Bruins make life easy for Leafs with poor puck management and neutral zone defense in Game 1

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11:  John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates after scoring a goal in the third period of a game against the Boston Bruins in Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 11, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11: John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates after scoring a goal in the third period of a game against the Boston Bruins in Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 11, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Maple Leafs are a fast, highly skilled team that played their best hockey on Thursday night. But the Bruins didn't need to make it so easy for them.

Poor puck management and a sieve of a neutral zone doomed the Bruins in their 4-1 loss in Game 1 at TD Garden. Defensively, the latter half of the second period turned into a parade of breakaways for the Toronto forwards. It wasn't great before that, either. Despite taking an early 1-0 lead, the Bruins beat themselves with turnovers in their own zone and defensive breakdowns going the other way.

It felt as if the Leafs targeted Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara at times, sneaking a forward behind them to go out for a stretch pass. And the passing lanes resembled a canyon, as simple breakouts often turned into easy rushes. William Nylander made them pay with the Leafs' third goal of the game, which Tuukka Rask could have stopped. But the team in front of him was simply too sloppy to hang much of the blame on the man in net.

"We’ve been exposed by them on those breakaways and you give up two, three in a row that period, so shame on us. So I don’t want to put this on Tuukka," Cassidy said after the game.

In the puck management department, Cassidy saw a mostly inexperienced defense calibrating its way through "operator error".

"In the back, we have some younger guys that are still sorting their ways through playoffs," Cassidy said. "Obviously, two guys are playing in their first game. Grizz [Matt Grzelcyk] and Charlie [McAvoy] haven’t been around that long, so there could have been some nerves. I think there was clearly for Brandon [Carlo] early. We knew that would happen. That’s fine. Play through it. Other guys tried to force it a little bit. Maybe turn down some opportunities to make an easier play, especially in the offensive end of it, offensive blue line, opportunity on the two-on-one we had with Grizz. Next thing you know it’s in our net, so some of that hopefully they’ve learned that you have to make a quicker decision with it, and that’s, again, individual based and how Toronto, how they play. They’ve got a fast team, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. Clearly on us to get that message across better Saturday."

Well, the Bruins defense is still going to be relatively inexperienced in Game 2. And Zdeno Chara is still going to be 42 years old. So hopefully the message is received, because it didn't appear to be heard at any point in Game 1.

Whatever the cause for the sloppiness that plagued the Bruins on Thursday, it needs to be cleaned up. The Leafs are skilled enough to make the Bruins pay even when the B's play well. If the Bruins continue to beat themselves as much as they did in Game 1, this series will only get harder.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].