Leafs limp home after Beantown beatdown: 'We can try and change the story'
Toronto needs to win 4 of next 5 to advance to the second round
The Toronto Maple Leafs had designs on a long playoff run when they boarded Wednesday's flight to Boston, confident of their chances ahead of a first-round series with the Bruins after a record-breaking regular season.
Now they're simply looking for a way — any way, really — to slow down a juggernaut that's bashed them around in two crushing defeats to open their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Losses of 5-1 and 7-3 at TD Garden have the Leafs in an 0-2 hole as they prepare to host what amounts to a must-win Game 3 at Air Canada Centre on Monday.
Toronto isn't done yet, but a lot has to change in 48 hours following an embarrassing beatdown in Beantown.
"We were outplayed for two games," Leafs defenceman Ron Hainsey said after Saturday's blowout. "If you add it up, it's 12-4 over six periods. We deserve every bit of criticism far and wide. Good news is, story's not totally written yet.
"We can try and change the story."
Bruins top line playing outrageously
A place to start would be getting in the way of Boston's top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, which has combined for a stunning 20 points in 120 minutes of action.
Heading into Sunday, Pastrnak led the playoffs in scoring with nine points, including three goals and three assists in Game 2, followed by Marchand's six points and Bergeron's five.
The trio has dominated at both ends of the ice with speed, skill and relentless puck pursuit, highlighted by Saturday's frenetic first period where they put up a goal and five assists in a 10-minute span to help Boston build a 4-0 lead.
In addition to stellar play in the offensive zone, and there's been plenty, they've also shut down the Leafs' No. 1 line led by Auston Matthews, which has been held off the scoresheet.
Toronto will likely try to get Matthews away from Boston's top unit with the last change at home, but the absence of the suspended Nazem Kadri, who isn't eligible to return until a potential Game 5 back in Boston, means Pastrnak, Marchand and Bergeron won't have to deal with the Leafs' best two-way forward.
"It obviously hasn't gone the way we want," Toronto head coach Mike Babcock said. "We're a way better team than what we showed."
The Leafs set franchise records for wins (49), home wins (29) and points (105) this season, but their speedy roster has been unable to get separation against the Bruins (50 wins, 112 points) in the battle of Atlantic Division foes.
Special teams a factor
Special teams have also been a disaster, with Boston's power play having connected on five of 10 opportunities. When including Toronto's final five games of the regular season, opponents have scored 11 times with the man advantage in the last seven outings.
The Leafs' power play, meanwhile, has had decent zone time, but a late consolation goal in Game 2 is all they have to show for their seven chances after registering an NHL-best 32.5 per cent success rate since the end of January.
Toronto was brimming with confidence after winning three of four meetings between the teams in the regular season, but are now pointed in the direction of a disastrous end.
"Their power play's playing well, our penalty kill, not so much," Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. "Their penalty kill's playing well, and our power play, not so much. Beyond that, our defensive zone can be better, we can get through the neutral zone better.
"There's a lot of things that we've got to work on."
And if they don't, a much longer off-season that anyone expected even five days ago could be just over the horizon.
Komarov status uncertain
Babcock isn't planning to have forward Leo Komarov in the lineup against the Boston Bruins as they try and dig out of an 0-2 series deficit.
Komarov left Saturday's 7-3 Game 2 loss with a lower-body injury and Babcock says he doesn't know if the Finnish forward will be ready to return for Monday's Game 3 matchup at Air Canada Centre.
"What I'm planning on doing is going without him and if he shows up he shows up," said Babcock.
The 31-year-old started Game 2 on Toronto's top unit with Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen, but a 4-0 first-period deficit led to him being dropped down to the fourth to start the second. He played just 6:39 before leaving in the middle frame and not returning.
Forwards Dominic Moore, Matt Martin and Josh Leivo are all healthy and ready to go, with all three taking part in post-season practices. But Babcock wouldn't tip his hand at who could potentially replace Komarov in the lineup if needed.