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Colageo: Boston Bruins Pass First I.D. Checkpoint



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Saturday night at TD Garden, the Boston Bruins played to their identity. The Toronto Maple Leafs did not.

However else we parse out what happened in Game 1 of the best-of-seven between the two teams, not playing to identity is what separated the Maple Leafs from pucks on the ice and from the Bruins on the scoreboard.

Sprung loose by Boston’s newest fan favorite Pat Maroon, Johnny Beecher and Jesper Boqvist combined on the game’s opening goal.

Identity check: speed.

Identity check: opportunism.

Together, both assets have played a major role in the Bruins’ offense all season long. Speed and opportunism also showed up at the right time in Jake DeBrusk’s game. It showed up every time Jim Montgomery sent Jakub Lauko over the boards on a hunting trip.

Identity check: Glue – the Boston Bruins had glue in their game, the Toronto Maple Leafs had frustration in theirs. The Bruins needed a strong retrieval and breakout game from left-siders Hampus Lindholm (assist, game-best plus-3 in 20:09 ice time) and Matt Grzelcyk (17:04, no goals against). Both were brilliant.

Like any important game, there were events and moments that made Game 1 twist and turn.

At the east end, Jeremy Swayman (35 saves) made two big stops early on before the Bruins found their rhythm, and once they did – Beecher’s goal was Boston’s first shot – there was no looking back.

At the west end, Ilya Samsonov (19 saves on 23 shots) had no choice but to move left to right in an effort to intercept Beecher’s shot, but his defender put him in that moving position.

Toronto’s next threat was a partial breakaway for Calle Jarnkrok that Swayman knocked away.

In the second period when Auston Matthews collided with Charlie McAvoy and the Boston defenseman went down, Matthews collected a puck that Swayman left his crease to chase. Albeit from a sharp angle, Matthews long-range wrist shot pinged the far post. Moments later, Brandon Carlo’s shot from the right point found its way through a maze, and a game 1 inch from 1-1 was suddenly 2-0.

Canada has a long-standing show called “That’s Hockey” that has sequences like this in mind.

All told, the Bruins also hit posts in the opening period.

It wouldn’t be long before Toronto’s next offensive surge was spoiled by Matthews’ accidental stick into McAvoy’s face. At the time, the Leafs were getting their best cycling of their night from hellraisers Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi.

What happens? DeBrusk’s first of two powerplay goals.

At 3-0, all the careful plays, the bouncing and spinning pucks and near misses began to dissolve into a wider frame of understanding for this game.

When it was 3-0 late in the second period, Samsonov made his best save of the game, a low stick deflection on David Pastrnak, whose overall game was superb if statistically understated. To whatever extent the Leafs held Pastrnak in check, his influence and impact on the game was undeniable. He was a threat every time out, and the stress he caused cannot be ignored.

In all, the Boston Bruins played to their identity; the Toronto Maple Leafs only did in spurts.

Game 2 is tomorrow night at TD Garden.

When the Leafs beat the Lightning in the opening round last year, they also lost Game 1 rather convincingly (7-3). Games 2 and 3, both won by Toronto, combined to feature five fights, three in Game 2 and two more in Game 3. Combatants included Matthews and a 39-year-old Mark Giordano.

Maroon raised the hair on Ryan Reaves’ back with his ceremonial push of Toronto defenseman Timothy Liljegren –skates in the air, heads and shoulders over the Boston bench. On the next shift, Reaves tried to make like a bowling ball, knocking down the Bruins like pins.

But those are sideshow moments; it’s more Domi and perhaps Bertuzzi who bear watching as Toronto prepares a response game. They are the players in this series who in Game 1 targeted McAvoy and Brad Marchand, respectively – not respectfully.

Jim Montgomery is not going to change his game matchups, much less forward lines that are working so well together, to get Trent Frederic on the ice as a deterrent. He will let Game 2 play out. That has been Monty’s M.O.

Why mess with matchups when, for instance, the Bruins’ left-handed faceoff game is the best it has been all season? Pavel Zacha was 10-3, Beecher 6-4 and Boqvist 2-1.

Montgomery will let Sheldon Keefe be the coach who changes his lines. If possible, Toronto will suit up William Nylander, the fastest skater on either team and a player paid like one who should impact the series.

While Games 2 and 3 historically are far more influential than Game 1 in determining the winner of a best-of-seven playoff series, the team making drastic changes in a playoff series almost always loses that series.

Expect to see Swayman back in the Boston net and the same exact lineup, pending any injury news.

Expect Keefe to give the same lineup a chance to do better and see if the Leafs can get a lead, something that was quite possible in Game 1 had it not been for Swayman, and then see how the game plays out. If so, then the Leafs will focus on the puck. If not, then expect the gloves to hit the ice.

Keefe is far more likely to make any drastic changes in Game 3 and only provided another failure in Boston.

Marchand said after Game 1 that there are things that the Boston Bruins can do better.

Watching from TD Garden’s ninth floor, where hockey looks less like the glorious storm that it is at ice level and more like a chess board, one of those things is most certainly puck-play decisions upon the offensive blue line.

To their credit, the Maple Leafs were well prepared for some of the Bruins’ zone entries, and instead of recognizing coverage and making a strong play to dump the puck behind the Toronto defense to a certain corner, the Bruins on several occasions looked unprepared for confrontation at the blue line and tried to improvise the entry, risking turnovers. A better opponent would put at least two of the resultant gaffs into Boston’s net. Toronto aims to be that team tomorrow night.

Finally, it would be easy from a Bruins angle to dismiss Game 1 and cite all the series they have opened on home ice with victories over the past several years, only to eventually lose those series. Many of those series, however, had quirky Game 1 performances, bounces, penalty calls, lackluster efforts, a feel-out process.

Saturday’s series opener was none of the above. It was contested between two teams that know each other very well, almost too well.

Game 1 counts in this series. It most definitely is part of the connected pathway to a result.

You have to win four, but Game 1 will not be forgotten as a feel-out, forgettable series opener, and the reason is the Boston Bruins, unlike the Toronto Maple Leafs, successfully played to their identity.

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