Game 4 takeaways: Special teams propel Bruins to 3-1 series lead

Game 4 takeaways: Special teams propel Bruins to 3-1 series lead originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Toronto Maple Leafs have no more room for error. They have been pushed to the brink of elimination with a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.

James van Riemsdyk opened the scoring for the Bruins in the first period. It was his first goal since Feb. 17 and snapped a 21-game scoring drought. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak both scored in the second period, and Jeremy Swayman made 25 saves in another excellent effort in net.

The Bruins lead the series 3-1 and will have a chance to punch their ticket to the second round Tuesday night in Game 5 at TD Garden.

Boston also has won seven consecutive Game 4s versus Toronto. Before we look ahead to the next matchup, here are three takeaways from Bruins-Leafs Game 4.

Brad Marchand torments Leafs again

The Bruins captain led his team to a Game 3 victory on Wednesday night with three points (two goals, one assist) including the winning tally in the third period. He played even better in Boston’s Game 4 win.

The Leafs had absolutely no answer for Marchand in any facet of the game Saturday. It was just total domination by the veteran left wing.

Marchand doubled Boston’s advantage in the second period with a power-play goal. He passed Cam Neely to become the franchise’s all-time leader in playoff goals with 56 as a result.

Marchand also forced a turnover late in the second period and fed a nice pass to David Pastrnak to complete a 2-on-1 rush and put the Bruins up 3-0.

Marchand finished with one goal, one assist, two shots, three hits and three blocked shots in 21:22 of ice time. He has eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games this series, including multiple points in three of the four matchups.

This is the time of the year when your best and most experienced players have to step up and contribute. The Bruins captain is leading the way with his positive impact in all situations.

Bruins’ special teams dominance has been No. 1 difference maker

There are many reasons why the Bruins have a 3-1 lead in this series, and their stellar performance on the penalty kill is pretty far up on that list, if not No. 1.

The Leafs had the No. 7 ranked power play in the regular season — a unit loaded with superstar forwards such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. But this group has looked completely lost and ineffective against the Bruins’ disciplined penalty kill.

The Bruins went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill in Game 4. This unit is now 13-of-14 in the series. Boston has done a great job blocking shots, winning puck battles along the boards and breaking up passes while shorthanded. If you go back to last season, the Leafs have scored on only one of their last 20 playoff power plays.

Not only have the Bruins dominated on the penalty kill, they’ve also scored six times in four games on the power play. Boston’s 6-1 goal differential on special teams is the difference in the series right now.

Swayman stays unbeaten vs. Leafs

The Bruins opened the series alternating between Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark as the starting goalies through the first three games. The rotation ended — at least for now — in Game 4 when Swayman became the first B’s netminder to make back-to-back starts since he did it Feb. 19-21.

It was the correct decision by Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. Not only has Swayman owned the Leafs over the last two seasons — a 6-0-0 record with a .959 save percentage, including the playoffs — there was an extra day of rest between Games 3 and 4.

Swayman rewarded his coach’s trust by giving the Bruins another stellar performance. He made 25 saves on 26 shots for his third win of the series. His best stop came on a great scoring chance by Leafs star William Nylander right after Mitch Marner had given Toronto some life with a third-period goal. Swayman extended his right pad to deny Nylander and preserve Boston’s 3-1 advantage.

The Leafs made a decent push in the third period, but Swayman stood his ground and did a great job locating pucks through traffic. He looked calm and poised in net all game.

Swayman is now 3-0-0 with a .957 save percentage and a 1.25 GAA in this series. There isn’t a goalie playing better than Swayman in the entire playoffs right now.

Game 5 doesn’t take place until Tuesday, which means there’s an extra day of rest for Swayman to recover. The Bruins could give him a third straight start with a chance to close out the series, or they could go back to Ullmark and prevent him from getting rusty. There’s really not a bad decision for Montgomery to make considering his team has the luxury of a 3-1 series lead.

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