Jonas Gustavsson will need to remain patient.
Looking to pick up a victory in his first start for the Toronto Maple Leafs in nine months, the 26-year-old Swedish goaltender was ultimately denied in a 6-2 shellacking by the Boston Bruins on Thursday night at TD Garden.
Gustavsson, who hadn’t made a regular-season start since a forgettable 7-0 drubbing by the New York Rangers on Jan. 19, made 37 saves for the Leafs, who suffered their first regulation loss of the season.
Toronto’s record falls to 4-1-1 in defeat, while the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins improve to 3-4-0 with the win.
Before puck drop, Toronto’s current No. 2 goalie appeared poised and eager to get back into action.
“It’s going to be a good challenge for me and for the team,” Gustavsson told Paul Hendrick of Leafs TV before the game. “I’ve been waiting to play for a while now.”
In February, Gustavsson underwent a corrective procedure on his heart – the third in a span of 16 months – but is now back at full strength.
In its second game in as many nights, Toronto got a jump on Boston early in the first.
Face-off wizard David Steckel opened the scoring at 7:29, beating Thomas with a low wrist shot from between the circles.
But the lead didn’t hold up for long, as Nathan Horton’s power-play marker at 10:32 evened the game 1-1. Gustavsson’s mishandling of a Zdeno Chara point shot set up a rebound for Horton in close.
Boston’s power play continued to click, and Toronto’s penalty kill remained in slumber when Chara’s one-time blast from the face-off circle put the Bruins ahead 2-1 with under four minutes to play in the first.
Making matters worse for the Leafs, Boston stretched its lead to two on Chris Kelly’s second of the year before the clock could run out on the opening frame.
After Milan Lucic drove the puck hard to the net, defenceman Cody Franson failed to effectively tie up Kelly, whose second whack at the loose puck found its way over a sprawling Gustavsson.
Tim Thomas, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, turned aside 26 shots for Boston, including a gorgeous pad save on a Mikhail Grabovski breakaway midway through the second.
Adding salt to the wound, Tyler Seguin and Lucic connected on a third-period 2-on-1 rush, giving Boston a 4-1 advantage early in the third.
Seguin was drafted by the Bruins second overall in the 2010 entry draft, utilizing one of two first-round picks acquired by Boston in the trade for Phil Kessel.
The red-hot Kessel scored his league-leading seventh goal in a come-from-behind shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday, but was held off the score sheet by Boston.
Patrice Bergeron made it a four-goal lead for the Bruins midway through the third, and Lucic returned the favour, setting up Seguin shortly after to make it a 6-1 blowout.
Grabovski’s second of the year at 12:42 trimmed the lead to four, but that was as close as it would get.
Missing from action for Toronto were Colby Armstrong (left ankle sprain) and Clarke MacArthur (undisclosed), both injured in the win over Winnipeg a night earlier. Armstrong has since been placed on injured reserve.
Making his season debut after missing the first five contests with a knee injury was Nazem Kadri, recalled Thursday from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
Kadri, who had an assist on Toronto’s first goal, was plotted on the third line, alongside centre Matthew Lombardi and winger Mike Brown.
Coach Ron Wilson continued playing his game of musical chairs on defence, with Mike Komisarek acting as the odd man out against Boston.
The Leafs will head to Montreal next for a road game against the Canadiens on Saturday night.