It doesn’t matter what time of year these two teams square off. It always has a playoff atmosphere to it. The Leafs were coming off an impressive 5-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Sunday, while the Bruins came into this one riding a season-high three game losing streak. Brad Marchand was doing Brad Marchand things both yesterday and today, leading up to this one. He was taking shots at the Leafs through the media and on Twitter.
Both teams elected to go power versus the power to start this one, as the Leafs started Bunting, Tavares, and Marner, while the Bruins countered with Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak. The game’s first penalty went to the Leafs as Michael Bunting was called for holding at 2:51. The Bruins top unit wasn’t able to generate much with the man advantage, but Samsonov was forced to make a great pad save on Pavel Zacha. The Leafs managed to kill off the penalty successfully. The Bruins ran the Leafs show in the first five minutes of the game. They were generating a dangerous scoring chance with every single shot; at least, that’s how it felt. They beat the Leafs to every loose puck; they were more physical and simply showed they wanted it more than the Leafs did early on. After the Bruins surge, the Leafs responded with a flurry of shifts spent in their own offensive zone, but like Samsonov, Ullmark shut the door for the Bruins. At the 11:30 mark, Connor Clifton used his speed to beat John Tavares to open ice, resulting in a breakaway, but Samsonov continued his stellar play with another big save. With 5:05 to go, the Leafs came close to jamming a puck past Ullmark. The refs elected to review the play, but it was determined that there was no goal on the play, meaning it remained 0-0. Both teams continued to trade chances for the remainder of the period, but the main focus of the first period was the goalie battle between Samsonov and Ullmark, as they both played great. Ullmark made 14 saves on 14 shots, while Samsonov made 13 saves on 13 shots. In the final minute of the period, David Pastrnak chipped a puck to open ice and used his speed to get past Morgan Rielly, but once again, Samsonov shut the door. The two Leafs that stood out the most, other than Samsonov, after 20 minutes of play were Pierre Engvall and William Nylander.
Worth noting before the second period started that the Leafs have been the best second period team in the entire league this season. The Bruins made a line adjustment to start the second as they elected to split up the Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak line as Pastrnak was dropped down to the second line. Marchand and Smith broke in two on one, but Sandin did a great job getting his leg in the passing lane to disrupt the pass by Marchand. At 5:32, Connor Clifton was called for tripping David Kampf, giving the Leafs their first power play. The Leafs top unit wasn’t able to generate anything offensively whatsoever. Then they got caught out there too long as Mitch Marner lost a foot race to Trent Frederic. He was able to corral the loose puck and work it along the boards to Charlie Coyle, who found a wide-open Derek Forbort in the slot who made no mistake making it 1-0 Bruins with a shorthanded marker. The Leafs would quickly earn their second power play as Matt Grzelcyk was called for high-sticking Alex Kerfoot at 8:12 of the second period. This time the top unit would get their redemption for giving up a shorthanded goal on their first man advantage. A fantastic heads-up play by Samsonov as he quickly moved the puck up ice to Mitch Marner, who worked his way into the offensive zone, and he ripped his 19th goal of the year past Ullmark at 9:25 to make it a 1-1 game. That goal went straight to the legs of the Leafs as they spent the next couple of shifts applying pressure on the Bruins in the attacking zone.
Full credit to the Bruins as they could get a line matchup to their advantage as they got their top line out against the Leafs fourth line. Sandin and Liljegren were caught for over two and a half minutes for the blue and white due to the Bruins spending back-to-back shifts in the Leafs zone. It would eventually lead to the go-ahead goal off of the stick of Brandon Carlo at 12:33. In my opinion, that goal is mostly the coaching staff’s fault. You have the home-ice advantage. There is no way the Bruins can get that favorable matchup when you have the last change in a game. Sheldon Keefe has to manage his bench better than that. The Bruins went right back on the attack after regaining the one goal lead as they spent back-to-back shifts in the Leafs zone once again. With 1:21 to go in the second period, Brandon Carlo punched/cross-checked Michael Bunting right in the face resulting in a cut on the bridge of Bunting’s nose, drawing blood. Much to the chagrin and disbelief of Bunting, there was no call on the play as he was irate, making his way back to the Leafs bench. As the final seconds ticked away in the second period, Bunting showed the refs the blood as a result of what Carlo did to him. Shots on goal in the middle frame were 9-8 in favor of the Leafs and 23-21 overall in favor of the blue and white as well.
Just 2:13 into the final frame of regulation, AJ Greer gained the Leafs blue line and made absolutely no mistake, ripping it past Samsonov to make it 3-1. Immediately following the 3-1 goal, Wayne Simmonds challenged Greer to a scrap, and Simmonds filled Greer with several bombs. It would lead to Greer being forced to go to the quiet room for concussion protocol. TJ Brodie pinched into the Bruins zone and got caught, but a fantastic back check by Leafs captain John Tavares to get back to break up a Bruins 2 on 1. As the Leafs turned to go the other way, Michael Bunting was pulled down by Brad Marchand, but the refs elected not to give Bunting the call again, which Leafs nation was none too pleased about. Full credit to William Nylander, as he was generating dangerous offensive chances every shift he was on the ice, but he couldn’t beat Ullmark. The Leafs upped their tempo and began to play with some urgency as the third period wore on as the Nylander line hemmed the Bruins in their zone for over a minute and a half, but once again, they could not buy a goal. They were finally able to beat Ullmark for the second time tonight as Calle Jarnkrok was able to pounce on a puck that was knocked down by Clifton, and he made no mistake scoring his 12th goal of the year. Immediately following the goal, Bunting and Coyle got into a bit of a dust-up resulting in coincidental minors, which led to four on four for two minutes.
Before the Leafs goal could even be announced, the Bruins went right back on the attack, and Pavel Zacha rifled one from the top of the circles past Samsonov, making it 4-2 Bruins at 9:08. The goal came just 30 seconds after the Jarnkrok goal. Good news for AJ Greer and the Bruins as he returned to the game after spending time in the quiet room after his fight with Simmonds. The Leafs did not let up as they countered back with an attack of their own as Tavares and Marner almost connected to get the Leafs back within one goal once again, but Ullmark continued his stellar play. With 7:41 to go in regulation, Pavel Zacha struck again as Pastrnak won a battle in the corner against Sandin. He then worked the puck to Krejci, who made no mistake finding Zacha for his second of the game, giving the Bruins a 5-2 lead and absolutely deflating the Leafs bench. To say it was a rough night for the pairing of Sandin and Liljegren would be an understatement, as they were exposed all night long. In saying that, it was also a tough night for veteran Morgan Rielly as well. Despite being outscored in the third period, the Leafs did outshoot the Bruins 12-8 in the final frame and 35-29 overall. With the Bruins winning this one, they take a 2-1 lead in the season series, with the final matchup of the season set for April 6th in Boston. TOI leader for the blue and white in this one was Morgan Rielly with 23:35.
Tonight’s Three Stars
1. Pavel Zacha: 2 Goals
2. Linus Ullmark: 33 Saves on 35 Shots
3. Charlie Coyle: 2 Assists
The Leafs will now have nine days off due to All-Star Weekend and their bye week. They will return to action on February 10th and 11th as they have a home and home against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
For more Leafs news and in-game tweets, follow me on Twitter @mikethefanatic! Also, be sure to check out The Leafs Late Night Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts!