All good things

Toronto Sun - - SPORTS - TERRY KOSHAN

Leafs fi­nally lose on road:

Af­ter strong start to game, Maple Leafs over­whelmed by Bru­ins, drop first away game of sea­son ... Sparks, mak­ing just his third start this year, will be ready for Bos­ton’s ter­rific trio next time ... Toronto re­port­edly ready to en­ter­tain of­fers on Ny­lan­der

BOS­TON — Those Bean­town ghosts haven’t been ex­or­cised just yet.

And re­ally, they won’t be un­til the Maple Leafs elim­i­nate the Bos­ton Bru­ins in the play­offs one spring.

The Leafs, with goal­tender Gar­ret Sparks mak­ing his third start of 2018-19, were strong early at TD Gar­den on Satur­day night but even­tu­ally were over­whelmed by Pa­trice Berg­eron and com­pany, los­ing 5-1 to suf­fer their first road loss of the sea­son.

For Sparks, fac­ing the line of Berg­eron be­tween David Pas­tr­nak and Brad Marc­hand

was an eye-opener. The trio had nine points, paced by Pas­tr­nak’s hat trick.

“I think the im­me­di­ate, ob­vi­ous thing is their chem­istry and how they look for each other across the zone,” Sparks said. “It’s not like they’re look­ing to set each other up 10 feet away, they’re mak­ing passes 50, 60 feet and one-tim­ing them.

“It’s just a dif­fer­ent look. There’s not a whole lot of lines like that in the NHL and it was an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence go­ing up against them. I know what I have to do next time if I want to get the best of them.”

In the Leafs’ first ap­pear­ance in the arena since the Game 7 de­ba­cle this past April, Sparks fin­ished with 29 saves. The Leafs had 41 shots on Bru­ins goalie Jaroslav Halak,

pressed into car­ry­ing the load with Tuukka Rask on per­sonal leave, but only John Tavares scored. The Leafs goal came with 30 sec­onds re­main­ing in the sec­ond pe­riod af­ter Bos­ton had a 3-0 lead.

With 19 points (10 goals and nine as­sists) in 17 games, Tavares is on pace for 48 goals and 92 points. Both would be ca­reer highs.

Start­ing a four-game trip, Toronto failed in its at­tempt to win its first seven road games for the sec­ond time in team his­tory. The only time it hap­pened was in 1940-41, and it should come as no sur­prise that the first Toronto road loss that sea­son came in Bos­ton by a 5-2 score on Dec. 17. So yes, the Bru­ins have been break­ing the Leafs’ hearts for­ever.

With the Leafs gath­er­ing them­selves in the dress­ing room dur­ing the sec­ond-pe­riod in­ter­mis­sion, El­liotte Fried­man re­ported on Hockey Night in Canada that Leafs gen­eral man­ager Kyle Dubas has told in­ter­ested teams to in­di­cate what play­ers they would of­fer — and to in­di­cate which play­ers they would not be will­ing to trade — for un­signed winger Wil­liam Ny­lan­der.

Through the team’s me­dia re­la­tions staff, Dubas de­clined to com­ment on Ny­lan­der and was not made avail­able to re­porters.

With the Dec. 1 dead­line to sign Ny­lan­der now in­side three weeks, it’s pru­dent for Dubas to se­ri­ously ex­plore all av­enues that in­volve the re­stricted free agent. This is keep­ing in mind the Leafs’ first de­sire is to re-sign Ny­lan­der, but it’s the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Dubas to have con­tin­gency plans in place if it be­comes clear that will not be pos­si­ble.

The Leafs have been get­ting by quite fine with­out Ny­lan­der, but with­out both the in­jured Aus­ton Matthews and Ny­lan­der in the lineup, are 3-3-0.

Be­fore Tavares scored to end Halak’s shutout bid, the Bru­ins got a pair of goals in the sec­ond pe­riod from Pas­tr­nak, one at even-strength and one on the power play.

Berg­eron as­sisted on both goals, and with his first goal in the first pe­riod, has 62 points in 65 ca­reer games against Toronto.

The Leafs were un­able to build off the Tavares goal in the

third, as Pas­tr­nak scored on a power play and Joakim Nord­strom got Bos­ton’s fifth goal 26 sec­onds later.

The Leafs had 20 shots on goal in the first pe­riod — their most in any pe­riod this sea­son — and held the Bru­ins to six shots on goal. Berg­eron scored the only goal in the open­ing 20 min­utes.

“It’s a 60-minute game,” de­fence­man Mor­gan Rielly said. “It’s im­por­tant to have a good start, I thought we did that, and then we didn’t re­ally fol­low up.”

Sparks had not played since Oct. 15. There’s the like­li­hood he will be in goal in Ana­heim on Fri­day, the sec­ond of backto-back games. De­spite look­ing shaky, he said he did not feel bad in the crease.

“It’s a new chal­lenge, sit­ting long times be­tween starts,” Sparks said. “It’s al­most like you re­ally for­get that feel­ing of be­ing in the net. You try to say that prac­tice is your game, but you just can’t recre­ate game play, so if I get an­other op­por­tu­nity I’m go­ing to look to do a lit­tle bit more with it.

“It’s a daily process to get closer and closer to where I want to be. I don’t think that any­body hits their peak in No­vem­ber, right?”

Said coach Mike Bab­cock of Sparks’ per­for­mance: “Well, I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t looked at the tape so I can’t re­ally tell you. The bot­tom line is you win to­gether and lose to­gether.”

