Boston Bruins

John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins battle for control of the puck during the first period of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 19, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins battle for control of the puck during the first period of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 19, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins battle for control of the puck during the first period of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 19, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The first period set the tone.

Faced with an opportunity to seize control of the series for the first time, the Bruins again came out lagging behind the faster Maple Leafs in a 2-1 loss in Game 5. Good fortune and a strong start for Tuukka Rask kept the game scoreless. And though the shot total read 7-6 Toronto, it was clear which team dictated matters. It was not the home team.

The Maple Leafs dominated the battle of the breakouts, walling off the Bruins from the middle of the ice and easily scooping up loose pucks in their own corners. They got their quick fires out of the zone, while the Bruins struggled to do the same. As was the case for much of the series so far, the Leafs used their speed on the forecheck as effectively as any situation. No matter where the B’s were in the first period, they mostly chased Toronto around.

Reality is setting in. The Bruins simply don’t match up well against this version of the Maple Leafs. It’s frustrating to look ahead at the advancing Blue Jackets and Islanders as more favorable opponents than what’s already in front of them. If they can’t find another gear, the better-matched team is going to win out. Toronto has controlled their matchups for nearly the entire series.

That doesn’t mean the Bruins can’t win two in a row, conquer these speed demons and move on. In the NHL you can win with mental toughness. You can win because you wanted it more. That’s certainly possible for a Bruins team whose core has plenty of back-against-the-wall experience in 10 playoff runs since 2007.

“We have to rely on each other and put ourselves in a bubble and do the job. That’s the bottom line,” Patrice Bergeron said of Sunday’s do-or-die Game 6 in Toronto. “Everything is on the line now. Obviously a missed opportunity tonight but like I said, there’s not much we can do right now, right, about tonight’s game. So now it’s about moving forward and be ready to head on the plane tomorrow, and going to Toronto, and be ready for a big game.”

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 19: Nikita Zaitsev of the Toronto Maple Leafs shields the puck from Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins during the first period of Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 19, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 19: Nikita Zaitsev of the Toronto Maple Leafs shields the puck from Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins during the first period of Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 19, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

They’ll have to be ready now. Because if the Bruins win this series, it won’t be because they had the matchup advantages.

The Bruins haven’t necessarily looked unprepared since Game 1. But at times they’ve looked surprisingly outclassed. It’s clear that no matter how Bruce Cassidy shuffles up his lines, he can’t find an ideal combination to match the Leafs’ off-the-charts speed and skill. Two of their less fleet-footed cogs, center John Tavares and defenseman Jake Muzzin, keep winning their battles with relentless forechecking and responsible defense.

They’ve arguably been the best center and blue liner in the series, making Bergeron and Brad Marchand’s line a wash at best. There’s no question that Bergeron and Marchand can be more productive, but this year they face a much tougher matchup than a year ago. Combine Tavares and Muzzin’s impact with the relentless speed peppering the rest of the Toronto roster, and you have the Bruins playing catch-up from the start.

Clearly, Sean Kuraly’s much-welcome return to the fourth line wasn’t going to boost Bruins enough to match their personnel at the top of the lineup. Kuraly flashed his typical energy, forechecking and physicality in his return. But he’s just one guy and he’s not going to change anything about the top-six.

Kuraly’s best scoring chance, however, typified the Bruins’ night on offense. In the second and third periods they started to generate more chances in the middle of the ice and near the net. They out-chanced the Leafs 11-4 in the third (via Natural Stat Trick). But the finish wasn’t there. Sometimes, the Leafs beat them straight-up like Travis Dermott did with his diving block on Kuraly’s shot attempt.

“Looking back I’d like to make a better play, but that’s the way it goes. Hopefully if I get a chance next game I’ll make a better play.”

This loss isn’t on Kuraly, though. It’s on the top players to finish the job when they get their chances. Just because the Leafs match up better this year doesn’t mean the B’s can’t play better. And an 0-for-3 power play performance that got worse as the game went on indicated that they wouldn’t finish enough on this night.

David Krejci was perhaps the most snakebitten, despite scoring the Bruins’ only goal in the 60th minute. He ripped a savvy wrist shot far-side past Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen in the second period, but the puck barely clanged off the bottom of the crossbar and stayed out of the net. When you’re on your heels for much of the game and can’t catch a break when you’re not, it’s hard to pinpoint why the offense couldn’t get it going.

“That’s a good question. If you have the answer, I would like to know,” Krejci said after the game. “So we’ll put more pucks in the net next game, but yeah.”

Apr 19, 2019; Boston, MA: Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Trevor Moore skates with the puck past Boston Bruins center David Krejci during the third period in Game 5 of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Apr 19, 2019; Boston, MA: Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Trevor Moore skates with the puck past Boston Bruins center David Krejci during the third period in Game 5 of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s not a mystery at this point. The Leafs are proving to have the personnel advantage in the series. But that doesn’t mean the Bruins can’t improve in their own right. It’s been apparent all series, though. Game 5 really sunk it in.

Perhaps stemming from frustration, the Bruins didn’t assert themselves nearly enough firing the puck in favorable situations. The Bruins’ top scorers have often passed up clean shots for ineffectual pass attempts. Head coach Bruce Cassidy plans to eliminate that issue in Game 6.

“That was probably my biggest beef. Less about the play of the individual player but the group not generating enough offense with shots or shot recovery situations where we could take advantage of coverage,” Cassidy said. “We just turned down too many shots in my estimation.”

Now there’s nothing left for the Bruins to do. They have to attack. There’s no time to find the perfect shot. Hesitation can’t happen. Because they’re not going to find line matchups that help them overcome the Leafs’ superior speed and skill up front.

There’s reason to be confident the Bruins can claw to a Game 7. But the finish needs to show up now. The B’s have to show a 2013 level of resiliency. It’s the only way to survive perhaps the hardest matchup for them in the conference.

“We’ve just got to be relentless,” Kuraly said. “It’s do or die. So, [we need to] go to the net. You don’t have a choice, you’ve got to finish. That’s how we’ll play. We’ll play like our lives are on the line.”

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 matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.