|Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask dives to make a save against Leafs forward Matt Stajan on Thursday. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
BOSTON -- The Maple Leafs aren't quite ready for prime time, at least in Massachusetts and certainly not in the Northeast Division.
With the exception of a 10-minute burst in the third period with the Bruins already up by three, Toronto has taken it on the chin twice here in five days from a team it must beat to make any real noise in the conference. With Thursday night's 5-2 loss, the Leafs have been out-scored 12-4 by Boston.
So much for Thursday being a possible defining game for the Leafs, who have certainly played well against other opponents since late November.
“We’re struggling in our division and only have one win (1-5-3), which is awful,” defenceman Ian White said. “We got spanked by these guys (Saturday) and we’re expected to come in here and have a different showing. It’s unfortunate, but we have to find a way to win. There could have been a number of factors tonight.”
Start with the Leafs taking penalties in the opening minute of the first two periods, a double-minor to Jason Blake when the puck was dropped (the Leafs killed it), White’s own holding call (resulting in a goal) and Blake’s fateful late high stick with the score 3-2. Coach Ron Wilson said the latter was an “iffy” call by the referee, but he was just as concerned at what the Bruins were supposedly getting away with as the game intensified.
“I was shocked we didn’t get three or four calls,” Wilson said. “There were slew-foots and they tripped the goalie (Vesa Toskala confirmed he was up-ended behind his net). So what can you do?
“Some (Leaf penalty killers) have to wake up. When a guy is standing behind you, it’s not the system, it’s a mental mistake.”
In the morning, Bruins coach Claude Julien praised the Leafs as a team that “don’t give up...whether things go their way or not, they’re going to try and compete for 60 minutes,” he said, refering to how they scored twice late in Saturday’s rout.
The Leafs proved him right again in the third, with a Mikhail Grabovski goal 18 seconds in.
Continuing to press, defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Mike Komisarek worked the puck to Nikolai Kulemin and suddenly the Leafs had more than 15 minutes to think about their first third-period rally win this year and maybe points in 10 of the past 12 games.
But in general, Toronto has been out-hit, out-fought and out-goaltended so far in the series by their former No. 1 pick Tuukka Rask. The latter cooled off countryman Toskala Thursday night, with a huge save on Tomas Kaberle that led to David Krejci’s 3-0 breakaway goal.
“We have to make sure we don’t have these little blips,” said centre Matt Stajan, who came close to tying the score. “We do a good job battling back and they cost us.”
Also shut down for a second night in his old home was Phil Kessel, now held scoreless a season-high four games.
“Scoring first and putting the other team’s back to the wall was a trait of ours last year,” Julien said of their good starts against the Leafs.
After two Bruin shots hit the post, Toskala’s luck ran out when Mark Stuart’s harmless even-strength effort from the point hit a bump in the ice and went five-hole.
On Derek Morris’s power play goal, the Bs also controlled the draw and quickly connected. Jamal Mayers tried to get the Leafs fired up in a pair of brief tussles with Stuart in the second period as the two went at it the moment their initial roughing penalties expired.
The Leafs seemed doomed earlier in the game at 11:10 of the second. Rickard Wallin set up Kaberle with Rask going the wrong way, but the latter butterflied for a great stop. Luke Schenn’s attempt to bury the rebound hit Krejci who was able to get past the stumbling Leaf to score on a breakaway.
“We didn’t establish a forecheck,” Stajan said of what had worked so well for Toronto in home wins over the Thrashers and Islanders earlier this week. “Once we got the puck deep, worked their defence and started to scramble the net, it resulted in two goals.”
White said the Leafs at least showed the Bruins they’ll put up a fight when the teams meet for the third time this month on Dec. 19 at the Air Canada Centre. Until then, Toronto will now spend a couple of days reviewing how they shut down the dangerous Alex Ovechkin last Nov. 21, a 2-1 shootout win over the Capitals, who visit Saturday.