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5 things we learned as Maple Leafs made Bruins miss Zdeno Chara 11.12.14 at 10:32 pm ET
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Phil Kessel scored twice against the Bruins Wednesday. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

Phil Kessel scored twice against the Bruins Wednesday. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

TORONTO –€” The first eight games of the Zdeno Chara-less schedule looked like a group of largely winnable contests before they would have to face the Canadiens.

For as well as the Bruins survived that stretch, they ended it in disastrous fashion.

For all the bad moments have had this season — and they’€™ve had plenty between their early-season struggles and the injuries they’€™ve suffered –€” they hadn’€™t really gotten walloped by anyone, let alone a Maple Leafs opponent they had handled easily without Chara once already.

The Bruins’€™ 6-1 loss to the Maple Leafs (here is the box score) provided a reminder for anyone who had forgotten that, though Boston hasn’€™t played many good teams of late, things are a lot harder without No. 33 on the ice. Phil Kessel, a player who is usually silent against his former team because of Chara, enjoyed a two-goal night against Boston’€™s mortal blue line.

Tuukka Rask was yanked after giving up three goals early in the second period and four on the night. Even what looked like a well-targeted Bruins goal by Reilly Smith was negated in the second period by Carl Soderberg being in the crease.

Of course, it wasn’€™t just about Chara, Rask or Boston’€™s defense. This was one of those once-in-a-season colossal stinkers that a team can only hope will end up being their worst loss of the season with few other candidates.

Here are four other things we learned Wednesday night:

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Read More: Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara
Leafs’ Phil Kessel: ‘You can’t blow a lead like that’ 05.14.13 at 3:26 am ET
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In the immediate moments after the worst Game 7 collapse in Stanley Cup playoff history, Phil Kessel, a man of few words to begin with, need few words to describe his emotions.

“It’€™s pretty tough,” Kessel said. “Obviously, we were up 4-1 with 10 minutes left or something. You can’€™t blow a lead like that.”

What did coach Randy Carlyle tell the Leafs in the intermission before overtime after his team self-destructed?

“Obviously, he just said if we put ourselves in this position, we take it,” Kessel said. “Obviously it’€™s disappointing. I don’€™t know what happened to us. 4-1, you can’€™t lose that game.”

How will the Leafs possibly bounce back from this next season?

“Obviously we’€™ll have the summer to think about it, work hard and get back at it next year,” Kessel said. “It’€™s pretty tough — 4-1, you can’€™t lose.”

Kessel kept repeating 4-1 over and over. Did the Leafs fall into a shell and take their foot off the gas?

“I don’€™t know. I don’€™t think so, they kind of took it to us and we sat back,” Kessel said. “We can’€™t do that. I think, we didn’€™t do things we needed to do right? We sat back and they came at us.

“I don’€™t know. I can’€™t look at the positive after a game like that, it’€™s pretty tough.”

Read More: Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs,
Adam McQuaid on M&M: ‘It’s pretty easy to dislike who you’re playing against’ 05.09.13 at 2:18 pm ET
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Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid checked in with Mut & Merloni on Thursday afternoon to talk about Wednesday’s night’s overtime victory over the Maple Leafs that gave the B’s a 3-1 series lead.

The intensity in this series hit a new high in Game 4, a back-and-forth game that featured plenty of hard hitting. Although Toronto doesn’t have the obvious villains like some of the Bruins’ more fierce rivals, McQuaid said it’s not difficult to develop some animosity toward the skaters in blue and white.

“We’re playing for the Stanley Cup, and the guy across from you is the one that’s trying to prevent you from getting that, so it’s pretty easy to dislike who you’re playing against. They’re trying to take something away from you,” McQuaid said. “You kind of know who you’re playing against. At the same time, we’re kind of trying to focus on ourselves and make sure that we’re playing hard.”

Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel has been surprisingly successful in this series after struggling in regular-season action against his former team.

“He’s got a lot of speed. He’s a great offensive talent,” McQuaid said. “He’s got a quick shot, so he doesn’t need much time to get a good opportunity. So, you have to do your best to try and limit his opportunities and be aware when he’s on the ice.”

Tuukka Rask had a big game Wednesday, the same day the league announced the finalists for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender. Despite posting stats that put him at the top of the list, Rask is not one of the three finalists.

“We know how valuable he is to our team and what he brings to our team,” McQuaid said. “We let him know in our eyes that he deserved to be there. Some guys are joking around that he’s just going to have to be better next year. ‘€¦ We know how important he is to our team and how good he is. There was a little bit of surprise that he wasn’t nominated. But like I said, his value within our team, we know how important he is.”

