BOSTON - Apparently it will take more than a return of James Reimer to the Maple Leafs net to solve the Stanley Cup champions.
After 18 games on injured reserve, the Leafs’ No. 1 goaltender was certainly not spectacular enough to make up for the stifled Toronto offence and a dominant effort from the B’s, particularly in a decisive third period.
As a result, the Bruins stranglehold on the Leafs this season continued with a 4-1 win Saturday night at the TD Garden as the red-hot champs are making their move to pull away from the rest of the Northeast Division.
“There’s a reason they are the Stanley Cup champions,” Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles said.
“They’ve got big bodies and they make it tough to get the puck back. There a very good team and not a lot of changeover and it definitely shows.
“They are a tough team to play against.”
Tough and ruthless as they seize on mistakes and turn them into scoring opportunities.
For the most part, the Leafs hung with them on Saturday night but couldn’t generate much meaningful offence.
As concerning as the earlier losses to the Bruins were, at least the Leafs came to compete in the first two periods. In the third, though, Boston owned the play, holding the Leafs to just four shots on net and hemming them in their own zone for wide periods of time.
The Bruins throttled down from the high pace they used in Wednesday’s 6-3 win over the Leafs in Toronto and instead concentrated on drastically reducing their opponent’s speed and space in open ice.
On Saturday, the Bruins put the clamps on the Leafs with a number of tactics.
Zdeno Chara, of course, was everywhere Phil Kessel went and the Leafs points leader has now been held without a goal for five games. He managed five shots on net, but in the two games against the Bruins this week, he was a combined minus-5.
The Toronto power-play, which had scored in eight consecutive games, had no push in its four attempts.
Any shots that did get through on former Leafs draft pick Tuukka Rask were easy for the goalie see and control.
The Bruins owned the face-off circle — winning at a convincing 68% clip — and much of the play along the boards. And how about this bit of suffering put on the Leafs by Boston bruiser Milan Lucic, who with a pair of assists Saturday has 10 points in the four games against Toronto this season.
“(Reimer) was solid, focussed and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “It’s too bad we didn’t play better in front of him.”
On Friday, Wilson had said Jonas Gustavsson was going to get the start in net but that was clearly a decoying tactic as Reimer was told he was getting the call.
The Leafs coach loves to play match-ups and obviously liked the fact that Reimer was 3-1 against the Bruins last season.
With the win, the Bruins have now taken points in their last 14 games with a record of 13-0-1. That brilliant run has seen them ascend from the NHL basement to near the top.
The Leafs are a big reason for that, of course as the Bruins have won all four meetings between the two by a combined 23-6.
“We can learn from them, we have to play tough like Boston,” said Leafs centre Mikhail Grabovski, who had the lone Toronto goal, his seventh of the season. “We have to move the puck like them.”
Trailing 2-1 after two periods, any hope of a comeback disappeared when Johnny Boychuk’s blast from the top of the circle beat Reimer.
David Krecji opened the scoring at 4:20 of the second, a lead that held for all of 48 seconds when Grabovski’s laser got past Rask. Chris Kelly regained the Bruins lead at 13:11.
Nathan Horton added an insurance marker at 14:26 of the third.
Neither team has swept a season series since the Leafs joined the Eastern Conference in 1998-99. The Leafs have until March to figure out a way to avoid that happening.
'I FELT PRETTY GOOD'
BOSTON — It is a shot James Reimer has stopped hundreds of times in practice and one he feels had no business beating him Saturday night.
Never mind that Johnny Boychuk’s blast from the top of the face-off circle at 3:06 of the third period was a rocket, it gave the Bruins a 3-1 lead and clear control of what to that point had been a tight contest.
Reimer, who takes every defeat hard, said afterwards that there was no way the Boychuk blast should have eluded him.
“The way I see it (Tuukka Rask in the Boston net) outplayed me, that frustrates me more than anything.
“To me it’s embarrassing,” said Reimer, who stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced.
“Just me and the shooter I’ve got to make that save. I feel if I make that shot we have a chance to win.”
Reimer, who hadn’t played in six weeks since suffering his neck/concussion-like injury when run over by Montreal’s Brian Gionta on Oct. 22, said he felt comfortable in his first game back.
“You can’t replicate a game in practice, but for the most part I felt I was seeing the puck and reading the plays,” he said. “I felt pretty good.”
Except for that one shot that got past him, of course.
--Check out the Leafs Live Chat that ran during last night's game.