The big guns fired, and the reinforcements pitched in.
That was the simple formula employed by the Maple Leafs in stunning the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, the first road playoff win for the Leafs in Boston in 41 years and a verdict that dramatically altered the conversation around this playoff series.
Let’s just say that after this one, the Air Canada Centre and Maple Leaf Square will be absolutely rocking on Monday night for the first Stanley Cup playoff game in Toronto in nine long years.
After an easy win by the Bruins in the series opener, many questioned whether the Leafs would be able to avoid being swept by the 2011 Stanley Cup champs, or even deserved to be in the playoffs at all after a soggy end to the regular season.
Well, the Leafs answered their critics with authority in an impressive 4-2 triumph, one in which star forwards Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk led the way with gorgeous goals.
The sidebar, however, was the play of four Leafs who dressed for this game after not playing in opener. In particular, 28-year-old winger Ryan Hamilton distinguished himself by drawing penalties, blocking shots, delivering hits and coming up with a clever assist on what proved to be the winning goal.
That came in the first minute of the third when Kessel, humbled by a lack of production and the jeering “Thank You, Kessel” chants he’d heard in this rink ever since the 2009 trade to the Leafs, finally fired back, and in the best way possible.
The Leaf sniper, with only three goals in the previous 22 games against his former team, took a long breakaway pass in the first minute of the third period and snapped a low shot past Tuukka Rask in the Bruins net for a 3-1 Toronto lead.
Hamilton made a nifty between the legs pass to Nazem Kadri to start the play, and Kadri spotted a wide-open Kessel down the middle of the ice for the breakaway.
That made it 3-1, and after the Leafs gave up a goal, van Riemsdyk came through with a spectacular goal while spinning and falling to the ice to ice the game.
Lupul, meanwhile, scored the first two goals of the night, continuing the torrid scoring pace he’s had in an otherwise injury scarred season.
After being thoroughly embarrassed in the final 40 minutes of Game 1, the Leafs desperately needed to make a statement to themselves in the first period of Game 2. For the most part, they did so, outshooting the B’s 12-10 in a scoreless period while generating some decent offence and avoiding the trap of being hemmed in their own zone for lengthy periods of time.
The Leafs did create a pair of 2-on-1 breaks, one with Kessel and Tyler Bozak, the other with Kessel and Lupul, and didn’t manage a good shot on goal on either occasion.
The visitors also outhit the home side 22-10, including a pair of big hits on Zdeno Chara. That seemed to pay some dividends later in the period when Chara turned the puck over in his zone, with the Leafs getting two scoring chances out of that.