Bruins failed to match Leafs' desperation in ugly Game 5 loss

Bruins failed to match Leafs’ desperation in ugly Game 5 loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON — There was no excuse for the Bruins’ poor start and lack of urgency to begin Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.

None whatsoever.

The Bruins could not have asked for a better opportunity to close out the series. They had all the momentum and plenty of confidence after dominating the Leafs in Games 3 and 4 in Toronto to take a 3-1 series lead. Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ best player and the NHL’s leading goal scorer, was unavailable for Game 5. Toronto’s starting goalie, Joseph Woll, had a 0-2-1 record and a .865 save percentage in his career against the Bruins.

The TD Garden crowd was absolutely buzzing at puck drop. And yet, despite the tremendous energy in the building and considering what was at stake, it was the Bruins who looked nervous and not prepared for the moment. The result? A 2-1 loss in overtime that sends this series back to Toronto for Game 6 on Thursday.

Multiple icings, including one that led to the Leafs’ first goal at 5:33 of the opening period, were an issue for Boston early. The Bruins also were obliterated in the faceoff dot, losing 16 of 20 faceoffs in the first period, including 10 of 14 in the defensive zone. Toronto’s first goal came off a faceoff win.

Boston’s puck management in the first period also was not good. Sloppy passes and an inability to clear the defensive zone allowed the Leafs to put tons of pressure on Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman, who was forced to make 11 saves in the opening 20 minutes.

The stats at the end of the first period were shockingly bad for the Bruins. The Leafs had a 30-7 advantage in shot attempts, a 12-2 lead in shots and a 9-2 edge in scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick. The B’s were very lucky to go into the intermission tied at one goal apiece.

“We weren’t good enough. Simple as that,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said of his team’s slow start. “Toronto came out ready to play and took it to us. We weren’t ready to match their desperation.”

The Bruins knew the Leafs were going to come out with great energy and desperation. Their season was on the line. A loss in this series could potentially result in a shakeup of the Leafs’ roster during the offseason. Instead of folding like many people expected, the Leafs punched back and sent a message with their effort and overall performance.

“The aggression, the assertiveness that we played with at the start, we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We didn’t mail it in,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We went out to take charge of the hockey game in the first period. I thought we did a terrific job of that. Tremendous effort from everybody in that first period.

“Difficult to come out of that with it 1-1. But as I said to the guys between periods, ‘You played a tremendous period, yet it’s still 1-1. That’s how hard it is. That’s how tight this is. You’ve just got to stay with it. Stay with it. It’s going to require 60 minutes.’ Tonight even more than that. The way we went out and took charge of the game and asserted ourselves early, I thought was impressive.”

Montgomery made lineup changes going into Game 3 last week. He inserted rookie defenseman Mason Lohrei into the lineup and took out Matt Grzelcyk. Parker Wotherspoon replaced injured defenseman Andrew Peeke. He put veteran forward James van Riemsdyk into the bottom six and removed Jakub Lauko. Those adjustments produced fantastic results, including a pair of wins on the road. There was no reason at all to mix things up going into Game 5. Why mess with what’s working?

But Montgomery decided to adjust the lineup again. He removed rookie center John Beecher — the only B’s player who’s won more than 50 percent of his faceoffs this series — and put in Justin Brazeau, who hadn’t played in 28 days due to injury. Grzelcyk went back in the lineup in place of the more experienced Kevin Shattenkirk and had a shaky start to the first period.

It’s fair to wonder if the lineup changes played a small part in the Bruins’ slow start Tuesday. Montgomery, however, didn’t think the adjustments were a factor in that.

“No, I don’t,” Montgomery said. “We made three changes before Game 3. We’ll have to evaluate it, see how everybody did when we review the film, and see if we’re going to make different changes (entering Game 6).”

There were many similarities between this Game 5 versus the Leafs and last year’s against the Florida Panthers.

The B’s entered both matchups with a 3-1 lead and a chance to close out the series at home. A bad start and a lack of urgency allowed the opponent to score first. The B’s ultimately tied the score but never led for a second, and then lost in overtime.

This also isn’t the first time the Bruins have failed to close out a series against the Leafs at home in Game 5. They had the same opportunity in 2013 and 2018 and needed a Game 7 victory to advance to the second round both times.

History has a strange way of repeating itself, and now the pressure is on the Bruins to avoid what happened last season and finish the job on the road in Game 6. If they don’t, the Leafs will have a chance to become the fourth team in the last 20 years to overcome a 3-1 deficit and eliminate the Bruins.

“It’s frustrating, but you got to move on to the next game. That’s the playoffs — every game is its own animal,” Montgomery said. “For the majority of the series we’ve played really good hockey, and that’s what we have to get back to Thursday.”

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