Bruins overwhelm Maple Leafs with execution, smarts in Game 1

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It was a lopsided win for the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/bos" data-ylk="slk:Bruins">Bruins</a> in Game 1 Thursday versus the Maple Leafs. (Getty)
It was a lopsided win for the Bruins in Game 1 Thursday versus the Maple Leafs. (Getty)

BOSTON – There was a telling moment around the halfway mark of the opening period.

Tyler Bozak sensed a rare opportunity for a visitor to state its presence when he brushed up against rookie Charlie McAvoy during a stoppage in play. But instead of cowering, the 20-year-old defender locked up Bozak’s hands with a quick bit of self-defense and pressed his attacker tight against the glass. This while to the left, James van Riemsdyk was being body-slammed to the ice by David Backes — presumably for Bozak’s troubles.

It was as if in that moment the Bruins again reaffirmed precisely what they established with their sobering superiority through the first 10 minutes of Game 1 against the Maple Leafs, and in a first-round matchup between teams with genuine Stanley Cup ambitions.

Not tonight.

Maybe not at all.

The Maple Leafs were outworked, outmuscled, outsmarted, outclassed, losing 5-1 in a contest to which they didn’t belong for prolonged stretches.

Boston asserted its dominance every which way — with its talent, with its depth, with its discipline, with its affection.

Related: Brad Marchand has already planted a kiss on Leo Komarov

If the Bruins, a team that excels in every measure, was a puzzle for the Leafs to solve over a span of seven games, were they even able to find their first connecting piece?

“We’ve got lots of things we can talk about,” Morgan Rielly said, and seemed to repeat.

What might be most troubling from a Leafs standpoint is that the Bruins didn’t seem to overexert themselves. They weren’t aiming to overwhelm — they executed.

Asked if the plan was to try to run the skilled Maple Leafs out of the building with physicality and aggression inside 10 minutes, Boston coach Bruce Cassidy explained that the key to the thrashing was staying within themselves and their structure.

“If the hits were there, we’ll take ’em. That’s how we play. We want to play with pace and I thought we did early and it allowed us to get behind their defence,” Cassidy said.

He would later add: “We were ready, we were on time, we were energized.”

Of course, not a single player carried out his function more effectively than Brad Marchand.

Sending Roman Polak spinning with his speed on a wonderful zone entry inside 20 seconds of Boston’s first attempt with the man advantage, the star pest received a beautiful feed from Torey Krug and beat Frederik Andersen with a backhand to give Boston a deserved lead just over five minutes in.

Several (dominant) shifts from the Bruins’ No. 1 line later, Marchand lingered in the space between benches late in a shift waiting for Leo Komarov to engage. And when he lulled him in, Marchand either kissed, licked, or just pressed his mouth against the Maple Leafs forward’s cheek. From that point on, Marchand spent what was left of the game threatening offensively and playing possum with the Leafs that had already showed their hand: they had enough with his antics.

Like taking candy from a baby.

All that makes Marchand one of the most effective forwards in the game was on display in Game 1, and that means brilliantly shaking the opponents’ psyche.

Asked in the post-game press conference about the restraint Marchand showed while targeted in the later stages of the game, Cassidy described it as “excellent.”

That’s right — Marchand, the Bruin that licked an opponent, showed “excellent” restraint.

“In the past, teams have been able to get him off his game,” Cassidy said. “Good players that play with passion, you see it with a lot of them. It’s about how quickly can you get it back. I’m sure he’ll get tested again Saturday, but that’s what Marchy’s up against.

“You wanna be a good player? Be prepared for extra attention.”

The final score in Game 1 does well to represent the run of play, but the result did hang in the balance longer than the Bruins would have liked. In fact, by the time Backes scored Boston’s go-ahead goal on a power play with less than five minutes remaining in the second period, the Leafs had fully erased the massive deficit in shot attempts.

Zach Hyman pressed reset for the Maple Leafs late in the first period dominated by the Bruins with a tremendous individual effort. He jumped on an ill-timed pinch from Zdeno Chara and with remarkable speed and strength, blew through the stick checks of David Krejci and McAvoy before beating Tuukka Rask with a similar move to the one Marchand put on Andersen.

It was a moment the Maple Leafs were able to build on — and the shifts that followed Hyman’s moment will be what they look to in their study in the 48 hours between starts in Boston.

With so much talent on their roster, the Leafs can alter the landscape of a game, or perhaps even the series, in a moment’s notice. But until they match the Bruins’ systematic execution, and the sort of structure that supports their exemplary underlying numbers, this round-matchup between potential Stanley Cup contenders seems as though it will remain as one-sided as it was in Game 1.

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