The Bruins had a chance to end Toronto’s 2017-18 season on Saturday night in Game 5 at TD Garden but they just couldn’t do it as the Maple Leafs survived 4-3 to trim Boston’s series lead to 3-2. They’ll meet again at Air Canada Centre on Monday (7, NESN) for Game 6.
There is no doubt that this was a missed opportunity for the B’s but the nature of the NHL playoffs is that you have to bounce back right away and not things linger from game to game if you want to continue to advance. No single player was more emblematic of the up-and-down nature of it all than Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask who was rightfully hailed as the hero of Game 4’s improbable 3-1 victory when he made 31 saves then he was the scapegoat tonight, not lasting for half of the contest (29:07 to be exact as he allowed four goals on only 13 shots).
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy always stresses that his team starts on time (meaning that they are ready to go from the opening face-off) except that they did anything but that in Game 5 as they trailed 2-0 10:12 into the contest. “The stuff that we’ve done lately: defend and get saves, that didn’t happen early on. We found our legs eventually and fought our way back in, but the start wasn’t good enough.”
It’s one of the most basic stats in hockey but often one of the easiest predictors of future success: which team scores the first goal of the game. Thus far in the Games 1-5, the team that has scored first has won every tilt. That’s no guarantee that whomever notches the first goal on Monday is destined to win but it would certainly seem to help matters. At times on Saturday, the Bruins trailed not only 2-0 but also 3-1 and at their lowest moment 4-1 midway through the second period (which is when Rask was pulled in favor of backup goaltender Anton Khudobin). After getting blanked in Games 3 and 4, Boston’s power play woke up once it found itself back in Boston. The problem was that David Backes’ second period tally on the man-advantage ultimately wasn’t enough as the unit was a whole went a disappointing 1-for-6 including scoreless on a two-man advantage in the second that lasted for 1:34.
The B’s have no reason to panic since that 3-1 series lead afforded them essentially a Game 5 to burn (not that they wanted to do that) if they failed to get the job done. Game 6 represents their final breathing room that they would have since Game 7s in the NHL playoffs are always a complete crapshoot no matter if you’re on home ice or not.
“We still have a lot of confidence,” said Bruins forward Tim Schaller who had an assist in Game 5. “We had a good pushback so we’re going to take that and hopefully have a good first five minutes in Toronto and go from there.”
Tampa Bay disposed of New Jersey in a tidy five games with their series ending on Saturday afternoon, giving Boston another reason to put this Toronto series in their rearview mirror since the winner of Bruins-Leafs will get the Lightning in the second round of the postseason. The challenges only increase in every round, meaning that when you have a chance to get rid of an opponent, you have to do it. The sliver of good news for the Black and Gold in Game 5 is that Patrice Bergeron returned to action after being a last-minute scratch for Game 4 with an upper-body injury. He showed no ill effects of whatever is ailing him so he should be in the lineup for Game 6.