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Knee Jerk Reaction: Leafs fall in familiar fashion as Bruins take 2-1 series lead

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Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Richard
1 month ago
As Brad Marchand alluded to following Game 2, this iteration of the Leafs is built differently and presents different challenges than in years past, but many of the same old issues surfaced as they dropped Game 3 to Boston by a score of 4-2.
It was a tightly contested affair in the early going, and the Leafs looked shaky off the opening faceoff, but they seemed to settle in after killing off an early penalty to Simon Benoit for shooting the puck over the glass just 40 seconds into the game. It was a positive step for a unit that has been a point of concern for Sheldon Keefe and his staff all season, bailing out Benoit and preventing the Bruins from establishing momentum early on.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, that was just about the extent of their special teams success on Wednesday night. Their powerplay was among the best in the league for most of the regular season, but they limped into the postseason as the top unit looked disjointed down the stretch. After coming up with a key goal in Toronto’s Game 2 victory, they had a chance to take control of the game on the man advantage as the Bruins got themselves into penalty trouble but failed to convert on four consecutive powerplay opportunities – a rare occurrence in itself during the postseason.
The top unit of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Morgan Rielly nearly found the back of the net early on their first powerplay chance, frantically firing pucks at the net and getting bodies in front of Jeremy Swayman. After that early flurry, however, the Leafs’ powerplay seemed to zap as much energy out of the building as it created.
Their final attempt of the second period came shortly after Trent Frederic had tied the game at one, once again providing the Leafs with a chance to regain momentum and take the lead into the final frame. Instead, it was negated by a roughing call on Bertuzzi that set the Bruins up with a powerplay chance of their own early in the third period, and as he has done time and time again, Jake DeBrusk made them pay.
DeBrusk collected a rebound created by a high shot from Marchand and deposited it into the cage, giving the Bruins their first lead of the game just over a minute into the final frame, but the Leafs would be given a chance to respond once again. Following a hooking call on Mason Lohrei, the Leafs’ top unit threatened once again but were unable to beat Swayman, who was rock solid in the Bruins’ crease again.
With so many missed opportunities throughout the game, it felt like it wasn’t going to be the Leafs’ night, but they persevered until Bertuzzi got a piece of a point shot from Rielly, deflecting it past Swayman to tie the game with under ten minutes remaining in the third period.
Bertuzzi’s tying marker injected life back into the Scotiabank Arena, and the Leafs nearly regained the lead just seconds later, but the good vibes would be short-lived. As quickly as Toronto’s top line had evened the contest, they gave it right back. The Bruins won a battle below the goal line, Marchand got loose from Domi into open space, and the Bruins were back in front just 28 seconds after the Leafs had tied it up.
Scoring a big goal and quickly giving it back has been a recurring problem for the Leafs, and it was just one of many familiar issues that showed up at the worst time in Game 3. The final nail in the coffin came as the Leafs were pushing for the tying goal late in the third, and with Samsonov on the bench for an extra attacker, Tavares took an obvious holding penalty behind the Bruins’ net to effectively seal the deal.
Samsonov was mostly solid on Wednesday night, but he would likely be the first to admit that he needed to come up with a save on Boston’s opening goal from Trent Frederic. The margins are thin at this time of year, and teams can overcome the odd mistake or bad goal, but it is nearly impossible to win at this time of year when the issues pile up.
While there are a number of things for the Leafs to clean up heading into a pivotal Game 4 on Saturday night, special teams have to be among the biggest concerns. Soft or untimely goals aside, going 0/5 on the powerplay while surrendering two goals on three powerplay attempts for the opposition was the story of the game.
If the Leafs are going to even things up and give themselves a chance to win this series, it’s going to have to start with better play on both special teams units, and it has to start on Saturday night.
Statistics from NHL.com

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