the opening 20 minutes.
“It’s a 60-minute game,” defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “It’s important to have a good start, I thought we did that, and then we didn’t really follow up.”
Sparks had not played since Oct. 15. There’s the likelihood he will be in goal in Anaheim on Friday, the second of back-to-back games. Despite looking shaky, he said he did not feel bad in the crease.
“It’s a new challenge, sitting long times between starts,” Sparks said. “It’s almost like you really forget that feeling of being in the net. You try to say that practice is your game, but you just can’t recreate game play, so if I get another opportunity I’m going to look to do a little bit more with it.
“It’s a daily process to get closer and closer to where I want to be. I don’t think that anybody hits their peak in November, right?”
Said coach Mike Babcock of Sparks’ performance: “Well, I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t looked at the tape so I can’t really tell you. The bottom line is you win together and lose together.”
The Leafs don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the Game 7 loss against the Bruins — and the manner in which it happened — but they don’t deny the learning that was gained from such an experience.
Toronto had a one-goal lead entering the third period on the night of April 25 but fell apart in the final 20 minutes, losing 7-4 to head into the summer with a big heap of bitterness.
“You can’t really put a value on what it’s like to play in a playoff series like that, but I think when you come back to camp the next year, you’re all a bit more mature, a bit more experienced and you learn a lot from those playoff games,” Rielly said. “Just confidence and more comfortable. I think that those experiences really go a long way.
“There is not really one thing you can take away from it when it comes to playing the game, it’s more the experience of travelling, playing road playoff games — losing a road playoff game is brutal. You learn the importance of Games 1 and 2 (when the Leafs were not good). Lots can be learned, but it’s not one particular thing. It’s the overall experience itself.”
Centre Nazem Kadri’s thinking was in a similar vein.
“Playing in Game 7s, especially Game 7s on the road, are very challenging,” Kadri said. “I think it’s part of the maturation process, especially with the young guys in our dressing room, anybody really, it gives you that sense of urgency and understanding what it takes to move forward in a playoff series.
“(Game 7) still stings a little bit, but it’s not something that we’re looking for any sort of revenge.”
For Rielly, the months that have passed have made it easier to put the loss at the hands of the Bruins in clearer perspective.
“At the time it sucks, it’s about the worst feeling you can get when your year ends,” Rielly said. “We learned a lot from it, but I think it’s now time that we put it behind us and we focus on the future more than the past playoff series.
“When March and April come, we want to be ready and more prepared than we were last year and we earn a spot where we feel like we can (have playoff success).
“I think you have to take it in stride. Teams that are winning now and have won the past few years, have all gone through these things. It’s tough at the time because you want to win, but these are the things that have to happen in order to learn these lessons, but you want to get them out of the way early and start winning.”
Babcock usually doesn’t consume himself with looking in the rearview mirror, and falling to the Bruins in the post-season is no different.
“Any time you lose in the playoffs, you walk through all the things you shoulda, coulda, woulda done, and how you would like to be different,” Babcock said. “Nothing you can do about it, though. We got a whole year to try to get ourselves in a playoff position to have another opportunity.
“What is very clear about the NHL is we all look like we’re the same and then when the playoffs start, you are playing a really good opponent right away.”
The Leafs were scheduled to stay overnight in Boston and fly to Los Angeles on Sunday, with a practice on Monday before taking on the Kings on Tuesday night at the Staples Center to start the California portion of the trip. The state usually has not been a source of good results for the Leafs, and in its three trips with Babcock as coach, Toronto is 2-6-1. Both wins — one last season and one in 2015-16 — came in Anaheim. Expect the Leafs to recall a forward, likely Trevor Moore, in the next 24 hours … Bergeron might not garner the same kind of attraction as players as electrifying as Connor McDavid or Matthews, but ask any NHL player about difficult opponents and Bergeron will be part of the answer. “He does it right every shift,” Leafs forward Zach Hyman said. “He wins faceoffs. His line has the puck all the time. He just does it right. He’s relentless.” … Marchand on the Leafs/Bruins rivalry: “That was a good series (in April). There’s always feelings left over when you go through a series like that. The history we have with Toronto, not just last year but over the past couple decades, it has really amplified the games we play against them.” … Kudos to Gary Bettman for the growth of the NHL in some non-traditional hockey markets and expanding the league’s revenue stream during his time as commissioner. Is there an outstanding reason, however, for Bettman to go into the Hall of Fame while he remains on the job? Why not wait until his reign is done so it can be evaluated properly and fully before deciding whether he is worthy of Hall status? For some, forgetting that Bettman’s rule has included several work stoppages will take a long time.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
Appreciation for Andersen
Few move around the crease as well as Frederik Andersen, and Garret Sparks is no exception. Sparks appeared to be fighting the puck at times, though the Bruins’ top line can make goalies do that.
Patrice Bergeron has made a habit of beating up on the Leafs, and though Toronto knows what’s coming, the Bruins’ top forward and his linemates were unstoppable. Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand combined for nine points.
Better than the score?
To say the Leafs were bad and didn’t have much chance of winning would be selling them short. Yes, the Leafs tailed off after the first period, but when the game ended, had 43 shot attempts in 5-on-5 play, the same number the Bruins had. Both clubs had 14 in the third period.
While the John Tavares line managed to keep pace with the Bergeron line in shot attempts at even-strength, the defence pair of Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey struggled against the trio. “They played well,” Rielly said. “They’re tough to match up against. They’re good.”
Give it up
Coach Mike Babcock was bothered simply by the loss, but once he watches the game film should have a better appreciation for some of the things the Leafs managed to do well. The Leafs hounded the Bruins into 16 giveaways (while committing eight) and had 15 takeaways to the Bruins’ nine.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies