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Lack of urgency and desperation have Maple Leafs on the brink of elimination following 3-1 loss to Bruins

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
1 month ago
Coming off a tough 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 on Wednesday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs welcomed William Nylander back into the lineup, along with T.J. Brodie, in hopes of bouncing back in Game 4 before heading out on the road to Boston for Game 5.

First period:

Similarly to Game 3, the atmosphere inside Scotiabank Arena before the puck drop was electric. And with the home team trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, the crowd needed to rally behind the group in hopes of a win.
Within the first few shifts of the period, the Maple Leafs got the crowd on its feet with some big hits along the boards in the offensive zone. They stayed on their feet because Toronto was headed to its first power play of the contest less than four minutes into the frame after the Bruins were whistled for a too-many-men penalty.
With a great opportunity early in the game to grab the lead, Toronto was searching for answers on the power play after entering last night 1-for-11 on the man advantage in three games. Unfortunately, Toronto produced nothing and wasted a key opportunity. It left a sour taste in Maple Leafs’ fans’ mouths because after going 0-for-1, Mitch Marner would be whistled for an offensive tripping penalty, sending Boston’s power play, generating at 50% these playoffs, to the ice.
Luckily, the penalty kill did their job and killed off Marner’s minor penalty thanks to a key interception from Matthew Knies and an important poke check from Ilya Samsonov, preventing any scoring chance.
With both sides getting an early taste of the special teams, the Maple Leafs would be the next team to have a significant chance to open the scoring after Charlie McAvoy was called for slashing T.J. Brodie on a partial breakaway because the two sides were playing at 4-on-4 due to Pat Maroon and Joel Edmundson in the box for roughing.
As expected, Toronto did nothing with their abbreviated 4-on-3 man advantage and the 50 seconds left on the 5-on-4 man advantage, keeping the score tied at zero a little over halfway through the period.
With all of these chances to score on the power play, it felt like Toronto was going to be on the other end of a goal, and that’s what happened almost immediately after the McAvoy penalty ended. With the fourth line out on the ice for Toronto, Ryan Reaves coughed up the puck in the defensive zone, and former Maple Leaf James van Riemsdyk beat Samsonov five-hole for the 1-0 lead with less than five minutes left in the frame.
Toronto entered the first intermission down 1-0 and outshot 8-7.

Second period:

Although it wasn’t a must-win game for the Maple Leafs, it sure felt like it was because it is hard to imagine this Toronto team overcoming a 3-1 series lead and having to win three consecutive games, two in TD Garden, where it is haunted for the Maple Leafs, and one at home, where they seem to struggle in the playoffs.
Entering the middle period down 1-0 and not looking all that dangerous, Toronto needed to come out for the second frame in attack mode and put the visiting Bruins on their heels. But it didn’t seem like they were all that desperate last night. Neither team looked all that great, but if you had to compare the two sides and pick who looked a little more into the game, it was Boston.
The middle point of the period was approaching, and the Maple Leafs were in the offensive zone, still down 1-0, looking to get on the board to even the game up. Mitch Marner had an easy play along the wall where he could’ve cycled the puck down low, but instead, he curled back toward the direction of the blue line and turned the puck over. The Bruins went the other way and spent a little time in the Toronto zone, eventually drawing a penalty after Max Domi was sent to the box for cross-checking David Pastrnak.
After killing off their only penalty up to this point of the game, Toronto’s penalty kill was tested again 7:23 into the period with Domi in the box for two minutes or less. Unfortunately, their perfect penalty kill didn’t last long. Brad Marchand ripped his third goal of this series into the empty net with Ilya Samsonov well out of position because Charlie McAvoy, who set up Marchand’s goal, faked the shot and had Samsonov committed to the point.
Suddenly, it was 2-0 for the Bruins, the game was halfway over, and the Maple Leafs hadn’t looked all that dangerous despite having two power play opportunities. The boo birds started to come out inside Scotiabank Arena, and rightfully so. This team was not only trailing in the game, on home ice where they’ve struggled as of late in the playoffs, but they were less than 30 minutes away from falling behind 3-1 in the series.
If you thought being down 2-0 to the Bruins heading into the third period was bad, it got worse with less than a minute left in the frame. A bobbling puck came to T.J. Brodie in the defensive zone, played it terribly, setting up a 2-on-0 for Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and the man who Toronto has done a solid job at shutting down this series, potted home his second goal of this series for the commanding 3-0 lead with 42 seconds left on the clock.
Toronto entered the second intermission down 3-0 and outshot 17-16.

