Bruins crush Leafs 5-1 in the opening game of the playoffs

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Boston Bruins’ Jeremy Swayman (1) blocks a shot by Toronto Maple Leafs’ John Tavares (91) as Bruins’ Andrew Peeke (52) defends during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first round playoff series, April August 20, 2024, in Boston.Michael Dwyer/The Associated Press

Max Domi and Brad Marchand cut each other to pieces for the opening puck drops. Timothy Liljegren made a surprise visit to the Boston bench when he was checked over the boards. There was a seven-player scrum in the Toronto net. There were two hooking penalties, two for roughing and one for high sticking and cross-checking. There were 48 hits.

This all happened in the first twenty minutes. If it’s the third Saturday in April, it has to be Maple Leafs-Bruins playoff hockey.

The visitors bus probably received a one-finger salute somewhere along the way to the arena. As Toronto’s players skated outside for a pre-game warm-up, they were serenaded with boos.

There isn’t much love lost between these NHL rivals, dating back 100 years.

It ended badly for the Maple Leafs. They were defeated 5-1 in the opening game of the postseason by a team with their personal boogeyman.

The last time Toronto beat Boston in the postseason was 1959. The Bruins also won all four games against them during the regular season.

There was really no reason to expect anything different. Game 2 is Monday night at TD Garden. Then the best-of-seven series comes to Scotiabank Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Friday.

Boston took command in less than three minutes after Johnny Beecher scored on his team’s first shot. He fired the ball past Maple Leafs goalie Ilya Samsonov from six yards out.

It sounded like the roof of the building was going to fly off. There was a wild party, with yellow towels thrown through the air.

Of course, Boston would score first. It also scored second on a long one-timer by Brandon Carlo with 14:13 left in the second period. In between those goals, Toronto’s star center Auston Matthews missed a gaping wide-open net. The fans taunted California-born Matthews, who led the league with 69 goals in 81 games, with chants of “USA!”

Yes, it’s another year and a different team, but this felt eerily similar to the old days. There is a possibility of going into a 2-0 hole when the clubs meet again at the “Gah-dunon Monday evening. Sure, Toronto could be still wins four of the next five, but who really believes that?

Matthews was in the box for a cross-check when the Bruins struck again late in the second. Jake DeBrusk tapped one in and the place exploded for the third time. By then, fans were chanting.

A penalty from Domi gave Boston another man the lead and DeBrusk scored for the second time in two and a half minutes.

At that point, the Maple Leafs’ wheels had not yet come off and they had been thrown overboard.

The crowd began to haze Samsonov. American or Russian, it didn’t matter.

It’s been seven months since the Maple Leafs started training camp. Since then, they had played a total of 90 games and 82 in the regular season. Everything they had done – all the work and all the pain – was in preparation for this.

But it certainly didn’t look like it.

This is the eighth straight year Toronto has reached the post-season, but last year was the only time in that span that it won a series. Previously, this had not happened since 2004.

This is the fourth time in eleven years that Boston and Toronto have met in the first round. Boston won in seven games the last three times.

But anyone who qualifies gets a clean slate at this time of year.

“To get to this point is what you play for all year,” Maple Leafs alternate captain Morgan Rielly said hours before the game.

Does the team’s lack of success against Boston negatively impact his psyche?

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what happened in the past,” Rielly said. “This is a new year and a new team.”

It’s only one game, but Toronto got steamrolled right out of the gate. It took a fourth liner – David Kampf – to get them on the board in the third. Too little, too late.

On Saturday, fans in Toronto wore blue and white at the request of Mayor Olivia Chow, then jammed to Maple Leaf Square to watch on a big screen. At the same time, the CN Tower was illuminated in blue.

In Boston, the streets outside the arena were closed to traffic, making it a car-free zone for Bruins supporters to gather.

Toronto started off on the wrong foot. William Nylander, arguably the second-best forward, missed the game with an undisclosed injury.

Nylander, the only member of the team to play all 82 regular-season games, woke up Thursday with discomfort and had to leave practice Friday and did not participate in Saturday’s morning skate.

The 27-year-old is having the best season of his career, contributing 40 goals and 98 points. In nine campaigns, he played in 651 of 653 games during the regular season and playoffs. For two days, the team declined to respond to questions about what happened, whether he would play and, if he couldn’t play, how long he might be out.

They still haven’t said it, but Nylander was missed.

“He’s a very good player,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He makes a big difference in our team. We handled it very well when we had players out, but not well tonight.”

Jeremy Swayman, who went 3-0 against Toronto during the regular season with a .957 save percentage, got the start in Boston’s fold. He was as good as ever, stopping 35 of 36 shots.

Samsonov has been erratic all year. He allowed 11 goals in his last two games of the regular season and four or more in five of the past nine. He turned away 19 of the 23. Boston’s final goal was scored into an empty net.

Earlier in the day, Toronto players expressed how much they were looking forward to this challenge.

“This is what we play for all year,” said Joel Edmundson, a defenseman. “The Day of Game 1 is very exciting. There is a lot of emotion. You just want the puck to drop.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

It’s the best of times, but it can also be the worst.

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