Bruins-Leafs takeaways: B's make statement in exciting 4-3 win vs. Leafs

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Bruins make strong statement in exciting 4-3 win vs. Leafs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- The Bruins and Maple Leafs gave hockey fans quite a show Saturday night at TD Garden.

In one of the most entertaining games of the season between two of the NHL's top teams, it was the Bruins who came out on top with a 4-3 victory. Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk's goal with 1:16 remaining in the third period proved to be the difference. David Pastrnak, A.J. Greer and Patrice Bergeron also scored for Boston.

The B's overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to secure the victory and improve their record to a league-leading 33-5-4. They also have the league's best home record at 20-1-3. Their lead over the Carolina Hurricanes for the league's top record is 10 points.

This win is actually the Bruins' first against the Leafs since Oct. 22, 2019. Some of that has to do with the unusual schedule caused by COVID-19 over the last couple seasons, but Toronto entered Saturday with a four-game win streak versus Boston.

Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark made 17 saves on 20 shots. He's now 23-2-1 on the season.

Next up for the Bruins is a home matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night. But before we look ahead to that matchup, here are four takeaways from Bruins-Leafs.

1) David Pastrnak on pace for history

Bruins superstar right wing David Pastrnak is doing his best to keep pace in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy.

The 26-year-old veteran tied the score 2-2 in the second period with his 33rd goal of the season -- four behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (37) for the league lead.

Pastrnak beat Leafs goaltender Matt Murray five-hole, giving him 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 22 career games against the Leafs.

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Pastrnak has now scored nine goals (along with two assists) in his last seven games. He's on pace to score 64 goals, which would make him the first Bruins player to hit the 50-goal mark since Cam Neely in 1993-94 and the first B's player to reach 60 goals since Phil Esposito in 1974-75. Esposito is the only Bruins player to score 60-plus in a single campaign.

Pastrnak also is on pace to tally 115 points, which would be the most by a Bruins player since Adam Oates' 142 in 1992-93. He is, of course, doing all of this in a contract year, too, so it's safe to say Pastrnak is making himself a ton of money with his career season.

2) Auston Matthews becoming thorn in B's side

Despite missing the last two games and dealing with some sort of lingering injury, Leafs center Auston Matthews still made a huge impact on this game.

His most important contribution came early in the third period when he tied the score at 3-3 with a crazy snipe past Linus Ullmark short side.

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Matthews now has 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists) in 42 games.

The reigning Hart Trophy winner consistently brings his A-game versus the Bruins. He has tallied 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 14 career regular season games against the B's. Three of those goals have been scored this season. In addition to his goal Saturday, Matthews also scored twice in a 2-1 Leafs win on Nov. 5 in Toronto.

The Bruins have to find a way to slow down Matthews and take away his time and space faster.

3) B's fourth line shows some life

The Bruins' fourth line of A.J. Greer, Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno outplayed its Leafs counterparts.

This trio earned a 6-1 edge in shot attempts, a 4-0 advantage in shots on net, a 4-0 lead in scoring chances and a 1-0 goal differential in just 4:12 of 5-on-5 ice time together.

Greer scored his first goal since Oct. 18 -- the fourth game of the season -- in the second period to put Boston on top 3-2. Foligno picked up an assist on the play.

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The Greer-Nosek-Foligno line also provided plenty of physicality in all three zones, combining for five hits and one fight (Foligno).

Even in matchups between two teams with loads of high-end offensive skill, it's the bottom six that often makes a huge difference in the outcome. Boston's fourth line absolutely made its presence felt in Saturday's victory.

4) Another Bruins-Leafs playoff series would be awesome

Few matchups around the league produce more entertaining hockey than Bruins-Leafs, and that was evident Saturday night in what often felt like a playoff atmosphere at the Garden.

In the first three minutes of the game we saw Nick Foligno and Wayne Simmonds drop their gloves and engage in one of the most entertaining fights of the season.

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Just a few moments before, Leafs goalie Matt Murray robbed Brad Marchand with one of the top saves of the year.

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These teams combined to tally 55 shots, 69 scoring chances (32 high-danger chances), 61 hits and plenty of fast-paced, physical end-to-end action. The last five Bruins-Leafs games have produced a total of 34 goals (6.8 per game).

This rivalry will resume Feb. 1 in Toronto and April 6 in Boston before the regular season concludes. Given the intensity and high-scoring nature of these Bruins-Leafs games, it would be great for hockey fans if these teams played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth time in the last decade. Based on how the standings are likely to shake out, any potential postseason matchup between these rivals would be in the second round.