Maple Leafs-Bruins Game 1 takeaways: Jake DeBrusk leads dominant effort

Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
6 days ago
After nearly a week of preamble, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins squared off for their fourth playoff series in 11 years. Opening night wasn’t nearly the heavyweight fight we’d come to expect: Boston skated away with a dominant 5-1 victory over Toronto, a jarring result for the road team. There are plenty of corrections to make.
Here are six takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-1 loss to the Bruins:
Jake DeBrusk killed the Maple Leafs in transition and on the power play 
The scouting report on the Bruins entering the series was that they were a league-average possession team that relies on exceptional discipline and counterattacking speed to beat their opponents. This evidently wasn’t a point of emphasis for the Maple Leafs. Through the opening minutes, the Maple Leafs were the better team. Matthew Knies got a spinning shot off that tested Jeremy Swayman early, while Nick Robertson was robbed on the doorstep. Toronto was punished for its first mistake of the game, which created a snowball effect of sorts.
Ryan Reaves went in for a crushing hit, while Joel Edmundson pinched, which allowed Jesper Boqvist to speed away for a 2-on-1. Timothy Liljegren sprawled out to break up the pass but Boqvist perfectly weighed a lateral feed to John Beecher for the game’s opening goal. For large stretches of the contest, Game 1 belonged to Boston’s Other Guys. DeBrusk and Brad Marchand then took over.
DeBrusk was arguably the game’s best player, finishing with two goals and an assist. He circled the net and found Brandon Carlo for Boston’s second goal, after Morgan Rielly and Simon Benoit miscommunicated and allowed him plenty of space to survey the ice. Hampus Lindholm also rubbed Calle Jarnkrok out of the play and there was a clean shooting lane.
Boston’s power play was far superior to Toronto’s in Game 1. It entered the game with a noticable plan of attack as Marchand and Charlie McAvoy worked the puck around expertly. DeBrusk scored his first of two goals by shooting through a blotted Morgan Geekie screen, then notched a brace when Marchand tossed a saucer pass over Joel Edmundson to his linemate on the doorstep. It was an excellent performance from DeBrusk (who narrowly missed a natural hat trick in the second period, ringing a shot off the bar) Marchand, along with Boston’s fourth line, even though the Bruins surely have more in the proverbial tank.
A superior shot and expected goals differential pales in comparison to actual goals 
If you want to feel better about Game 1: Toronto possessed a plus-12 shot differential, outshooting Boston 36-24 while sporting a 61.7 percent share of the expected goals at 5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick. Although the Maple Leafs did a better job of sustaining zone time throughout the game, they only felt like the better team prior to Beecher’s opening goal. It wasn’t a particularly well-structured game from the Maple Leafs either. Mitch Marner was invisible as a playmaker despite a superior 5-on-5 Corsi. Jeremy Swayman was outstanding for the Bruins in goal, but there isn’t much solace to take from the Maple Leafs winning in the stats sheet when it was a morbid affair 30 minutes into the game.
Toronto’s top line struggled immensely with discipline and playmaking
Auston Matthews tried to prove that he’s a one-man offense unto himself, generating a team-best five shots at 5-on-5 while operating as the power play’s fulcrum, looking to feed a net-front John Tavares. Matthews almost scored when Swayman was caught out of his net but hit the post from an exceptionally difficult angle. He used his size and speed well, but his entire line was undisciplined and it offset any good work from Matthews and Bertuzzi — Max Domi’s largest contribution was his pre-series hype video evidently and he struggled to make clever cross-ice reads.
Bertuzzi, Matthews and Domi all took stick fouls and the Bruins punished them for it. Matthews high-sticked Charlie McAvoy with 6:22 remaining in the second, which directly led to DeBrusk’s first of two goals. Max Domi took a questionable slashing call and DeBrusk scored again on the ensuing power play. Bertuzzi’s penalty didn’t directly lead to a goal but it hampered the run of play and Ilya Samsonov was forced into his best sequence of an otherwise forgettable night.
“Careless penalties, Domi’s penalty obviously is the one that I would call an undisciplined penalty,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said post-game via Sports Illustrated’s David Alter. “I understand what he’s trying to do, but he crossed the line there, and can’t do that. But then, just the high sticks, and that kind of stuff, that’s just careless stuff. I don’t know if that’s something to do with the emotion or anything like that.”
Matthews may expect some superstar calls in Game 2 but the rest of the Maple Leafs have to know they’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt in TD Garden. It’s something to address ahead of Monday’s game.
Maple Leafs failed to take advantage of Lindholm-McAvoy penalties 
Boston’s two star defensemen, Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm were both in the penalty box to start the second period, giving Toronto a 4-on-3 power play where it had to capitalize. Matthews elected to operate as a playmaker on this sequence, looking to find Tavares net-front and it almost worked. McAvoy and Lindholm are far superior to the rest of the Bruins’ defense corps and trailing 1-0, it was a completely missed opportunity. Toronto never recovered and really, this is the distillation of Game 1: Boston took advantage of Toronto’s star’s mistakes, whereas Toronto continued a thoughtless approach when it was the time to strike.
William Nylander’s absence was pronounced on the power play 
William Nylander was held out of Game 1 with an injury and Toronto definitely felt the absence of its second-best player. Nylander’s absence was profoundly felt on the power play, where the Bruins only respected Matthews’ shot and swatted away several uninspired entry attempts. This is a major issue. Tavares isn’t nearly the power play threat he was in 2023 and really, the Maple Leafs’ power play is rather easy to figure out: get a successful entry into the offensive zone, drop it back to the point, where Rielly and Marner will look to find either Matthews or Nylander in the faceoff circles, while Tavares posts up in front of the net. Nylander would’ve amplified Toronto’s third line in 5-on-5 scenarios and could’ve ultimately been stacked together with the Tavares-Marner combination when the team desperately needed a goal. There is no replacement for superstar talent in the playoffs and the Maple Leafs have to change their entry approach, or else they’ll be heading home down 2-0.
The pre-series gamesmanship looks even sillier in retrospect 
Sheldon Keefe and Brad Treliving’s mind games were irksome on Friday and look silly Saturday evening. Boston rolled out its starting goaltender, Jeremy Swayman, and he balled out in Game 1, making 34 comfortable saves. Toronto refused to declare its starting goaltender when everyone knew it would be Ilya Samsonov — who was one of many Maple Leafs who earned a failing grade. Nylander was held out, after the team refused to initially disclose his injury status when he missed practice on Friday. Boston evidently knew what was coming and didn’t change its game plan because Nick Robertson was back in the lineup. Just drop the puck and play some hockey, fellas. This isn’t a war of attrition and pretending like it is only plays into the Bruins’ hands.

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