SIMMONS: It's the same old song for the sad sack Maple Leafs in Game 1

Get the latest from Steve Simmons straight to your inbox

Article content

The new playoff season looked like the old playoff season, which kind of looked like the one before that.

Advertisement 2

Article content

This is forever the challenge for the playoff hungry Maple Leafs — and forever the difficulty.

Article content

Saturday night in Boston looked like last year in Florida and the year before in Tampa and the result of Game 1 wasn’t so much stunning in conclusion as it was the same old song, the same tune with a different opponent in a different year.

The Leafs beats themselves up at TD Garden — and the Bruins beat them up — and when weren’t doing that, they were tripping over themselves on the way to a complete 5-1 punch-to-the-gut loss to the Bruins.

The Bruins were the Bruins. They are what Denny Green says they are. They’re not a surprise.

The Leafs came out trying to be the Bruins. And they got overly aggressive and sloppy. That isn’t their game and it isn’t who they are. It isn’t what will make them successful, if they are to have any success in this opening-round series.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Game 1 is gone, an easy win for Boston, the kind you file away and hope to get the next one and prevent the Bruins from taking a commanding lead.

The pressure is gone from the Bruins for now. The pressure is all on the Leafs heading into Game 2 on Monday night. And if you do the math, with one goal in Game 1, that’s 11 in their past six playoff games heading back to the Florida series of a year ago, and 15 in their past eight with the Tampa Bay series before that.

This from the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference this season, the second highest scoring team in hockey. Just not when it matters most. Not when the speed is increased, when the physical battles become more intense, when every puck becomes an argument of strength and stamina.

Advertisement 4

Article content

The Leafs lost in Game 1 the way they’ve lost other Game 1s before. They weren’t disciplined. They didn’t play smart. They lost too many puck battles and gave away the puck far too easily and far too often in the neutral zone. They were second best in goal, second best on special teams, second best in decision-making, second best in taking away time and space.

Second best on the scoreboard.

Who played great for the Leafs in Game 1?

Answer: No one.

Auston Matthews was OK, but you don’t pay someone the most money in the game to be just OK.

Mitch Marner was almost invisible. Again, he’s supposed to be a star on this team and in this town. He can’t be just a guy for the Leafs to succeed. He needs to be a special.

Ilya Samsonov in goal, like Matthews, was OK. The first goal wasn’t his fault. He made a spectacular save to prevent the score from being 2-0. That should have inspired the Leafs. It didn’t.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Samsonov allowed the first shot of the first period. And then he allowed the first shot of the second. In both cases, the Leafs’ lack of attention to defensive detail put Samsonov in a terrible position to make the saves.

Then came the special-teams debacle, which is a story about as old as this team’s recent playoff misses. Year after year, the Leafs have been second best in that department, and especially weak killing penalties.

Jake DeBrusk scored two power-play goals in the second period and that made the score 4-0. Game over. How the Leafs continue to be terrible at playoff time killing penalties — with different goalies, different penalty-killers and different assistant coaches — is a question that should have gone away by now. But it lingers, the way so many difficulties linger in another playoff year that begins with hope and somehow veers off the road just 60 minutes in.

Advertisement 6

Article content

In fairness, beginning the game without William Nylander and the emerging Bobby McMann meant the Leafs’ depth up front — one of their apparent strengths — was missing. Instead, the Bruins third line all but ate up the Leafs’ third line in Game 1 and Boston didn’t get goals from David Pastrnak or Brad Marchand or even from Charlie Coyle or Pavel Zacha.

They got two from DeBrusk, one from defenceman Brandon Carlo, who scores about as often as solar eclipses come, one from from seven-goal scorer John Beecher, whoever he may be, and and an empty-netteer from Trent Frederic.

The Leafs got a goal from the normally inoffensive David Kampf.

Nothing from Matthews. Nothing from Marner. Nothing from John Tavares. Nothing from Morgan Rielly. Nothing from Nick Robertson. Nothing from the rookie Matthew Knies.

Advertisement 7

Article content

You wonder, watching the Leafs, how is it that the New York Islanders, who barely found their way into the playoffs, can skate stride-for-stride with the great Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon, playing hard, playing with discipline, at times controlling the game.

But the Leafs seemed lost once again in their Game 1, trying too hard to hit, but unable to play hard-edged, smart, puck-battling, disciplined playoff hockey.

It will take that to win this series.

“You can’t make those mistakes,” said coach Sheldon Keefe.

No, you can’t.

[email protected]
twitter.com/simmonssteve

Article content