Bruins expect more physical play against Leafs
BOSTON – An elbow to the head showed Mikhail Grabovski what playoff hockey is like.
Early in his postseason debut, Toronto’s center took the blow along the boards from Andrew Ference, who was suspended for one game after an NHL hearing yesterday.
Grabovski was leveled by another hard hit in the third period Wednesday night as the teams kept pounding each other the rest of the game – and even afterward.
Players were still on the ice after the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs in the series opener when Boston’s Chris Kelly and Toronto’s Leo Komarov squared off near the penalty box.
“I don’t think we mind it,” Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid said. “It’s the playoffs and the physicality kind of steps up a level. So you’re playing the same team over and over again. You get some good battles going.”
Ference wasn’t penalized at the time for hitting Grabovski but will miss tomorrow night’s second game. The defenseman would be eligible to return for Game 3 in Toronto on Monday night.
But Maple Leafs Coach Randy Carlyle knows physical play is part of the sport – especially in the playoffs.
“To me, those are hits in the game,” said Carlyle, who broke into the NHL with the rugged Maple Leafs in the mid-1970s and had 210 penalty minutes with Winnipeg in 1987-88. “Sometimes in the playoffs, you’re going to see physicality. It’ll be front and center. It’s a game that’s made to be physical. You’re allowed to hit people. To judge if it was offside, a bad hit, or a belligerent hit, that’s not for me to judge. That’s for people in the league to make those determinations.”
Meanwhile, that style is likely to continue after the Bruins’ dominant performance in the opener.
“I expect them to come out very hard, physical and they’re going to be coming at us full-force,” Boston’s Johnny Boychuk said.
That’s just part of what the Maple Leafs must do to even the best-of-seven series.
“We didn’t play strong enough, and we didn’t win enough one-on-one battles,” Carlyle said. “We didn’t do enough with the puck to create anything. We just constantly turned the puck over.”
After James van Riemsdyk put the Maple Leafs ahead 1-0 on a power play just 1:54 into the game, the Maple Leafs had few solid chances.
Phil Kessel continued to struggle against the team that traded him to Toronto in 2009. He had just one shot after leading his team with 20 goals and 52 points in the regular season. In 23 games against the Bruins, he has three goals and six assists.
And, as usual, he was jeered by Bruins fans.
“I didn’t really pay attention to it,” Kessel said.
Both teams struggled late in the season. Boston lost seven of its last nine games and Toronto dropped four of its last six.
But Bruins Coach Claude Julien had seen signs of improvement despite the losses. Carlyle is still waiting for them.
So he planned to deliver a direct message to his players:
“Accept responsibility for the way we played. Take these next two days and focus on how we can play faster and better, from a puck-moving standpoint. Our focus has to be to simplify our game, and there are some things that we did that are totally, totally unacceptable.”
The Bruins had twice as many shots on goal, 40-20. Many of those the Maple Leafs did take were hardly challenging.
“They didn’t have too many chances there, just a couple of tips and stuff like that,” Boston goalie Tuukka Rask said after his 14th playoff game, “but I’m not going to take a break there even if we’re up 10-0 because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Toronto goalie James Reimer said he wasn’t surprised by anything in his first postseason game.
“I felt like I was well-prepared and ready to go,” he said. “The crowd is more into it, so there’s a little more intensity, so you have to find a way to keep calm no matter which way the game is swinging. “
Or how physical it gets.
“Whatever happens, happens. Our game plan doesn’t change,” Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg said. “We want to be physical, and we play in between the whistles, and whatever happens after I’m sure we’ve got a lot of guys who can take care of themselves.”