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Published March 5, 2024

Zacha scores twice, Bruins down Maple Leafs 4−1 in potential playoff preview

Bruins were 3−3−5 over their last 11 games before last night
Zacha scores twice, Bruins down Maple Leafs 4−1 in potential playoff preview

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Sheldon Keefe watched his team give up a breakaway 14 seconds into Monday’s first period.

The Maple Leafs head coach was mostly fine with the next stretch of action until Toronto got its first power play.

Despite being down a man, Boston grabbed momentum on that penalty kill — and didn’t look back.

Pavel Zacha scored twice to snap a long goal drought as the Bruins bounced back from an ugly effort 48 hours earlier to down Toronto 4−1.

"The ice was tilted their way," Keefe said of the game’s first six minutes. "We didn’t get a lot in terms of scoring chances, but it takes time to generate chances against this team."

Bruins defenceman Keven Shattenkirk then went off for high−sticking, the Leafs struggled to get in the offensive zone, and the visitors got a couple of short−handed chances.

"We didn’t respond well to that," Leafs captain John Tavares said.

Morgan Geekie scored the opener for the Bruins shortly thereafter with the teams back playing 5−on−5 before Zacha buried his first of the night — and first in 12 games — on a power play less than three minutes later.

"Great first period and we didn’t stop playing," said Pastrnak, who set up both early goals and finished with three assists. "We bent, but we didn’t break."

Jake DeBrusk added a goal and an assist for Boston (36−13−14). Jeremy Swayman made 32 saves for the Bruins, who were embarrassed 5−1 by the New York Islanders on Saturday, but now sit eight points clear of the Leafs for second in the Atlantic Division.

"Big momentum game for us," Swayman said. "Really happy with our team’s effort."

Tavares replied for Toronto (35−18−8) in a potential first−round playoff preview. Joseph Woll stopped 23 shots for the Leafs, who will be in Boston for a Thursday rematch. 

"A few too many mistakes," Tavares said after scoring for a second consecutive game. "They just did a little better job around their net than we did around ours. 

"Playing against a team like Boston, and games down the stretch, those are big difference makers. Margins are very small." 

The Bruins — 3−3−5 over their last 11 with just one regulation victory heading into Scotiabank Arena — opened the scoring at 9:43 of the first when Geekie redirected a Pastrnak pass for his 14th goal of the season.

Denied by Woll on that early breakaway, Zacha made it 2−0 at 12:42 with the Bruins on a man advantage when he snapped his 13th from the slot as Boston led 11−2 on the shot clock. 

"Both teams played hard," Woll said following his second appearance coming off a high ankle sprain. "They capitalized on a couple of their chances and it’s the difference." 

The visitors went up by three at 5:07 of the second when DeBrusk, who had an assist on Zacha’s first−period goal for his first point in six games, snapped the winger’s 14th off the rush after Swayman denied Toronto winger Bobby McMann on a similar chance. 

"They played well most of the game," Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. "We were streaky."

Auston Matthews came agonizingly close to adding to his NHL−best 53 goals on a Toronto power play late in the period, but his effort was cleared off the line by Boston defenceman Brandon Carlo. 

The Leafs, who hit a couple of posts and have two games in hand on the Bruins, got one back at 3:52 of the third when Tavares ripped his 19th upstairs. Rielly picked up an assist to pass Tim Horton for fourth on the franchise’s all−time list for points by a blueliner with 459. 

But Zacha scored his second of the night and 14th of the campaign at 10:34 from in tight to make it 4−1 after Pastrnak threw the puck in front. 

"Premier team in league," Keefe said of the Bruins. "Every night you play them you’re in for a tough night. 

"Exactly what we expected." 

The Leafs just didn’t have an answer.

LACKING LINDHOLM 

Boston played without shutdown defenceman Hampus Lindholm for a seventh straight game with an undisclosed injury. 

FIGHT NIGHT 

Leafs tough guy Ryan Reaves spoke to the media Monday morning for the first time since fighting the six−foot−seven Matt Rempe on Saturday. The combatants also had a lively conversation in the penalty box following their spirited third−period tilt. 

"Really nice kid," said the 37−year−old Reaves. "He talked about how the media pumped it up so much … he’s like, ’Two Original Six teams going at it and all everybody was talking about was a fight.’ 

"It shows that fighting’s not dead in this sport. People still get amped up for it." 

banner image: The Canadian Press

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