After a hard-fought 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers on Monday night, things don’t get any easier for the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.
The Bruins lost their top defensive pairing of Charlie McAvoy (suspension) and Matt Grzelcyk (upper-body injury) in that revenge win over the Panthers, and now they will host arguably their best Original 6 rival of the last decade, the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the wake of the McAvoy four-game suspension and Grzelcyk being placed on long-term injury reserve on Wednesday, the Boston Bruins recalled defensemen Mason Lohrei, Ian Mitchell, and Parker Wotherspoon.
After a practice that had the rookie Lohrei paired with Brandon Carlo on the second pairing and Mitchell with Wotherspoon on the third pairing, Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery didn’t seem too worried.
“Well, I don’t think it’s going to change the way we play in the fact that we have a couple of defensemen out [Thursday],” Montgomery said. “But Toronto is a great transitional team, and I think a little similar to us; they have some injuries on the back end. So, I think the team that possesses the puck more in the offensive zone is going to be a team that has a little bit leg up on the other team.”
The second-year Bruins bench boss is exactly correct, and don’t forget the Boston Bruins are also missing rugged winger Milan Lucic, who is on long-term injury reserve with a foot injury. That ruined any chance of Lucic and new Maple Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves doing a heavyweight dance. However, this may not be the back-and-forth, finesse game Montgomery’s expecting from the Leafs. This one may have more of the grinding, battle-for-every-inch Stanley Cup Playoffs feel to it, just as the game against the Panthers did.
Toronto enters this game 0-1-1 in their last two games and laid an absolute stinker in a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. In a game pitting two teams that likely thought they were going to play each other in the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Maple Leafs sound like they’re treating this one as a playoff game and smell blood in the water with McAvoy and Grzelcyk out.
“It’s on us to continue to set those standards for everybody,” Maple Leafs superstar center Auston Matthews told the media on Wednesday before and his teammates hopped a flight to Boston. “There has been good, there’s been bad, but just the consistency we want to see from the team as a whole, I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey. There hasn’t been a game where we’ve put together the full 60 minutes of rolling all four lines and being solid throughout.
It’s something to clean up in different areas, and Boston is a unique opportunity for us. We’re playing our next four against divisional teams, all important points. It’s something to clean up in different areas, and Boston is a unique opportunity for us. We’re playing our next four against divisional teams, all important points.”
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe concurred.
“It’s pretty apparent they’re once again the class of the league, certainly the division,” Keefe told the always massive Toronto media when assessing the Bruins. “This is a chance for us to go in and get a response. We’ve played well in Boston, and part of that is because you know what you’re in for.”