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Leafs look regroup, solve Bruins’ riddle in Game 2

BOSTON – Sheldon Keefe’s team was in a similar position 12 months ago.

The Maple Leafs dropped their playoff opener to the Tampa Bay Lightning before roaring back to capture the Original Six franchise’s first series in nearly two decades.

A weight was finally lifted. The fan base rejoiced, if only briefly.

Despite suffering a 5-1 loss in Boston to open this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament, Toronto still — at least in some ways — finds itself in a slightly better spot compared to last year’s curtain-raising setback on home ice.

These Bruins, however, are a different animal.

Boston swept the Leafs four straight in the regular season, outscoring Toronto 14-7. The Bruins now have won eight consecutive games against their Atlantic Division rival — a stretch of more than 530 days dating back to November 2022.

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And looking even further in the rear-view mirror, Boston claimed the three previous playoff series between the teams over the last dozen years with Game 2 set for Monday.

“You’ve got to be able to move on,” Keefe said Sunday at the team’s hotel. “You make your adjustments and you get back at it. That’s really it. You can’t get too worked up about it. Whether the game finishes the way it did last night or whether we lose the game in overtime, we’re still down 1-0.”

The long-term numbers and trends, however, are bleak for a team that pumped 36 shots at Bruins netminder Jeremy Swayman on Saturday, but was undone by mistakes, penalties and an inability to capitalize on opportunities.

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“You’ve got to be able to deal with it,” Keefe continued. “We’ve been through this and we’ve bounced back well. We have an opportunity to do that again.”

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Toronto won four of its next five contests last spring after dropping Game 1 against Tampa to buck 19 years of playoff misery.

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Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves, who signed in the off-season as part of a roster remake that included off-ice intangibles, referenced Disney’s “The Lion King” when asked about the team’s mood.

“Almost the ‘Hakuna Matata’ kind of motto,” he said. “You can’t be worried about what happened in the past. You’ve just got to look forward.”

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Looking back to Saturday, the Leafs will be hoping for improved special teams play after giving up two goals on five Boston power plays and getting nothing from their three man-advantage chances.

And then there’s staying within Toronto’s structure — something the group got away from at times.

“They’re a very patient team and they’re waiting on those mistakes,” Leafs star Auston Matthews said Saturday night. “We’ve just got to take care of the puck and simplify things a little bit. When we did that there were points in the game where we gained a lot of momentum.

“It’s just finding that throughout the 60 minutes.”

Discipline and controlling emotions will be another key after some Toronto players, including winger Max Domi, crossed the line at various points.

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“The physicality was right,” said Reaves, a veteran of 109 playoff contests. “It was just the sticks and the penalties that really didn’t have an impact on the play.

“Eliminate those and we’re right there.”

A huge question mark for Toronto as the best-of-seven series progresses is the status of winger William Nylander, who missed the opener with an undisclosed injury. The 27-year-old has sat out because of illness in the past, but Saturday marked the first time he’s been absent due to a physical ailment since November 2016.

The Leafs have made it clear they won’t be discussing injuries — Keefe wouldn’t even say how Nylander is handling the disappointment of missing Game 1 — but a couple of his players offered a sliver of insight.

“Seemed to be in good spirits,” Toronto defenceman Jake McCabe said of the Swede. “Not going to speak too much on it.”

Whether or not Nylander, whose absence ripples down the lineup and impacts the power play, is available Monday, the Leafs know a response is required.

It’s something they’ve done before. Just not against the Bruins.

“We’ve got to be able to bounce back,” Keefe said. “But at the same time not overreact or get over emotional about one loss. You’ve just got to get right back to it.

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“And trust your group.”

GOALTENDING QUESTIONS

Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said he’s “contemplating” his starter for Game 2. Swayman and Linus Ullmark have rotated the crease since February.

Keefe declined to say if he will go back to Ilya Samsonov after the Russian allowed four goals on 23 shots Saturday.

BUZZING BUILDING

A trade deadline pickup by Boston last season, Leafs winger Tyler Bertuzzi knows what TD Garden is like when the Bruins get rolling.

“The crowd is a big part of their success,” he said. “One thing that next game we need to do is nip that in the bud and try to keep the momentum on our side.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2024.

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&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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