BOSTON - Nine years out of the NHL playoffs and the Toronto Maple Leafs looked rusty. And sloppy. And, by the end, befuddled.
David Krejci had a goal and two assists as the Boston Bruins spoiled Toronto's long-awaited return to the post-season, scoring four unanswered goals to defeat the sloppy Maple Leafs 4-1 on Wednesday night.
The Bruins went behind early but clawed their way back into the game before a capacity crowd of 17,565 in yellow-and-black at TD Garden—Boston's 154th straight sellout. The experienced Bruins turned the screws on the error-prone Leafs as the game wore on.
"I just thought we self-destructed ... We know that this is going to take more than an ordinary effort and tonight our effort wasn't anywhere near close enough to put us in a competitive position," said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle.
Fans may have partied early in Toronto but last call was reserved for Bruins fans on this night.
Wade Redden, Nathan Horton and Johnny Boychuk also scored for Boston on a night where video review ratified one Bruins goal and disallowed two more.
Krejci, meanwhile, registered his 13th career multi-point playoff game in his 60th appearance in the post-season.
James Van Riemsdyk scored for Toronto, whose big guns were silent.
Boston outshot Toronto 40-20, including 14-6 in the third period.
"We left Reims (goalie James Reimer) out to dry for most of the game," said Leafs centre Nazem Kadri, who also lamented a string of undisciplined turnovers.
"We are just killing ourselves when we do those type of things," he said. "No one expects to win when you're playing shinny hockey out there."
"I've never seen so many people fall down with nobody around them," added Carlyle.
Game 2 goes Saturday and Carlyle promised changes in his lineup.
"There are some thing we did that were totally, totally unacceptable from our standpoint and from a coaching standpoint and we have to correct it," he said. "And now we have two days of practice and we're going to practise to get better."
Carlyle said the good news was that his players can perform better.
"And they know they can," he added. "We have to take that responsibility in the next couple of days to get ourselves ready."
The game pitted the fourth-seeded Bruins (28-14-6, 62 points) against the fifth-seeded Leafs (28-17-5, 57 points)
Their records this season may have been similar but the two teams have come from different hockey neighbourhoods.
It was Toronto's first appearance in the post-season since 2004 when the Leafs were beaten in six games by the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2011, were eliminated in the first round by the Washington Capitals last season.
"I hope MapleLeafs fans enjoy their 1st playoff game in HD this evening," tweeted Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Not so much.
"We've been better as a group," Toronto defenceman Cody Franson said by way of understatement. "We kind of made our own fate tonight. We got away from our system and it showed."
But perhaps not surprising given the jaw-dropping gap in post-season experience between the two.
Going into the game, 15 players on Toronto's current 25-man roster had never seen playoff action. Boston entered the series with 1,273 games of playoff experience on its roster, compared to just 206 for the Leafs.
The Boston roster boasts 22 Stanley Cup rings.
Boston coach Claude Julien referred to his team's experience several times in his post-game news conference.
"We've got some veteran players who have been through the trenches and certainly know how to react to situations like this," he said. "We were a focused team from start to finish."
The puck dropped just hours after more developments in the Boston bombings investigation.
Three college friends of the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect now face charges: two with conspiring to obstruct justice and the third with making false statements.
The Bruins finished off the season with seven losses in their last nine games. But they had to play six games in nine nights, due in part to schedule disruptions by the terrorist attack.
Julien said his players had benefited mentally in turning a new page in the playoffs.
"It hasn't been an easy stretch for us," said Julien. "It's been draining, it's been draining for players to deal with that stuff. I think we're all sentimental to what happened to this city."
Boston Strong was met by Toronto Tough on the night as Carlyle dressed both Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, who ranked No. 1 and 8 respectively in penalty minutes during the regular season. The two dropped the gloves a combined 25 times in 48 games.
Orr and McLaren saw limited action but did their best to initiate contact before and after the whistle, while Orr was ejected in the final minutes of the game after being involved in a scrum. Carlyle suggested Boston tough guy Shawn Thornton came off the bench to enter the final melee.
The abrasive Leo Komarov may have won the pest award for the evening, looking to torment anyone in black and yellow. Komarov was less effective in the third, when he picked up an early misconduct.
"This is playoff hockey. Two tough teams playing each other ... That stuff doesn't bother us," said Julien.
Toronto went ahead early on the power play as Van Riemsdyk tucked a puck into an open net at 1:54 after a Phil Kessel shot was tipped by Tyler Bozak and ended up behind the goal with Franson. The defenceman tried to tuck it in but instead the puck went to Van Riemsdyk, who had endured plenty of punishment to retain his position in front of goal. The big Leafs forward then took advantage of an out-of-position Tuukka Rask.
Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference administered some rough justice of his own, elbowing Mikhail Grabovski in the head by the boards. He went unpunished.
The 35-year-old Redden tied it up at 16:20, squeezing a shot at a tight angle from the edge of the faceoff circle through Reimer. The Toronto goalie may have had his view of the shot impeded by defenceman Michael Kostka, who was minus-3 on the night.
There was a turning point late in the period with Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf in the penalty box for slashing. Reimer did his bit, stopping one effort in spectacular fashion by making like a snow angel on his back in the crease. Van Riemsdyk raced up the ice and whipped a shot off the Boston crossbar.
The penalty was seven seconds from expiring when the Bruins fired back, with Horton tipping in a Redden shot at 19:48. Officials reviewed the goal, to see if Horton's stick was over the crossbar when it made contact with the puck, but the play stood.
Boston appeared to have profited from a Kadri turnover early in the second period but video review showed that Tyler Seguin's shot had hit the crossbar.
Toronto began to bottle the Bruins up in their own zone but failed to convert that into shots on goal. A Bozak breakaway was disrupted by a chasing Kaspars Daugavins at the last second.
Boston then took advantage of a Leaf change with Krejci beating Reimer on a low turnaround shot at 10:25 as the Bruins attackers were allowed to race into the Toronto defensive zone unmolested.
Boychuk made it 4-1 when he beat Reimer on the glove side with a slapshot from the blue-line at 15:44.
Boychuk flattened Grabovski at the boards at 3:45 of the third, sparking a melee that saw Orr take two minors and Ference one. Orr's choice of retaliation over discipline did not help the Toronto comeback cause.
A Patrice Bergeron goal was called off minutes later. Reimer had the puck between his legs, only to have the Bruin poke it through into the goal. But it was ruled the play was dead.
Bozak, the Leafs first-line centre, played after declaring himself fit from an upper-body injury, believed to be a shoulder, that had kept him out of the final two regular season games.
The Bruins are now 27-6-5 in their last 38 games against Toronto and 12-1-1 in their last 14 on home ice. They won three of four against the Leafs this season, but three of those games were decided by one goal with the other going to a shootout.
"The series is not over," said Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul. "It's one game. You have to win four. There's plenty of belief in here."