McQuaid has been paired in this series with Wade Redden, the veteran who spent two years in the minors before returning to the NHL this season and being acquired by the Bruins from the Blues at the trade deadline in April.

“He’s a guy that has a ton of experience,” McQuaid said. “Him going through what he went through the last couple of years I think speaks volumes to the type of person he is. To persevere through that. I was just happy to see him have the success that he’s had. I feel pretty fortunate to have a D partner like that.

To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Bruins news, visit the team page at weei.com/bruins.

Read More: Adam McQuaid, Phil Kessel, Tuukka Rask, Wade Redden
Phil Kessel told Brad Marchand he’d fight him ‘any time’ 05.07.13 at 3:22 pm ET
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TORONTO – Brad Marchand dropped one glove when he was tied up with Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel in the third period of Boston’s 5-2 Game 3 win, and he said Tuesday that he it was to gauge whether Kessel would stick to his word.

“We kind of came together there and I wasn’t really sure what was going on,” Marchand explained. “He was shoving and he told me before he’d go with me any time, so I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, but I just wanted to be prepared.”

Kessel has one career fight in the NHL, which came against Columbus’ Kris Russell during the 2009-10 season. Marchand has four in his career, with his lone fight this season coming against Washington’s Mike Ribeiro.

Asked Tuesday about the scuffle, which landed both players in the box in an exchange the B’s would gladly take, Kessel said he doesn’t feel Marchand is getting him off his game or drawing him into anything that would put the Leafs in a tight spot.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Kessel said, adding: “It’s just battling hard out there, and it gets heated.”

Added Kessel: “I mean, he’s a good hockey player and he battles hard out there.”

The good news for Kessel is that he’s finally finding some offensive success against the Bruins. After scoring just three goals in his first 22 career games against his former club, Kessel has two goals in three games this series. If he’s happy about that, he sure isn’t showing it.

“It doesn’t really matter when you’re not winning games,” Kessel said. “Obviously last night we didn’t win, and we’re going to have to come out harder Wednesday.”

For more on the Bruins, visit weei.com/bruins.

Read More: Brad Marchand, Phil Kessel,
Bruins enter amped atmosphere as Toronto gets playoff hockey back 05.05.13 at 7:49 pm ET
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TORONTO — These Bruins have dealt with a wider variety of atmospheres than any other team. They’€™ve played playoff games in Montreal, where the Bell Centre has been pretty close to deafening. They’€™ve played in front of an overly passionate Vancouver crowd with the Stanley Cup on the line. Most notably, they’€™ve played at TD Garden two days after a terrorist attack on their own city.

Obviously, the first two don’€™t compare to the third for pretty much every reason you could think of, but the B’€™s have seen more than their fair share of buzzing barns. They’€™ll probably be able to add Monday’€™s scene to the list, as Toronto will host its first playoff game since 2004. With the series tied at a game apiece, the crowd on Monday night will have plenty to be excited about.

The Air Canada Centre opened its doors in 1999, and the Maple Leafs made the playoffs in each of the arena’€™s first six seasons. Dougie Hamilton was just a kid (or, to put it correctly, a younger kid than he is now).

‘€œI think I remember going to playoff games as a kid and I know the fans are pretty good in Toronto,’€ Hamilton said. ‘€œI’€™m sure it’€™ll be a really good atmosphere.’€

The Air Canada Centre hasn’€™t hosted a postseason game since that six-season run, and you can bet that a city that eats, sleeps and breathes hockey (and produces NHL stars aplenty — Hamilton, Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton are among the big-name Bruins who hail from the area) will be more than up for the game.

More importantly, you can count on the Leafs being up for it. After looking like a team that didn’€™t know it was in the playoffs in Game 1, the Leafs boasted a more balanced attack (thanks to both altered lines and the Bruins playing a messy defensive game) and, with the exception of a ton of rebounds from James Reimer, looked far more confident in Game 2. Considering they won the game and got big production from its stars in Joffrey Lupul (two goals), Phil Kessel (his first even-strength goal against his former club) and James van Riemsdyk (his second goal in as many games as he continues to establish himself as a big-time playoff performer against the Bruins), they should be feeling good.

‘€œWe’€™ve got the best fans in the National Hockey League, so I’€™m sure they’€™ll be excited to cheer loud,’€ Dion Phaneuf said. ‘€œWe’€™re happy with the way that we played [in Game 2], but we’€™ve got lots of work to do yet.’€

So with a buzzing barn and a team coming off a big win to even the series, what can get in the way of Toronto taking a series lead or at least splitting the games at ACC? Two things: The obvious one is a better game from the Bruins, and the other is the play of Reimer. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Dougie Hamilton, Phil Kessel,
Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs come back to life in Game 2 to tie series 05.04.13 at 11:40 pm ET
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Whether it was jitters, lack of playoff experience, or just an off night that plagued the Maple Leafs in Game 1 against the Bruins, those obstacles appeared to be overcome in Game 2 as they evened the series with a 4-2 win on Saturday.

