BOSTON - While the pain and residue of a stinging overtime defeat still lingered, the Leafs pledged to look ahead with their season momentarily on the line.
"…on the highs we're not going to be jumping off the CN Tower and on the lows we're not going to be in the bowels of the construction underneath it," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle theorized shortly before his team departed for Boston, facing elimination in game 5. "We want to remain on a constant level as much as possible."
A trio of David Krejci goals, including the dramatic overtime winner, stemming from an error in judgment by Dion Phaneuf, drove the Leafs into the ditch of a 3-1 hole with the series shifting to the TD Garden in Boston on Friday evening.
"It hurts," Carlyle continued of the 4-3 defeat, which saw the Leafs muster 48 shots at Tuukka Rask, who owns a .932 save percentage this series, "but the bottom line is you can't change what happened [Wednesday] night. Now it's time to regroup and that's what we're here to do.
"As a team if you can capture the energy and execution level and stay with the program there will be some benefit for us in this next game."
The level of energy and engagement was high from his team in the loss, the speed and swagger of a rambunctious group testing the know-how of a veteran Bruins squad, one that has exuded a certain steadiness all series long.
The Leafs raced out to a two-goal lead in the opening frame of a Game 4, Boston sniping three straight before Clarke MacArthur tied the score, preceding an overtime that was bursting with pace and opportunity for both sides.
"You can play as well as we've played and not have success," Carlyle opined of his team's inspired performance. "Is it going to be discouraging? I can't tell you that it's going to be discouraging [Friday] night because I don't focus on that. I focus on getting our group to do it again and do it to a higher level and find a way."
His team will have to do so with additional pressure on an already over-worn defence. Already down Michael Kostka to a broken right index finger, the Leafs will be forced to contend defensively without Mark Fraser, who required surgery for a fracture on his forehead, an incident that stemmed from the blast of Milan Lucic in the third period of Wednesday's loss.
Accumulating nearly 28 minutes in his third playoff game, Jake Gardiner is likely to assume increased responsibility in Fraser's place, likely alongside Cody Franson on the second pair. John-Michael Liles projects to enter the lineup alongside Ryan O'Byrne after sitting the past three games as a healthy scratch.
Even before the rash of injuries, the Toronto defence had been under sizeable duress at the hands of a Bruins forward complement blessed with speed, size and power.
"They're big players that move well and skate well so it's not always easy," said Liles, who logged 16 minutes in the series opener, but hasn't played since.
The Leafs have had, in particular, no answer for the blistering Boston unit of Krejci, Lucic and Nathan Horton, the trio combining for 22 points in four games, including 10 from the 27-year-old Krejci. "Against every top line that's buzzing you've just got to play more physical, be tight on them, don't give them any time and just try to be a mean bastard down there," Carl Gunnarsson grinned, he and Phaneuf assigned to the line in game 4 with little success, replacing Fraser and Franson, who had struggled at points prior to that.
Dulling some of the pressure on James Reimer would be desirable. Now engaged in his first postseason, the Leafs netminder has faced 163 shots (nearly 41 on average) in the series, bested thus far by Rask, who sizzled with 45 saves in game 4.
Of additional concern is the Toronto power-play, which despite scoring four goals early in the series, has struggled to coordinate, not to mention the penalty kill, which allowed two power-play goals on Wednesday.
"We've done a lot of good things," Carlyle concluded. "We've created a lot more than people would've thought we would've been able to do. We need more traffic to the net. We need a dirty goal. We need more. That's the bottom line."