TORONTO -- The Boston Bruins barely allowed the NHL’s most pent-up playoff crowd to party.
The visitors scored first, and then when the Toronto Maple Leafs gave their fans reason to shake the building with a goal that cut the lead to 2-1 in the second period, Boston tallied right back just 50 seconds later to end the fun.
That was it. About 50 seconds of ear-splitting adrenaline for the locals who have dreamed for nearly a decade of what playoff hockey felt like in their home barn.
"It was a 2-1 hockey game and we had the building going our way, and there was a lot of energy and momentum going," Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said after the 5-2 Game 3 loss. "We made a mistake and gave them a goal, I think, the very next shift. That takes the wind out of our sails."
On a night that was nine years and two days in the making, an electric pregame atmosphere basically fizzled out thanks to a textbook road game by the 2011 Stanley Cup champions.
And the Leafs didn’t even play badly.
No, Game 3 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinals series was actually, perhaps, finally demonstrative of the true reality of these two teams.
The Leafs were brutal in Game 1, the Bruins not very good in Game 2.
Monday night, both teams put a good foot forward but in what is an accurate measure of where both teams stand: the Bruins deeper and more experienced, they made fewer mistakes and capitalized on their opportunities for a well-earned victory to seize a 2-1 series lead.
"You have to give the opposition credit. They came in, they played hard, they forced us to make mistakes and, consequently, they won the hockey game," Carlyle said. "That’s really it -- they made less mistakes than we did, and their execution level was beyond ours."
Which is often the difference between experienced teams and clubs working to gain that type of playoff knowledge.
"You can say they’re a veteran team and that their lineup has been through more wars than ours," Carlyle said. "You explain to your team that every game is a test, every shift is a test. This is a war of attrition. There’s skill involved in it, there’s will involved in it, and there’s luck involved in it. But you have to earn every one of them. We didn’t do enough and we made too many mistakes to give ourselves the proper chance to win."
Toronto had its chances, and there were moments in the game when its speed and transition gave the Bruins fits and led to good zone time.
When the Leafs threatened, a confident Tuukka Rask of the Bruins was up to the task, aggressively challenging and doing well to find the puck through screens. He pushed away 45 of 47 shots.
The real difference on this night, though? Mistakes, as in the number committed by a game-yet-still-green Leafs squad finding its playoff wings.
Then, after Jake Gardiner had given the game some life with a power-play goal at 13:45 of the middle period to cut the lead at 2-1, the Bruins stopped that Toronto momentum after Nathan Horton was left unguarded by Leafs forward Leo Komarov in the slot, and the Bruins forward didn’t miss at 14:35.
“I think that was probably the biggest goal for us so far in the series,” said winger Milan Lucic, who was a force with three assists and three hits. “We talked about the crowd, the way the fans were going, it seemed they were creating a lot of momentum. I was just hunting down the puck, got a good bounce and Horty did a good job roofing it when I gave him the pass.”
Once again, a quiet Air Canada Centre.
"When they got that first goal they got the momentum a bit, and it helped us a lot when we got that [third] goal right away after it,” Rask said. “It's a big thing when you play on the road and try to break their momentum, and today, for the most part, we did a pretty good job of that."
Then, Phil Kessel, coming out of his own zone on a power play, tried to give the puck right back to Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf but instead found the stick of Daniel Paille, who skated in alone to beat James Reimer. A brutal giveaway, and a 4-1 goal by the Bruins with 3:23 left in the second which planted the dagger on the Leafs.
Those are mistakes you just can’t make in the playoffs and still expect to win.
"We fought the puck pretty good tonight, it was jumping pretty good tonight,” Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said. "Just a little bit soft on the puck. The mistakes we made we ended up playing a lot of defense or they were scoring because of them.
"We can’t do that in the playoffs, we have to be better than that."
I believe the Leafs will be better. They’ve more often than not picked themselves up this season after a tough loss. And it would not surprise me at all if Toronto tied this series Wednesday night.
Toronto outshot Boston 47-38 Monday night, including 18-6 in the third period, the Leafs showing no signs of rolling over in this series.
But over the course of six or seven games, I think what you saw Monday night will play out as the storyline.
The Bruins are just that much better right now where it matters. Not a lot, but enough.