Talking about Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron is much easier than stopping Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
The Toronto Maple Leafs believed they were ready to disrupt the spin cycle against the NHL’s top line until their series with the Boston Bruins began and they got tossed in the washing machine. Marchand and Bergeron put on a puck control clinic in Game 1, teaming with stylish sniper David Pastrnak to power Boston to a 5-1 victory on Thursday.
There will be much discussion in the coming days about what adjustments can be made to push back against the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio.
Mike Babcock will have to rethink his deployment after that unit gave the Bruins an important insurance goal in the final minute of the second period. The Leafs coach sent out Tomas Plekanec and the fourth line for the defensive zone faceoff and wound up seeing Marchand fool Kasperi Kapanen with a head fake before setting up Pastrnak for the 3-1 goal.
Toronto’s concerns only grew from there after Nazem Kadri received a boarding major for jumping at a prone Tommy Wingels midway through the third period. That hit will almost certainly draw attention from the NHL’s department of player safety and could see Kadri suspended for Game 2 on Saturday.
That would further complicate the Leafs’ matchup challenges.
The Auston Matthews line drew most of the Bergeron assignment on Thursday, as expected, and managed to keep them off the scoreboard at 5-on-5. But Marchand opened the scoring on a power play and was at his agitating best, planting a kiss on Leo Komarov for the second time this season.
The Leafs managed to recover after a deer-in-headlights start and saw Zach Hyman tie it 1-1 on a determined individual effort – taking control of the puck after Zdeno Chara got burned on a pinch in the offensive zone.
The game turned in the middle period as Toronto failed to score on two power plays. They had chances. Tyler Bozak couldn’t get a handle on a loose puck at the side of the net and Mitch Marner slid a shot under Tuukka Rask but had it roll wide.
David Backes put the Bruins ahead for good with Boston’s second power-play marker at 15:43 before their top line extended that advantage. Bergeron and Marchand, in particular, were dogged in their control of the puck – preventing Toronto’s top players from getting an opening in the offensive zone.
“What’s different about that line is lines that can really score, lots of times they don’t defend,” Babcock said beforehand. “These guys can really defend. So, you know, they’ve got good players and they play hard. Our job is to understand that and know what they do.
“We spend a good deal of time preparing for the team, we understand what they do. Now we’ve got to do what we do.”
The game got out of hand during the final 20 minutes – with Sean Kuraly batting the puck out of the air after Pastrnak was stopped by Frederik Andersen to make it 4-1 before David Krejci banged home another Bruins power-play goal during Kadri’s major.