‘We can try and change the story’

Leafs limp home af­ter Bean­town Beat­down

The Sault Star - - SPORTS - JOSHUA CLIPPERTON

The Toronto Maple Leafs had de­signs on a long play­off run when they boarded Wed­nes­day’s flight to Bos­ton, con­fi­dent of their chances ahead of a first-round se­ries with the Bru­ins af­ter a record-break­ing reg­u­lar sea­son.

Now they’re sim­ply look­ing for a way — any way, re­ally — to slow down a jug­ger­naut that’s bashed them around in two crush­ing de­feats to open their best-of-seven East­ern Con­fer­ence quar­ter­fi­nal.

Losses of 5-1 and 7-3 at TD Garden have the Leafs in an 0-2 hole as they pre­pare to host what amounts to a must-win Game 3 at Air Canada Cen­tre on Mon­day.

Toronto isn’t done yet, but a lot has to change in 48 hours fol­low­ing an em­bar­rass­ing beat­down in Bean­town.

“We were out­played for two games,” Leafs de­fence­man Ron Hain­sey said af­ter Satur­day’s blowout. “If you add it up, it’s 12-4 over six pe­ri­ods. We de­serve ev­ery bit of crit­i­cism far and wide. Good news is, story’s not to­tally writ­ten yet.

“We can try and change the story.”

A place to start would be get­ting in the way of Bos­ton’s top line of David Pas­tr­nak, Brad Marc­hand and Pa­trice Berg­eron, which has com­bined for a stun­ning 20 points in 120 min­utes of ac­tion.

Head­ing into Sun­day, Pas­tr­nak led the playoffs in scor­ing with nine points, in­clud­ing three goals and three as­sists in Game 2, fol­lowed by Marc­hand’s six points and Berg­eron’s five.

The trio has dom­i­nated at both ends of the ice with speed, skill and re­lent­less puck pur­suit, high­lighted by Satur­day’s fre­netic first pe­riod where they put up a goal and five as­sists in a 10-minute span to help Bos­ton build a 4-0 lead.

In ad­di­tion to stel­lar play in the of­fen­sive zone, and there’s been plenty, they’ve also shut down the Leafs’ No. 1 line led by Aus­ton Matthews, which has been held off the score­sheet.

Toronto will likely try to get Matthews away from Bos­ton’s top unit with the last change at home, but the ab­sence of the sus­pended Nazem Kadri, who isn’t el­i­gi­ble to re­turn un­til a po­ten­tial Game 5 back in Bos­ton, means Pas­tr­nak, Marc­hand and Berg­eron won’t have to deal with the Leafs’ best two-way for­ward.

“It ob­vi­ously hasn’t gone the way we want,” Toronto head coach Mike Bab­cock said. “We’re a way bet­ter team than what we showed.”

The Leafs set fran­chise records for wins (49), home wins (29) and points (105) this sea­son, but their speedy ros­ter has been un­able to get sep­a­ra­tion against the Bru­ins (50 wins, 112 points) in the bat­tle of At­lantic Di­vi­sion foes.

Spe­cial teams have also been a dis­as­ter, with Bos­ton’s power play hav­ing con­nected on five of 10 op­por­tu­ni­ties. When in­clud­ing Toronto’s fi­nal five games of the reg­u­lar sea­son, op­po­nents have scored 11 times with the man ad­van­tage in the last seven out­ings.

The Leafs’ power play, mean­while, has had de­cent zone time, but a late con­so­la­tion goal in Game 2 is all they have to show for their seven chances af­ter reg­is­ter­ing an NHL-best 32.5 per cent suc­cess rate since the end of Jan­uary.

Toronto was brim­ming with con­fi­dence af­ter win­ning three of four meet­ings be­tween the teams in the reg­u­lar sea­son, but are now pointed in the di­rec­tion of a dis­as­trous end.

“Their power play’s play­ing well, our penalty kill, not so much,” Leafs de­fence­man Mor­gan Rielly said. “Their penalty kill’s play­ing well, and our power play, not so much. Be­yond that, our de­fen­sive zone can be bet­ter, we can get through the neu­tral zone bet­ter.

“There’s a lot of things that we’ve got to work on.”

And if they don’t, a much longer off-sea­son that any­one ex­pected even five days ago could be just over the hori­zon.

MAD­DIE MEYER/GETTY IMAGES

The Bos­ton Bru­ins’ Ke­van Miller, left, cel­e­brates with David Pas­tr­nak, cen­tre, and Brad Marc­hand af­ter scor­ing a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs dur­ing the first pe­riod of Game 2 of the East­ern Con­fer­ence First Round dur­ing the 2018 NHL Stan­ley Cup Playoffs, at TD Garden on Satur­day, in Bos­ton.

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