By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It's hard to remember the last time the Bruins looked as bad as they did in Thursday's Game 1 loss to the Maple Leafs.
Even when the Bruins went through that mid-March slide with losses in three straight, they made those games competitive. They looked the part of a team that understood that the game counted for something.
Last night? Woof.
Game 1 felt like 60 minutes of attempted shortcuts and cheats from the Bruins. Their constant search for stretch-pass offense led to what felt a billion icings in the Boston zone, the Bruins almost consistently went for unsuccessful one-against-five rushes into the offensive zone (this was especially noticeable once the B's were chasing the game). And once the third period came, the Bruins legitimately looked like a sick team -- as in they were all playing through severe flu symptoms. Rarely do you see a home team appear that gassed, that lethargic, and that straight-up disinterested in putting in work in a Game 1.
"They competed harder," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of the Maple Leafs. "Most teams do come playoff time. We have to be ready for it, but I think honestly if we just managed the puck better, it would allow us to play to our strength and be heavier and win the battles in the walls, and that doesn’t come into play as much. Force them to skate, defend, they get fatigued. Everyone gets fatigued defending. They lose some of their energy to attack and then forecheck physicality."
That last point from a Cassidy was an important one, too.
You could count the amount of times the Bruins made the Leafs legitimately uncomfortable in Game 1 on one hand.
I think by now it's been established that the Maple Leafs don't like to defend. (That's because they're pretty bad at it.) The Bruins had stretches of pinning the Maple Leafs into their own zone and forcing Frederik Andersen (37 saves) to dance around his crease, but it simply wasn't consistent enough, nor was it built upon with a second wave that fatigued Toronto's thin blue line. If anything, the Bruins would follow a dominant o-zone shift with some ugly neutral zone play that either saw the Bruins stymied on zone entries or gave the Maple Leafs new life (or goals) with a rush towards Tuukka Rask.
"I just don’t think we played our game," Brad Marchand admitted. "We weren’t playing the right way the whole way through and weren’t taking care of pucks the way we normally do and the way we can. That’s what they thrive on.
"Maybe we weren’t ready for that kind of pressure, but they were just better than we were. They played their game better than we played our game. You can’t do that come playoffs and expect to win."
The Bruins essentially tried to play Toronto's style.
There was really no reason for the Bruins to do this. The Bruins finished the year as one of the league's truly elite. Their style, especially at home, is one that few can handle. Adjusting their game to better suit the opposition's preference -- especially an opponent that had obvious mental blocks when it came to winning in this building -- is borderline blasphemous.
"There are a lot of things that we can do better that we didn’t do [Thursday]," said Bergeron. "To me, it was the blue lines on both sides, getting the puck in or getting it out, and when you force a play and whatnot and they get it back, it’s momentum that you lose and that they get. You talk about hockey, that’s the way it is."
"So we didn’t get enough of that tonight so it’s about regrouping and moving forward," said Bergeron.
The good news for Bergeron and the Bruins is that they probably can't go backwards.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.