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Maple Leafs Learn Hard Lessons Against the Best Team in the NHL in Turnover-Filled Loss to the Bruins – Sports Illustrated

BOSTON — The Boston Bruins have been the class of the NHL this season and the Toronto Maple Leafs were well aware of that when they began to look ahead to their second meeting them.

And although the Maple Leafs defeated the Bruins 2-1 at Scotiabank Arena back in November, it was a different vibe at TD Garden on Saturday.

The intensity was ratcheted up to 11 from the early going and the Bruins hounded the Maple Leafs. When Toronto made a mistake, the Bruins were there.

“You can’t give them freebies and we did,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said following the 4-3 loss. “You got to learn these lessons sometimes the hard way. You’d like to think our group is past some of these things, but clearly not. You got it smacked right in your face tonight.”

With the Maple Leafs up 1-0 in the first period, Morgan Rielly committed the team’s first costly turnover when he failed to clear the puck out of his own zone. That allowed Boston’s Brad Marchand to find Patrice Bergeron for the equalizer. 

“If you look at their goals, we’re almost handing it to them,” Rielly said of the night. “There are certain things that we did well, but when you give them the puck repeatedly, they’re going to make you pay.”

After Toronto recaptured a one-goal lead, Conor Timmins’ attempted to pass the puck while he was draped by a pair of Bruins players. He pass attempt to Rielly was intercepted by David Pastrnak who beat Toronto goaltender Matt Murray between the legs to tie the game 2-2.

The game was tied again 3-3 late in the third period when John Tavares turned the puck over, which turned into Matt Grzelcyk’s game-winner with 1:16 to go in regulation time.

Big mistakes at key times.

“Against a team like that, you got to be really, really diligent. I know better than that, Tavares said of Boston’s winner. “I got to be better there.”

When the Maple Leafs weren’t turning the puck over, they didn’t the save they needed. It’s not necessarily in an indictment on Matt Murray’s play in goal as he was sharp early in the game.

The contest could have turned ugly when Brad Marchand had a wide-open net on the right side when Murray came over to rob him with the glove save.

But on Boston’s lone goal that didn’t come as a result of a turnover, Murray allowed a shot from distance to go through his legs, putting Boston ahead late in the second period for the first time in the game.

“I think he wants goals three and four back but there’s a lot of stuff happening in front of him there that shouldn’t have been happening that shouldn’t allow those shots to get to him,” Keefe said of Murray. 

The good news for Toronto was the return of Auston Matthews, who looked like his old self again on Saturday. Out for the last two games to deal with a lingering undisclosed injury, Matthews displayed some skill with a nifty shot over the shoulder of Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark in the third period.

Matthews and Mitch Marner were reunited on the top line for the start of the third period and Matthews seemed to benefit from the change. It’s not clear though if the change will become permanent as Keefe indicated the adjustment was situational.

“I thought we needed just a little bit more of a push in the third period,” the Maple Leafs coach said. “In terms of what we’ll do going forward, I don’t know. Let’s digest this one first.”

The Maple Leafs played this game with Pontus Holmberg and Bobby McMann as both forwards were ill with a flu bug that has begun to spread around the team. Both players being absent meant Wayne Simmonds was back in the lineup after re-emerging against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday. 

The veteran forward made his presence felt by engaging in a fight with former Leafs teammate Nick Foligno and stood up for teammate Michael Bunting at the second period when Bruins forwards A.J. Greer and Charlie Coyle with some end-of-period shenanigans.

It was an intense matchup and easily Toronto’s most entertaining game of the season. With Toronto and Boston so firmly entrenched in their position in the Atlantic Division standings, the game had a real playoff vibe. 

Both of these teams, of course, have recent playoff history. If this game is a preview of what Toronto could expect in a playoff series, fans will be entertained. But it should provide the Maple Leafs some pause that they still have a way to go get to the very top of their playoff aspirations.

 “Close game. Probably could have gone either way,” Matthews said. “Definitely a playoff atmosphere.”

And that was with Toronto committing three turnovers that led to goals.