- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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All you had to see was Bruins team president Cam Neely as he exited the media elevator, shaking his head in disbelief, to know that this series is going back to Toronto.
The Maple Leafs staved off elimination by defeating the Bruins 2-1 to force Game 6 on Sunday night at Air Canada Centre. The Bruins still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, but because of their inconsistent play, which has been a problem for them all season, they have given their opponent another life.
The Bruins lacked the fortitude Friday to end this series. They made too many mental mistakes and relied too heavily on goaltender Tuukka Rask to bail them out. Boston simply waited too long to start playing its style of hockey and couldn't beat Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer, who finished with 43 saves, including 18 in the third period.
"The killer instinct for me would be to play three periods like we did the third period," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We're very capable of doing that. This morning's skate, we had good legs, we had lots of energy, so there's no reason for our team not to have it at the start of the game. This is something we have to take the blame for, it's our own doing, they were a desperate team and showed it at the beginning of the game. We were down 2-0, and now all of a sudden we became the desperate team. Hopefully it doesn't take the score to make a team desperate, and that's what we have to understand."
Rask played well and gave his team every opportunity to stay in this game, but the players in front of him did not return the favor and it cost the Bruins the game. Boston's goaltender was forced to make 19 saves in the first period because of the Bruins' mistakes. Fortunately for the Bruins, the game remained in a 0-all stalemate after the first 20 minutes.
"I think they just said, 'Take this and let's throw everything at them,' and they did," Rask said. "They got a lot of shots, a lot of scoring chances, and we survived the first, fell behind in the second on that power play. We played good for half the game; it's just not enough."
Toronto eventually gained a 1-0 lead, scoring a short-handed goal at 11:27 of the second period. Boston had control in the offensive zone, but defenseman Andrew Ference couldn't keep the puck in at the blue line and it turned into a breakaway for Tyler Bozak, who notched his first goal of this series to give Toronto the advantage.
The Maple Leafs went up 2-0 at 1:58 of the third period, an even-strength goal by Clarke MacArthur. Despite a relentless attack in the final period, the Bruins couldn't storm back and suffered the loss.
"We always talk about being mentally ready and being mentally sharp, but that wasn't the case today," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "I'm sure everybody wanted it, but it's about actually doing it and going out on the ice and executing.
"We came out flat in the first. Our breakout was sloppy. Our first passes were not on the tape, and that didn't create any offense. We turned over the puck way too much at the beginning. Halfway through the game, we picked it up, putting more pressure on their net and getting pucks deep."
Simply put, the Bruins did not generate enough traffic in front of Reimer. He's gaining confidence as this series wears on, and his teammates are helping out with plenty of blocked shots, including 27 in Game 5. The Leafs also did a good job of keeping most of those attempts on the perimeter. If Boston wants success, it needs to create that reckless abandon on the Toronto net.
"That's what you've got to do," Julien said. "We talk about desperate and everything else, they had to win this game, so they were going to do it. They blocked a lot of shots, obviously, when you look at the shots on net tonight and the amount blocked and missed. We had a lot of attempts, probably in the 80s or something. Again, those numbers, at the end of the night, like everything else, you look at wins and losses, and we're on the losing side and they're on the winning side."
There aren't too many aspects of this game the Bruins can review and be happy with. Other than Rask's play and a strong final period, there's not much else. Toronto has not allowed the Bruins' second line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin to produce much offense in this series, and the Maple Leafs finally shut down Boston's top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton.
"We never underestimated them at all," Marchand said. "They're a great team. The thing with this league, on any given night, any team can beat anybody. If you take a team lightly, then you're going to get beat. We didn't underestimate them, and they're definitely a very tough battle out there."
The Bruins found a little life at 11:12 of the third period when Krejci's line sustained an incredible amount of pressure on the forecheck and wore out the Toronto defense, which resulted in Zdeno Chara's scoring Boston's only goal of the game. The quality scoring chances were there down the stretch, but the Bruins couldn't capitalize and saw their chance to end this series disappear.
"Every once in a while, the hockey gods will take care of the people that deserve it," Julien said. "Obviously, [the Maple Leafs] played 40 strong minutes and they deserve to win tonight. We have to lick our wounds and get ready for next game."
The Bruins shouldn't need any more motivation, but another loss in Game 6 would mean a Game 7 on Monday in Boston. If they think the last two months of their regular-season schedule were tough, playing against a Maple Leafs team in that back-to-back situation would present a major challenge, even if the game is on home ice.
"We played good the second half of the game and we just have to take that to Toronto," Rask said. "We have to start the game there like we finished here. It's really not good enough when you play 30 minutes out of 60 minutes in the playoffs. We have to learn from this and be ready for Sunday."
The best-case scenario for the Bruins? Seeing a smiling Cam Neely walk off the elevator after Game 6.
The Bruins couldn't match the Leafs' intensity, so they'll try again in Toronto.