BOSTON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans waited nine years for this?
Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. But the Maple Leafs worst fears were realized in their first playoff game since 2004 on Wednesday. They weren't able to shake a late-season funk that saw them outplayed and outshot in the majority of their outings down the stretch.
In their series opener, a one-sided 4-1 defeat to the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden, the Maple Leafs playoff inexperience was evident. They were sloppy in all three zones. They lacked determination and discipline. They spent far too much time chasing the Bruins in the Toronto end of the rink.
Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said it best, his team "self-destructed." He also vowed to make some lineup changes for Game 2 on Saturday.
It's hard to believe now, but Toronto actually led 1-0 on a James van Riemsdyk power-play goal one minute and 54 seconds into the game. After that, nothing good happened for the Maple Leafs.
Toronto defenceman Cody Franson suffered a foot injury early in the second period after he blocked a shot. He walked with a noticeable limp afterwards, but felt with some treatments he would be ready for Saturday.
Netminder James Reimer, one of 10 Toronto players who made their Stanley Cup playoff debut in the series opener, also was shaky. But he faced more odd-man rushes than Mikey the bartender does after Bruins and Celtics games at the popular Fours Restaurant and Sports Bar around the corner from the TD Garden.
And did anyone see Phil Kessel? He checked in with one shot on goal in the second period and continued to struggle against his former team since Boston traded him to the Maple Leafs four years ago. Kessel now has only three power-play goals in 23 games and no points in five games this year.
Maybe he, too, was injured in this game. The Bruins were physical, but disciplined. Hockey Night in Canada cameras caught Kessel wincing on the bench early in the second period. His ice time of 13:51 certainly reflected his effectiveness.
The Bruins on the other hand, a team with a combined 22 Stanley Cup rings, overcame their late-season doldrums that saw them finish the final quarter at 4-6-4, worst among the 16 clubs that made the playoffs.
Bruins coach Claude Julien remarked before the game that the post-season was an opportunity for a fresh start. The message was heard loud and clear because his players kicked up their game a notch.
A few of the local reporters I talked to remarked afterwards that this was the Bruins best game of the season. The atmosphere in their dressing room was buoyant as players talked about the win next to a Bruins sweater that hung on one wall with Boston 617 Strong stitched on the back, in honour of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings last month.
It was neat to see veteran 35-year-old defenceman Wade Redden score the Bruins first goal and then set up the go-ahead marker, a deflection from Nathan Horton. That second goal was huge because moments before van Riemsdyk hit the post off a rush. Redden and Horton swiftly went the other way to score with 11.7 seconds remaining in the first period.
Rangers let Redden go
Until this season, Redden had been buried in the AHL for a couple of season because the New York Rangers no longer liked the front-loaded, six-year contract they signed him to in 2008.
Because of the new collective agreement struck in January, Redden was bought out and signed with the St. Louis Blues. He was then traded to the Bruins last month and has supplanted rookie Dougie Hamilton as a regular. His memorable offensive effort was a small measure of revenge for all those playoff losses to the Maple Leafs as a member of the Ottawa Senators.
The current Maple Leafs now have until Saturday evening to see if they can return home with a split. That's a long time to stew over a game, but plenty of time to correct the many ills in their game.
Maybe their second Stanley Cup playoff game in nine years will be worth the wait.
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