Six Lessons From the Maple Leafs Game 2 Loss

2019 NHL Playoffs, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs

Well, it was too good to last from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ perspective. They should have known, and probably did, that the Boston Bruins would have reverted to the form that beat them during the regular season. The Bruins did just that, and the result was a stop-in-your-tracks 4-1 reversal of the Maple Leafs’ Game 1 win.

Karson Kuhlman, Frederik Andersen
Boston Bruins Karson Kuhlman slides through the crease after a save by Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

With the series tied one game each and Game 3 coming Monday night in Toronto, what would we hope the Maple Leafs could learn from Game 2’s loss to the Bruins?

Lesson One: In the Playoffs, If You’re Young, Get Older Fast

One advantage the Maple Leafs were supposed to have going into this season’s playoffs was that their young stars were a year older. Well, they’re still young and, in Game 2, they played like it. One elementary lesson was pointed out by Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin: “In playoffs, usually the team that loses comes out the next game harder.” By the way, Muzzin’s face needed stitches.

Related – Maple Leafs’ Game 1 Victory: 11 Thoughts

Nazem Kadri losing his cool and taking a stupid penalty? Sadly, that doesn’t seem like something he’s going to grow out of. But, Frederik Gauthier taking a retaliation penalty? That’s youth.

On the other side, grizzled veteran winger David Backes, who was a healthy scratch for Game 1, has many battle scars. His physical play (he had a game-high seven hits) helped exert the will of the Bruins onto the younger, ill-prepared Maple Leafs. It was a physical game that the Maple Leafs should have been ready for, but weren’t. Let’s hope this one aged them a bit.

Lesson Two:
Playing Physical Goes Both Ways

A physical
game takes a toll on both teams. Often players say that their team has to “play
more physical.” And, usually the team that dishes out the physicality wins most
of the battles. But that’s not always true. Certainly, the Bruins’ physical
game took the Maple Leafs out of their game and overwhelmed them in Game 2, but
the Maple Leafs didn’t suffer all the physical damage.

Jake Muzzin absolutely crushed Torey Krug on a clean hit along the boards that sent the undoubtedly concussed Bruins defenceman to the locker room. Krug didn’t return for the game and we’re not sure when or if he will. Remember, Krug had another concussion in March so he was already prone. And, in the end, of all the players on either team, Krug’s probably the most injured.

Toronto Maple Leafs Jake Muzzin
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

My point is that Game 2 tied the series, and the Bruins might have lost one of the most offensive defenseman in the entire NHL. That can’t be good for the Bruins over the course of this series and the Maple Leafs have to pour on the speed and skill.

Lesson Three:
You’d Think Nazem Kadri Would Learn

What’s with Kadri taking such penalties? And, talk about déjà vu all over again. Wasn’t it just last year that Kadrim got suspended for three games after taking a bad penalty? That, of course, is a rhetorical question, because the answer is yes.

Now it looks likely he’ll be gone again this year for a few games; perhaps up to five. That hurts the Maple Leafs. He’s a good center and, when he’s gone, he’s missed.

Why is he gone? Well, after Jake DeBrusk checked Patrick Marleau into the turnbuckle, Kadri immediately charged DeBrusk and cross-checked him in the head, drawing a major, a game misconduct, and a request for an in-person hearing (that’s usually a bad sign) from the league’s department of player safety.

Nazem Kadri
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Dwyer)

For what it’s worth, from my perspective the officials could have prevented Kadri’s dumb penalty, but didn’t.

Lesson Four:
Jake DeBrusk Doesn’t Tell the Truth

I’m not a dirty player,” DeBrusk said. “I don’t think I intended to knee-on-knee him.” Now, I’m not saying DeBrusk is a dirty player, but he had to know if he meant to knee-on-knee Kadri. Come on, Jake, you either knew you did or you didn’t. I think he knew.

Related – Maple Leafs’ Playoff X-Factors: Hainsey, Babcock & Andersen

By the way, there’s no reason for DeBrusk to play any differently. Off-setting penalties for wrestling Kadri and punching him, while Kadri didn’t retaliate. That’s even.

He didn’t
get a penalty when he went after Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott, punching the
rookie repeatedly. That’s up one.

He didn’t
get even get a penalty for the knee-on-knee hit on Kadri. That’s up two.

And
perhaps I am bit of a homer here, but when DeBrusk checked winger Patrick
Marleau into the stanchion, that could have been a penalty. Not. That’s up
three.

Finally, as Chris Johnston reported, “For what it’s worth, Jake DeBrusk is not expected to receive any supplemental discipline for his hit on Kadri.” That’s up four.

Lesson Five: The Officiating Wasn’t Biased, but It Wasn’t Good Either

From what I saw, I don’t think the officiating was biased towards either team. However, it looked like they got caught in a spiral where they missed a call on one side; then, they felt they had to let something go on the other side because of the call they had missed. Thus, they got caught not making calls to even things up between the teams.

Jake DeBrusk Boston Bruins
Jake DeBrusk Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Whatever the reason, the game got out of hand. And, an out-of-hand game doesn’t work to the Maple Leafs favour. When the big bangers play the speedy and skilled, if the refereeing is good, the speedy and skilled team usually wins because they force their opponents into penalties.

Even Babcock noted, “The referees, the way they reffed the game, let a lot of stuff go.” But he warned, “You can’t let that get in the way of what you’re doing. Playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs isn’t supposed to be easy, and it’s worth it.”

Lesson Six:
Expend Your Energy Wisely

There are two kinds of energy in a hockey game like Game 2 – physical energy and mental energy. The Bruins not only beat the Maple Leafs physically, but they got into their heads. I understand that: being overwhelmed and out shot 10-1 with eight minutes gone in the first period has to make you blink.

However, my memory of watching many games is that such physical play isn’t sustainable. Between two more or less evenly matched teams, the play tends to balance out. Eventually, the tide would have turned.

Related – Maple Leafs’ Playoffs: Gardiner’s Last Hurrah?

If the Maple Leafs would have put their physical energy into skating and making plays instead of trying to retaliate, the game would have gone better for them. I believe the Maple Leafs can win this series by overwhelming the Bruins with speed and skill. If they do, I don’t think the Bruins can keep up. As John Tavares noted, “We knew they were going to come hard. You’ve got to stay with it and find your game.”

Coming on
Monday

The Bruins have an identity for a reason and, as Boston coach Bruce Cassidy noted, “We didn’t play to our identity in Game 1. How do you respond? You’re physical…. Basically, let them know how we’re going to play.”

The big,
bad Bruins certainly enforced their identity in Game 2 and pressured the Leafs
into error after error. The result was a lopsided victory. Will that game
altered the series? Monday will tell.

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