“We were a little tight, first game,” said Joffrey Lupul, who scored twice for Toronto. “We weren’t executing. We were missing 12-foot passes that NHL players usually don’t miss. We were a little tentative, whether we want to admit it or not. Those nights happen, and it’s how you react. We reacted pretty well tonight.”

The Leafs came back with a steady, opportunistic performance, taking advantage of several defensive miscues by the Bruins after Nathan Horton gave Boston a 1-0 lead in the second period. They took 32 shots after managing just 20 in Game 1, and they earned second and third chances, forcing both Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to stop multiple shots in a row in one second-period sequence.

But the exclamation point on the Leafs’ improved performance was their third goal, the one that belonged to former Bruin Phil Kessel. Less than a minute into the third period, Kessel was approaching the Bruins’ blue line and looking for a pass that came from Nazem Kadri back in the Leafs’ zone.

Kadri hit him in his stride, and Kessel blew past Dennis Seidenberg to beat Rask five-hole. It was his first even-strength goal in 24 games against the Bruins, silencing the fans who’d chanted his name mockingly earlier, at least for the moment.

“I was happy, obviously,” Kessel said. “It’s been a long time. Felt nice to score. I just got lucky. ‘€¦ I had a couple other chances tonight, and just snuck it past him.”

For most of the game, the Bruins kept Kessel off the board by matching him up with Chara. On that play, though, it was Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk on the ice, neither of whom were anywhere near him by the time he scored.

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Barry Melrose on D&C: Maple Leafs have to ‘be the Boston Bruins to be successful’ 05.02.13 at 12:33 pm ET
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ESPN NHL analyst Barry Melrose talked with Dennis & Callahan on Thursday to analyze the Bruins’ Game 1 victory over the Maple Leafs. Game 2 is Saturday in Boston, before the series shifts to Toronto on Monday.

After trailing 1-0 early in the first period, the Bruins quickly answered with two first-period goals and coasted to a 4-1 win.

“[The Bruins] were awesome after [Wade Redden‘s goal],” Melrose said. “They looked like the old Bruins after that. They were physical, their play in the neutral zone was great. I can probably think of 10 passes and plays intercepted by the Boston Bruins in the neutral zone. They attacked the net with ferocity. And [Tuukka] Rask, he didn’t get a lot of work, but I thought he made three or four key saves when the game was on the line. It was just what the doctor ordered if you’re a Bruins fan.”

Melrose also discussed the importance for the Maple Leafs to be more physical in the coming games, and the consequence of not doing so — a quick exit in the playoffs.

“They have to play more aggressive,” Melrose said. “They’ve got to do some hitting. Toronto’s got to play on the edge. They’ve got to be finishing checks, winning battles. They’ve got to be the Boston Bruins to be successful, and they weren’t last night. They were always retaliating, they were never initiating, and that’s got to change for the Toronto Maple Leafs. If it doesn’t, this will be a short series.”

The Maple Leafs’ top offensive weapon, Phil Kessel, was essentially neutralized by the Bruins in Game 1. This is becoming all to familiar for Kessel, as he has struggled in his career against his former team, due in large part to Zdeno Chara‘s stellar defense.

“Chara’s on the ice every time Kessel’s on the ice,” Melrose said. “That just shows how good Chara is. Year in and year out I would give Chara the Norris Trophy, he’s that good defensively and that’s what he did last night. He’s out there with that huge reach. He’s got that mean streak to him, and Kessel just has no open ice. Kessel needs room, Kessel needs some space to make plays and with Chara and that long stick and that huge reach, he just doesn’t have any time or space to make plays. Chara always eats Kessel up.”

The favorites out of the Eastern Conference are the top-seeded Penguins, who took care of the Islanders 5-0 in their playoff opener. However, as we saw last year with the Kings, anything is possible in the playoffs.

“We see that every year,” Melrose said. “We see LA last year make the eighth spot and win the Stanley Cup and win it easily. It’s about getting your game together, it’s about getting hot at the right time, it’s about great goaltending, it’s about your special team kicking in key goals at key times and stopping their power play. We see it all the time. A team that looks unbeatable at the start of the playoffs loses in four straight. So, without a doubt things can change and change very quickly.”

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Read More: Barry Melrose, Phil Kessel, Tuukka Rask, Wade Redden
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