Boston and their bully-in-chief Milan Lucic have the upper hand over a jittery Toronto team

Joffrey Lupul felt it. He didn’t have much of a choice.

The Lucic Express was headed straight in his direction and he didn’t see it coming. When the contact came he crumpled to the ground and needed an extra second to blink his eyes, adjust his helmet and rise gingerly to his feet.

It was midway through the second period and the Leafs were two-nothing down to a Boston side unrecognisable from Game 2 when their legs deserted them. Conversely, the Leafs had sunk back into the habit of giving the puck away cheaply. “We made too many mistakes to give ourselves a chance to win,” said coach Randy Carlyle. Ryan O’Byrne will cringe over replays of Jaromir Jagr stealing the puck from him as he stood dallying behind his goalline, before setting up Rich Peverly for Boston’s second.

“Maybe a little bit of nerves,” said Mikail Grabovski after Game 1, when asked why the Leafs had been so error prone, citing the first-playoff-game experience of so many of Toronto’s players. Fair enough, perhaps – but Monday night was the final game that the Leafs can afford to lose and put down to jitters.

Game 3 was a bruising encounter and not just for the players on the ice. The sound of an Air Canada Centre crowd witnessing its first playoff game in eight seasons was deafening but Adam McQuaid’s early goal sucked the life of the building in the first period and the Leafs never really recovered.

This has been a playoff series defined by surges. In Game 1 it was a Boston tidal wave that drowned Toronto in shots, only for Game 2 to see the Leafs push back harder than the Bruins could handle. But Monday night the pendulum swung back again and despite a valiant rally in the third a 4-1 deficit could not be overturned.

If the Leafs lose this series, it won’t be for a lack of heart. Tyler Bozak, hardly known as a physical presence, frequently tore into the forecheck like a man possessed and the Bruins best player, Zdeno Chara, has been kept relatively quiet by the violent attention he has been paid. But when it comes to physicality, Milan Lucic is a one-man wrecking crew with the ability to terrify defenseman heading into their own zone to a retrieve a puck.

Lucic is the picture of a power forward. With the non-existent neck and a nose that looks as if its taken frequent beatings from Floyd Mayweather he’s an intimidating sight (if such a thing is possible in the vicinity of Zdeno Chara) and in Toronto on Monday night he showed that on his game he almost unplayable. The Leafs, though, are hardly short of hard men and the fight that they have brought to the Bruins could see them through yet.

The Leafs can beat the Bruins. They proved that in the regular season at a time when it seemed as if they were doomed to be dominated by Boston forever and they proved it again in Game 2 with performance of ferocious energy. But if this series is lost, it won’t be from not standing up to the big, bad Bruins; it will be the simple, avoidable errors that haunt Toronto and make them wonder how far they could have gone.