BUILD­ING MEM­O­RIES

The Leafs don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the Game 7 loss against the Bru­ins — and the man­ner in which it hap­pened — but they don’t deny the learn­ing that was gained from such an ex­pe­ri­ence.

Toronto had a one-goal lead en­ter­ing the third pe­riod on the night of April 25 but fell apart in the fi­nal 20 min­utes, los­ing 7-4 to head into the sum­mer with a big heap of bit­ter­ness.

“You can’t re­ally put a value on what it’s like to play in a play­off se­ries like that, but I think when you come back to camp the next year, you’re all a bit more ma­ture, a bit more ex­pe­ri­enced and you learn a lot from those play­off games,” Rielly said. “Just con­fi­dence and more com­fort­able. I think that those ex­pe­ri­ences re­ally go a long way.

“There is not re­ally one thing you can take away from it when it comes to play­ing the game, it’s more the ex­pe­ri­ence of trav­el­ling, play­ing road play­off games — los­ing a road play­off game is bru­tal. You learn the im­por­tance of

Games 1 and 2 (when the

Leafs were not good). Lots can be learned, but it’s not one par­tic­u­lar thing. It’s the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence it­self.”

Cen­tre Nazem Kadri’s think­ing was in a sim­i­lar vein.

“Play­ing in Game 7s, es­pe­cially Game 7s on the road, are very chal­leng­ing,” Kadri said. “I think it’s part of the mat­u­ra­tion process, es­pe­cially with the young guys in our dress­ing room, any­body re­ally, it gives you that sense of ur­gency and un­der­stand­ing what it takes to move for­ward in a play­off se­ries.

“(Game 7) still stings a lit­tle bit, but it’s not some­thing that we’re look­ing for any sort of re­venge.”

For Rielly, the months that have passed have made it eas­ier to put the loss at the hands of the Bru­ins in clearer per­spec­tive.

“At the time it sucks, it’s about the worst feel­ing you can get when your year ends,” Rielly said. “We learned a lot from it, but I think it’s now time that we put it be­hind us and we fo­cus on the fu­ture more than the past play­off se­ries.

“When March and April come, we want to be ready and more pre­pared than we were last year and we earn a spot where we feel like we can

(have play­off suc­cess).

“I think you have to take it in stride. Teams that are win­ning now and have won the past few years, have all gone

through these things. It’s tough at the time be­cause you want to win, but these are the things that have to hap­pen in or­der to learn these lessons, but you want to get them out of the way early and start win­ning.”

Bab­cock usu­ally doesn’t con­sume him­self with look­ing in the rearview mir­ror, and fall­ing to the Bru­ins in the post-sea­son is no dif­fer­ent.

“Any time you lose in the play­offs, you walk through all the things you shoulda, coulda, woulda done, and how you would like to be dif­fer­ent,” Bab­cock said. “Noth­ing you can do about it, though. We got a whole year to try to get our­selves in a play­off po­si­tion to have an­other op­por­tu­nity.

“What is very clear about the NHL is we all look like we’re the same and then when the play­offs start, you are play­ing a re­ally good op­po­nent right away.”

POINT SHOTS

The Leafs were sched­uled to stay overnight in Bos­ton and fly to Los An­ge­les on Sun­day, with a prac­tice on Mon­day be­fore tak­ing on the Kings on Tues­day night at the Sta­ples Cen­ter to start the Cal­i­for­nia

There’s not a whole lot of lines like that in the NHL and it was an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence go­ing up against them. I know what I have to do next time if I want to get the best of them. Gar­ret Sparks

por­tion of the trip. The state usu­ally has not been a source of good re­sults for the Leafs, and in its three trips with Bab­cock as coach, Toronto is 2-61. Both wins — one last sea­son and one in 2015-16 — came in Ana­heim. Ex­pect the Leafs to re­call a for­ward, likely Trevor Moore, in the next 24 hours … Berg­eron might not gar­ner the same kind of at­trac­tion as play­ers as elec­tri­fy­ing as Con­nor McDavid or Matthews, but ask any NHL player about dif­fi­cult op­po­nents and Berg­eron will be part of the

an­swer. “He does it right ev­ery shift,” Leafs for­ward Zach Hy­man said. “He wins face­offs. His line has the puck all the time. He just does it right. He’s re­lent­less.” … Marc­hand on the Leafs/Bru­ins ri­valry: “That was a good se­ries (in April). There’s al­ways feel­ings left over when you go through a se­ries like that. The his­tory we have with Toronto, not just last year but over the past cou­ple decades, it has re­ally am­pli­fied the games we play against them.” … Ku­dos to Gary Bettman for the growth of the NHL in some non-tra­di­tional hockey mar­kets and ex­pand­ing the league’s rev­enue stream dur­ing his time as com­mis­sioner. Is there an out­stand­ing rea­son, how­ever, for Bettman to go into the Hall of Fame while he re­mains on the job? Why not wait un­til his reign is done so it can be eval­u­ated prop­erly and fully be­fore de­cid­ing whether he is wor­thy of Hall sta­tus? For some, for­get­ting that Bettman’s rule has in­cluded sev­eral work stop­pages will take a long time.

WINSLOW TOWN­SON/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Hats rain down on the ice af­ter Bru­ins winger David Pas­tr­nak com­pleted his hat trick dur­ing the third pe­riod of last night’s game in Bos­ton. Pas­tr­nak’s line com­bined for nine points in a win over the Maple Leafs.

AP

Bru­ins goal­tender Jaroslav Halak makes a save as Maple Leafs for­ward Zach Hy­man and Bos­ton de­fence­man John Moore look for the re­bound in the first pe­riod last night.

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