For anyone rubbing their eyes and waking up this morning, I can confirm that what you saw last night was NOT a dream. It was dream-like, but not actually a dream. It happened.
The Leafs won their first playoff game since 2004 and in the process beat the Bruins in Boston for the first time in over two calendar years.
Phil Kessel scored his first goal at evens against the Bruins, and he waited until the playoffs, in the third period (representing the game winner), to do it.
Building off his last game, Mikhail Grabovski had his best performance of the season when it mattered most.
So many individuals elevated their games in a complete effort up and down the lineup.
The Leafs outcompeted the Bruins physically, and not because of a big hit count in a game they were badly outpossessed. They were throwing meaningful hits and winning their puck battles.
Puck management was much improved, resulting in cleaner zone exits and entries and activating the Leafs’ superior team speed. Neutral zone turnovers into the Bruin trap were reduced as the Leafs were connecting more consistently on their short quick passes or simply getting pucks deep to chase after.
Game management by the coaches was on the mark, most notably when they sent Kessel over the boards just when Chara left the ice leading to Phil’s game winner. Carlyle was giving Julien and his team a ton of different looks and reacting sharply to the temperature of the game, to what was working and what wasn’t. Ice time allocation was better, though helped by the lack of powerplays against. The additions to the lineup in Jake Gardiner and Matt Frattin some might say came a game too late, but were the right ones nonetheless. The add of Hamilton is not one many were advocating for. His impact was even less expected. Carlyle rotated Hamilton onto the top line at points, taking some shifts with Kadri and Kessel. His willingness to get to the dirty areas almost earned him a goal while helping to open some space for his linemates, and a good little defensive zone play led to a secondary assist on the game-winning Kessel goal. Carlyle has caused some to shake their heads throughout the season but what he has consistently done effectively is to adjust and put his team in position to rebound after a piss poor performance.
It won’t always be the same names we’re lauding every night, but it’s going to require that type of effort in the general sense, from coaching to the top guns to the role players to the D to Reimer, in order to topple a team like the Bruins over the course of a potentially long series. If they can keep these games close, the Leafs seem to have a more opportunistic offense and a better powerplay. We’ve learned the Leafs are capable. Now it’s about doing it again.
Below you can replay the Game in 6 a couple dozen times: