BOSTON (AP) — The NHL-best Boston Bruins haven’t lost back-to-back games all season, and they wanted to keep it that way.
“The game meant more to us than I imagined before the game,” coach Jim Montgomery said after Boston bounced back from its first shutout of the season and beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Saturday night.
“And I’m glad it did,” Montgomery added. “We’re proud of not having lost two in a row. There was a purpose to what we were doing — not only because it was a second-place team in Toronto that we were playing, but we don’t want to lose two in a row.”
Two nights after being shut out by the Seattle Kraken — Boston's first regulation loss at home all season — Matt Grzelcyk scored with 76 seconds left to help the Bruins beat Toronto for the first time in five tries since before the pandemic.
Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and A.J. Greer also scored for Boston, and Linus Ullmark stopped 18 shots. The Bruins have the NHL's best record and 70 points in 42 games — 11 points ahead of Atlantic Division rival Toronto; the Carolina Hurricanes are No. 2 in the league with 61 points.
Michael Bunting, Pierre Engvall and Auston Matthews scored for the Maple Leafs, and Matt Murray made 30 saves. The teams fought twice, including a scrum at the end of the second period that led to 10-minute misconduct penalties against Wayne Simmonds and Greer.
“I haven’t played in the playoffs in the NHL, but I can definitely feel it through the building,” Greer said. “It was a great win, and a rewarding win in front of our fans. It’s Bruins hockey. It’s electric.”
Toronto led 1-0 and 2-1 before Boston took its first lead at 3-2 on Greer’s goal midway through the second period. But Matthews, returning from an undisclosed injury that cost him two games, tied it for Toronto early in the third.
It stayed that way until Grzelcyk slapped the puck through a screen and into the net. Murray complained that he had been interfered with, but there was no challenge.
After the game, the Bruins announced they signed Pavel Zacha to a four-year extension with an annual cap hit of $4.75 million. Zacha, 25, has five goals and 20 assists this season.
Zacha spent the first seven years of his career with New Jersey, which picked him sixth overall in the 2015 draft, before he was traded to Boston last summer for Erik Haula. Zacha has 74 goals and 130 assists in his career.
Simmonds and Boston’s Nick Foligno got into a fight in the first period that lasted several minutes before they tired themselves out and the officials moved in to break it up. When they did, Simmonds tapped his former Maple Leafs teammate on the head approvingly.
But there was more animosity at the end of the second, when the teams hesitated before leaving the ice. Simmonds needed to be escorted back to the bench while he was jawing with Greer.
“There’s players on their team that certain guys on our team don’t like. And I’m sure it’s the same way” for Toronto, Montgomery said. “That’s what makes for a rivalry and that’s why it was such a heated, good hockey game.”
HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES
The Bruins had killed off 18 straight penalties before Bunting opened the scoring with a power-play goal. Boston tied it when the Maple Leafs left Bergeron alone in the slot, and he nonchalantly redirected a pass from Brad Marchand into the net.
Engvall gave Toronto another lead early in the second when he split two defencemen with a wrist shot that beat Ullmark. Three minutes later, Pastrnak deflected a pass in the Boston zone and chased it down, racing down the left side with Marchand closing on the right.
Pastrnak kept it, and put the puck through Murray’s legs to make it 2-2.
Midway through the second, Ullmark lost his stick but still managed to make a diving glove save — despite Boston forward Taylor Hall crashing into him — on Mark Giordano. The Bruins came away with the puck, with Tomas Nosek bringing it into the Toronto zone and drawing away a defender before passing it to Foligno, who centred it to Greer for the goal.
Zacha hit the post of an open net on a shot that could have given Boston a 4-2 lead. Instead, Matthews tied it 3-all three minutes into the third.
Toronto: Hosts the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.
Boston: Hosts the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.
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Jimmy Golen, The Associated Press