Third period:

Up to this point in the game, this truly felt like one of the worst efforts in a playoff game in the Matthews, Marner, Nylander era. It was up there with Game 7 in 2019 when they lost 5-1 to Boston, Game 5 in 2020 when they lost 3-0 to Columbus, and Game 7 in 2021 when they lost 3-1 to Montreal. And to make matters worse, the Maple Leafs PR account announced on X that Auston Matthews wouldn’t return to the game after leaving late in the second period following the Bruins’ third goal. Joseph Woll also came in relief for Ilya Samsonov to start the third period.
But for some reason, some odd reason, there was a tiny ounce of hope left that maybe this team could pull off a similar comeback win as they did in Game 4 of their first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning last year when they trailed 4-1 entering the third period, ultimately scoring three straight (Matthews x2 and Rielly) to force overtime and winning it thanks to Kerfoot.
For that to happen, Toronto needed to come out flying in the final period, even without their best player out on the ice with them for the final 20 minutes. Fortunately, seconds after the PR account announced the Matthews news, Mitch Marner, who was caught on camera hearing it from William Nylander, pulled off one of the nicest goals he’s ever scored, cutting the Bruins’ lead to two just five minutes into the third period.
What has been a tough series for Marner, his goal to make it 3-1 Boston was probably the second-best play he’s had through 12 periods of hockey in this series, and it woke up the crowd, or what was left of it, inside Scotiabank Arena.
That goal went straight to Toronto’s legs, and it got the crowd and their fans back into the game with less than 15 minutes left in regulation. After getting on the scoreboard, the shifts following the tally were some of the best all night long from either team, but Jeremy Swayman continued his mission of crushing the hearts of Maple Leafs fans.
Out of everyone on the ice, Joel Edmundson had two of the best chances all night but couldn’t solve Swayman. The rugged defender was inches away from making it a 3-2 game with a little over halfway to go, but after getting stopped, William Nylander hauled down Jake DeBrusk in the offensive zone, likely to prevent him from racing down the ice with the puck, and Toronto, down by two, headed to the penalty kill for the third time.
Surprisingly, Toronto killed off the Nylander minor, improving to 7-for-13 on the penalty kill this series (yikes). With the teams returning to five-on-five, time was ticking for Toronto to get another goal with just eight minutes left. You’d think of praying for a power play, but with how bad theirs has been, I’m not sure you’d want that. However, it was reality, and Pastrnak was sent to the box for slashing Benoit, sending Toronto to their third power play, with a chance at making things interesting.
I’ll jump to the end of the game: they wasted another power play opportunity and couldn’t beat Swayman, limiting themselves to one goal, extending their streak to 11 consecutive games with scoring three or fewer goals in a playoff game, dating back to Game 5 of their first-round series against the Lightning last year. The lack of production on the power play and the inability to keep the puck out of their net on the penalty kill have also not been great for them.

Who stood out:

I’d love to write about the good things about last night’s loss, but I don’t think there were any, or at least very many. They didn’t look all that engaged through 40 minutes, lost their best player after the second period, had the fans witness Nylander and Matthews give it to Marner on the bench, and their special teams continued to hurt this team. Game 5 is frankly a must-win game for this organization.
You can catch Game 5 of the Toronto Maple Leafs – Boston Bruins first-round series on Tuesday night from TD Garden when the series shifts back to Boston. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT. 

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