TORONTO – One of the slogans adorning the Leafs dressing room is “Close the Gap.”
Toronto didn’t achieve that goal Saturday night, stifled by the Boston Bruins in a 1-0 win that wasted a fine performance by goalie James Reimer.
“We were close and close isn’t good enough,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “We did a lot of good things but we did a lot of things that we felt we could be better at.”
Minutes later down the hall at the Air Canada Centre, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was quick to detail those shortcomings.
Toronto (4-4-0) turned the puck over too often at the Boston blue-line, got bottled up in the neutral ice “and they started to grind us,” he concluded.
“That’s the way they play and they’re a good team,” said Carlyle. “They did what they had to do to be effective to play a road game and we didn’t do enough of the things that we’re capable of to establish a strong home game in the 60 minutes.”
Chris Bourque, son of Boston icon Ray Bourque, scored in the first period—his first goal as a Bruin—to account for the offence.
Still the Bruins threatened throughout a tightly played contest, firing 34 shots at Reimer from all angles.
“James Reimer gave us a chance,” said Carlyle. “That’s all you can ask of your goaltender. I thought he made some big stops.”
Said Reimer: “They made a nice play, good for them, and they got one (goal). I thought we battled hard and we had some chances and we could have tied it, could have won it. But it wasn’t in the cards for us tonight.”
Toronto’s offence was quiet and Boston (6-1-1), especially stingy in the third, limited the Leafs to 21 shots. The Bruins also killed off two minor penalties in the last nine minutes to hang onto the win.
“That was our type of hockey defensively, and for the most part offensively, too,” said Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, acquired from Toronto for Andrew Raycroft in 2006.
Toronto is now two for 23 on the power play at home.
It was the first meeting of the year between the two Original Six rivals.
Boston won all six meetings against Toronto last season, outscoring the Leafs 36-10. The one-sided series included 7-0 and 8-0 defeats.
“Everything about last year is last year, to be completely honest with you,” said Phaneuf.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Boston was 23-5-5 in its last 33 games against Toronto and was 12-2-3 in the last 17 visits to Toronto.
The Bruins-Leafs rivalry has been upped by the 2009 trade that saw sniper Phil Kessel go to Toronto in exchange for two first-round draft picks that produced Tyler Seguin and defenceman Dougie Hamilton and a second-rounder (Jared Knight).
Hamilton, a 19-year-old Toronto native named Canada’s top junior defenceman last season, was making his debut at the Air Canada Centre.
Kessel came into the game in search of his first goal—his 100th for the Leafs—despite leading Toronto with 33 shots in the seven previous games. He has four assists.
His first shot came midway through the second period, glancing off the crossbar like a sniper’s bullet. Kessel disappeared to the dressing room in the third but soon returned to the fray and had a good chance that was stopped by Rask on the power play.
He finished with three shots. His search for a goal continues Monday against visiting Carolina.
There was early nostalgia as a Bourque opened the scoring for Boston.
“I kind of blacked out I was so excited,” Bourque said. “I don’t think I’ve scored an NHL goal in four years.”
Make that December 2008, as a member of the Washington Capitals.
The five-foot-eight Bourque crashed the net to stuff in a nifty angled pass from behind the net from Chris Kelly at 8:54.
“Poor coverage on our part,” said Carlyle.
The Bourques are the fifth father-son combination to play for the Bruins. Chris led the AHL in scoring in 2011-12 with 92 points for Hershey. Brother Ryan is currently playing for the Rangers’ AHL farm team in Connecticut.
Since 2007-08, Chris Bourque has played 13 games for the Caps, 20 for Pittsburgh and now seven for Boston.
“It was nice to see him score that goal,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about. We know he’s very capable of doing those kinds of things. The confidence he had—you could tell he was a different player. It was nice to him get that monkey of his back and get the winning goal.”
“I joked around with him before the game and told him that I’d bag skate him if he didn’t score tonight,” he added.
A Toronto goal was called off at 11:32 for goalie interference. Rask seemed to come out of his crease and run into Nazem Kadri as he tried to stop a Cody Franson shot from the point. Carlyle seemed incensed by the call after watching the replay on the big screen.
Carlyle tried to be magnanimous about the ruling later, but couldn’t hold himself back from pointing out “the amount of theatrics involved” in Rask’s tumble.
The Toronto coach called it “kind of embarrassing, from the standpoint that a guy touches his stick and his feet go this way.”
The Bruins had a goal disallowed at 6:30 of the second when the puck appeared to deflect off Seguin’s skate past a prone Reimer. The league later explained the referee was in the process of calling the play dead before the puck went in, because of incidental contact between Boston’s Brad Marchand and Reimer, with the Toronto goalie “unable to play his position following the contact.”
“I guess the score was even, from that respect,” said Carlyle.
Marchand ended up crashing into the end boards on the play and briefly went to the dressing room afterwards. He did not finish the game for precautionary reasons, with the Bruins saying he would be re-evaluated in the morning but that it appeared minor.
Reimer was sharp in the second, when Boston outshot Toronto 12-7. Rask was also up to the task, stopping Kessel from close range with five minutes remaining in the period.
Boston’s Lane MacDermid and Toronto’s Mark Fraser, who squared off some three minutes into the game, fought again in the second with MacDermid knocking Fraser down with a solid right.
The Leafs came out hitting on the night—with a 44-29 edge on the night in hits—but failed to dent the Boston defence.
James van Riemsdyk, parked on the Boston crease, had a chance late in the game when a rebound dropped in his lap. But the burly Leaf was unable to put a stick on it.
The Bruins, killing off a slashing penalty to Seguin, hit the post with the Leaf net empty with a minute remaining.
Supersized forward Frazer McLaren, claimed off waivers from the San Jose Sharks, made his Leaf debut. The six-foot-five 230-pounder has 71 fights in the WHL and 78 in the pros, according to Hockeyfights.com.
He saw minimal action on the fourth line, which was on the ice when Bourque scored.
The Bruins were coming off their first regulation setback of the season, a 7-4 loss to Buffalo on Thursday that saw them squander a two-goal lead. They had only given up 12 goals in their previous six games combined.
Toronto had won two straight—over Buffalo and Washington.
NOTES—The game drew several members of the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts and Miami Heat star LeBron Jones, who tweeted: “At my first hockey game. Pretty Damn cool.” James will be back at the ACC on Sunday to play the Raptors … Don Cherry, Ron MacLean and Doug Gilmour dropped the ceremonial game puck …Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarson is struggling with a lower body injury.