BOSTON — They say a playoff series isn’t really a series until a road team wins a game.
If that’s true, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a real series with the Boston Bruins.
Joffrey Lupul scored two goals, Phil Kessel scored a rare goal against his old team and James Reimer stopped 39 shots to give the Leafs a 4-2 victory Saturday night that evened the Eastern Conference series at a game apiece.
The fifth-seeded Maple Leafs, earning their first playoff win since 2004, now have home ice advantage against the No. 4 Bruins with the series shifting to Toronto for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday nights.
“For us it’s a bounce-back game, big time and we’re looking forward to getting home,” Lupul said. “It’s been a long time since there’s been playoff hockey there and we know everyone is looking forward to it.”
They’d be looking forward to it less if the Bruins had built on their 1-0 second-period lead and held home ice. But this Toronto team was different than the one that lost the opener 4-1. The official stats had the Leafs with 44 hits and they moved the puck much better than they did in the opener. They also got better goaltending; Reimer leaves a lot of rebounds but Saturday he also stopped lots of shots.
“We bounced back and we’ve been doing that all year,” said Lupul, who played in only 16 regular season games because of a concussion, but now has 13 goals in 18 games. “We felt pretty bad after Game 1 but it doesn’t matter how you lose a game, you’re still down 1-0 in the series; so we were able to refocus, we had two days off and we came back and we played a solid game.”
Kessel, playing in his 24th game against his old team, scored only his fourth goal against Boston, his first at even strength, when he took a pass from Nazem Kadri and beat Tuukka Rask on a breakaway to make it 3-1 just 53 seconds into the third period. Kessel played all night by Boston’s Zdeno Chara, had four shots on goal, and Chara wasn’t on the ice for the breakaway.
“Obviously, it was nice to get one (goal) but we just got to keep going,” said Kessel, who has 10 points in the 24 games against Boston but also has 16 points (the first 15 with the Bruins) in 17 career playoff games.
Asked about the difference between Games 1 and 2, he said, “We battled hard, we played our games and we were fortunate. They’re a good team.”
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk’s seeing-eye shot from the right point got past Reimer with 9:25 left, but it was Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, set up by Mikhail Grabovski, scoring the next goal, his second of the series, with 3:07 left.
“They just came out harder (than in Game 1),” said Boychuk. “They just played a lot harder and did a good job. We knew that they were going to. We just got to put it behind us. We have to go just as hard, if not harder.”
Said Chara: “They were a much hungrier team, and it showed. We know we’ve got to be better. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and we know that we can be a lot better so we’ve just got to get ready for the next game.”
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, unhappy with his team’s play in the opener, made four lineup changes, including two on defense, and three of the four players had assists in the game.
Horton’s second goal of the series gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the second period.
Toronto captain Dion Pheaneuf could face disciplinary action for what looked like an elbow to the head of Daniel Paille in the third period. No penalty was called but the hit was similar to the one Andrew Ference delivered on Grabovski in Game 1, earning Ference, who also was not penalized on the ice, a one-game suspension.
The game had less than a second remaining when Boston’s Shawn Thornton and Toronto’s Mark Fraser went at it in a bout in front of the Toronto net.
NOTES: The Leafs are 21-2-1 when leading after two periods. … With Ference suspended, rookie Dougie Hamilton, a Toronto native, made his playoff debut. Like teammate Tyler Seguin, Hamilton came to Boston in the Kessel deal. … Rich Peverley, a healthy scratch in Game 1, returned for the Bruins. … With John Michael Liles a healthy scratch and Mike Kostka out with a broken finger suffered in Game 1, defensemen Ryan O’Byrne and Gardiner joined the Toronto lineup. … Asked before the game about his team’s edge in playoff experience, Julien said, “There wasn’t much experience on that Islanders team last night, but they still won (in Pittsburgh), so I guess that answers the question.” … Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman, who helped identify the suspects, was the honorary captain in pre-game ceremonies. In a statement, Bauman, who lost both legs in the attack, said, “I want to thank everyone for their amazing support for me and all those injured and their families. I’m making great progress and I thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers. Please continue to respect our space at this time. I want to thank the Bruins players and organization for the generosity and support for all those impacted. Like all those in Black and Gold I can’t wait to see them on another quest for the cup. Go Bruins!” He received a huge ovation when he appeared waving a “Boston Strong flag. … Brad Marchand’s auction of his TD Garden suite raised $207,000 for the family of 8-year-old Martin Richard, killed in the attack. … Patriots owner Bob Kraft was again in the crowd.