Costly mistakes haunt Leafs against Bruins
Toronto defensive blunders turn a second-period lead into a one-goal deficit as Boston gains in standings
TORONTO — For once, the Boston Bruins’ top line wasn’t Toronto’s undoing.
The Maple Leafs took care of that all by themselves with a couple of costly turnovers.
Sean Kuraly and David Pastrnak pounced on miscues by Toronto defencemen Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev late in the second period to turn a 2-1 Leafs lead into a one-goal deficit as Boston grabbed a 3-2 National Hockey League victory Saturday.
“We came out and played the game we wanted to,” said Toronto winger Mitch Marner, who scored his 17th goal of the season. “Just made a couple of mistakes and they didn’t miss.”
Kuraly set up both Pastrnak and David Krejci to register the first three-point game of his career for Boston (26-15-4), which eliminated the Leafs in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
Tuukka Rask made 30 saves as the Bruins won the season series between the teams 3-1 and now sit just two points back of the Leafs for second in the Atlantic Division.
“Two big points,” Kuraly said. “There was no other way to look at it.”
Andreas Johnsson also scored for Toronto (28-14-2), which does have a game in hand on Boston. Michael Hutchinson stopped 26 shots.
The Bruins beat the Leafs 5-1 at home on Nov. 10 before Toronto returned the favour 16 days later with a 4-2 victory at Scotiabank Arena to set up a testy affair featuring 98 minutes in penalties that Boston won 6-3 on Dec. 8.
It’s only January, but there’s a good chance the clubs could meet in a rematch of last spring’s playoff series that went the distance — a task Nazem Kadri said the Leafs would gladly welcome.
“We’re always looking forward to playing these guys,” said the centre. “They’re a great hockey team, they’re well-coached.
“Tons of credit goes to them, but we’re a good team, too.”
Down 2-1 in the second, Boston got even at 14:47 when Gardiner fanned on a breakout attempt before having the puck stolen by Chris Wagner, who in turn fed Kuraly to snap home his fifth.
Kuraly then intercepted Zaitsev’s soft pass behind the net before feeding Pastrnak, who buried his 26th past a surprised Hutchinson with 13.7 seconds left on the clock.
Pastrnak, who took a puck off the cheek in warmup, now has 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in 15 career regular-season games against Toronto — including six goals and three assists in four outings this season — after scoring five times and setting up eight against the Leafs in the 2018 playoffs.
Boston’s top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand entered Saturday with a combined 117 points in 122 regular-season contests against Toronto, and torched the Leafs for 30 points in last season’s seven-game series.
Hutchinson scrambled to stop a Pastrnak chance early in the third to keep his team in it before Kadri missed the net from a difficult angle at the other end midway through the period.
Auston Matthews, who has just one goal in his last nine games, had Rask down and out with four minutes to go, but the puck rolled off his stick on what would be Toronto’s best opportunity to tie.
“You’ve got to push through it,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. “A little struggle in your life never hurt anybody. Just dig in.”
Boston led 1-0 after the first, but the Leafs got even at 7:37 of the second on a strange play. Johnsson’s quick shot went off Rask, off Bruins defenceman Kevan Miller and dribbled into the net for the winger’s 10th.
Toronto’s dormant power play — 1for-36 over its last 13 games when removing a 3-for-3 effort against Florida on Dec. 20 — came to life 1:53 later to give the Leafs their first lead when Marner blasted a slapshot short side on Rask before the wheels fell off defensively.
Hutchinson, who spent three seasons in the minors with the Bruins after getting drafted 77th overall by Boston in 2008, got his fifth straight start for Toronto with No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen — on the shelf since Dec. 28 with a groin injury — out with the flu and backup Garret Sparks still recovering from a concussion.
“We knew it was going to be a close, hard-fought game,” Hutchinson said. “It was just that.”
Krejci opened the scoring with 1:39 left in a first period where Toronto carried the balance of play after an early Boston surge. Kuraly turned back in the offensive zone and fed Krejci, who made no mistake for his ninth.
The Bruins had two golden opportunities to take the lead early, but Marchand missed a wide-open net and Bergeron fired wide on a 2-on-1 break.
Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask made 30 saves Saturday as the Bruins won the season series over the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1.