Four areas Bruins must improve entering pivotal Game 3 vs. Maple Leafs

Four areas Bruins must improve entering pivotal Game 3 vs. Maple Leafs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON — For the second straight year, the Bruins followed a Game 1 win in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a lackluster performance in a Game 2 loss.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were the more desperate team Monday night at TD Garden and earned a well-deserved 3-2 victory. The series is now tied at one win apiece as the action shifts to Toronto for Game 3 on Wednesday night.

The Bruins had a chance to win Game 2 thanks to a stellar effort in net by Linus Ullmark, who made 30 saves in his first action of the series. The Bruins also scored another power-play goal. But they also made way too many mistakes, and a good team like the Leafs is going to make you pay more often than not.

“I don’t think we’ve played anywhere near as good as we can,” Bruins forward David Pastrnak said following Game 2.

How can the Bruins find their best game for 60 minutes in Toronto later this week? Here are four key areas where improvement is needed.

5-on-5 scoring production

The Bruins have scored seven goals in this series, including Trent Frederic’s empty-net tally at the end of Game 1. Almost half of those goals — three, to be exact — have come on the power play. While the power play’s resurgence — two goals in Game 1 and another in Game 2 — is definitely an encouraging sign for the Bruins, the lack of 5-on-5 production is a problem.

Jake DeBrusk, Pavel Zacha, Brad Marchand and Charlie Coyle have zero 5-on-5 goals through two games. Only four Bruins players have more than two 5-on-5 shots in two games, and one of them is defenseman Brandon Carlo.

The Bruins scored just one 5-on-5 goal Monday. It came near the end of the first period when Zacha made a brilliant no-look pass to set up a David Pastrnak one-timer. Boston wasn’t able to generate much at 5-on-5 the rest of the game. The B’s tallied just two shots and two scoring chances during 14:29 of 5-on-5 action in the third period. That’s nowhere near good enough, especially when they were trailing with 7:54 remaining after Auston Matthews’ go-ahead goal.

The Bruins, based on the amount and quality of their scoring chances in Game 2, were expected to score only 1.86 5-on-5 goals, per Natural Stat Trick.

Why aren’t the Bruins generating enough quality scoring chances?

“I think it’s a function of (the Leafs) defending well,” Montgomery said postgame. “It’s also a function of we’re not playing fast enough. We’re slow in transition, which is not allowing us to possess pucks, and it’s not allowing us to get it on the forecheck.

The Leafs are not a defensive juggernaut. And even though Ilya Samsonov played well in Game 2, he’s one of the least reliable goaltenders in the entire playoffs.

The Bruins cannot rely on their power play to provide the bulk of their scoring. That’s rarely a recipe for winning games consistently over the course of a six- or seven-game series. The 5-on-5 scoring production has to improve in a meaningful way.

Defending the slot, and in front of the net

The Bruins struggled to defend the front of their net for several stretches during the regular season, and it’s been an issue in this series.

Boston opened the scoring in the first period, but that momentum lasted just 14 seconds because Max Domi was quick to equalize for Toronto. The Leafs won a couple puck battles in the buildup to this goal, including Domi pouncing on the rebound to Ullmark’s right.

The Bruins have given up 58 scoring chances, including 25 (!) high-danger scoring chances during 5-on-5 play through two games, per Natural Stat Trick. If you look at all situations, including power plays, the Leafs have a 75-38 edge in scoring chances and a 34-15 lead in high-danger chances. That’s a massively lopsided advantage for Toronto.

Giving a team as skilled as the Leafs this many Grade A scoring chances is playing with fire. The Bruins must clean up their defense in the low slot in Game 3.

Too many penalties

The Leafs power play struggled at the end of the regular season, but it finished the campaign with the seventh-best success rate at 24 percent overall. Toronto has a bunch of high-end offensive players, led by the core four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander (who has missed both games with an undisclosed injury).

If you give this star-studded group enough chances with the man advantage, it’s only a matter of time before it will break through. That was the case in Game 2.

The Leafs scored on their third power play when John Tavares fired a turnaround shot that beat Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark to tie the score at two late in the second period.

The Tavares goal came as the result of a Matt Grzelcyk interference penalty. Grzelcyk cross-checked Tavares from behind as they were jockeying for position in front of the net. Did Tavares go down a little too easily? Maybe, but Grzelcyk still needs to be a little smarter in that spot, especially with just 3:08 remaining in the period.

The Bruins also committed not one, but two too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties. There are no excuses for those kinds of mistakes. Overall, Boston has taken nine penalties in two games.

“I actually liked our second period until we took the penalties,” Montgomery said. “Then their power play got rolling. They get juice from their power play. I thought in the third period they were better than we were.”

Defending Auston Matthews

Matthews led the league with 69 goals in the regular season and snapped a six-game playoff goal drought with the winning tally in the third period.

He beat Linus Ullmark on a breakaway to give the Leafs a 3-2 lead with 7:54 remaining.

Matthews has now scored 12 times against Ullmark in his career — tied for his fifth-highest total versus a single goalie (including the playoffs) in his career.

The superstar center leads all players in the series with 11 shots and 13 individual scoring chances during 5-on-5 play. The Leafs have a 24-9 edge in scoring chances and a 12-6 lead in high-danger chances in Matthews’ 5-on-5 minutes.

Matthews didn’t just score and pick up two assists in Game 2. He also won 16 of 23 faceoffs and tallied six hits. He was aggressive in all three zones and gave an MVP-caliber performance when his team needed it most.

Matthews is a hard guy to defend, obviously, but the Bruins have to find ways to limit his time and space with the puck at 5-on-5 going forward. Doing that will be tough in Toronto when the Leafs have the last line change as the home team.

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