Playoff Notebook – May 5

Playoff Notebook – May 5

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Seems nobody told the Leafs this wasn’t supposed to be much of a series.

Toronto stole home ice advantage from Boston with a thrilling 4-2 win last night and if the first playoff game back in Toronto didn’t already hold enough intrigue, it’s now going to be officially bonkers.

Here are some notes and points of discussion from one of the Leafs‘ best games of the season:

- After game 1, I noted Chiarelli’s quote about the Leafs being a faster team than Boston and how the Bruins were trying to trap their speed. Well, game 2 had so many great examples of just how fast the Leafs really are and how they can use it to beat the Boston. The Leafs had numerous two-on-ones, scored on a breakaway, created Lupul’s goal off of Frattin’s neutral zone speed, JVR’s goal due to Grabovski’s quick counterattack, and Kadri got stopped on a breakaway.

- Why were the Leafs able to generate so much more speed and space for themselves in game 2 as opposed to game 1? They were able to generate speed in their own zone and quickly counterattack the Bruins. When I went back and watched the tape again, often the Leafs would weather some Bruins pressure, work it to their wingers, and breakout cleanly. The Bruins defense pinches every play, so they’d hit the center or the winger cutting across the zone and skate it out with ease. It seemed the Bruins never had a high forward supporting the play. That will most likely be corrected for game 3.

- As for the trap, the main thing the Leafs were doing different against it was riffling passes right through the middle of the neutral zone where the forwards could deflect the puck in deep and win battles. Whenever they deflected pucks in deep, their other forwards were already in motion in the neutral zone and had momentum going into the corners against stagnant Bruins defenders who were holding the blue line in Boston’s trap. I counted only 3 times where the Bruins were able to setup in a neutral zone trap – a by-product of the Leafs clean defensive zone breakouts, which were arguably the story of the game in comparison to game 1 — and the Leafs did this every time with success.

- The time off between game 1 and game 2 helped the Leafs a ton. They regrouped after the loss, adjusted, and had to sit and wait with that embarrassing game 1 lingering in their minds. Now the turnaround to game 3 is much faster.

- On that note about the Leafs having a lot of time to reflect on game 1. The coach can make all the changes he wants but if the best players on your team don’t play well it won’t matter. The Leafs best players were all fantastic Saturday.

- In Carlyle’s post game presser, he noted that the Bruins force you to play the game along the walls – which plays into Boston’s hand since they have a very big and strong team — so playing pucks up the middle and deflecting it into the o-zone helps keep the puck away from the wall until it’s in the Bruins end.

- On top of that, it prevented the Leafs from the sloppy giveaways in the neutral zone that killed them in game 1. Then, the Leafs took advantage of Bruin mistakes.

- For example: What an awful line change by Bergeron and Seguin on Lupul’s second goal. That’s the reason Frattin was able to rush up ice with speed and create the whole play. Also on that shift – great play from Gunnarsson to ride Seguin out along the boards and stop that rush.

- Example 2: Kessel releasing the zone for an easy breakaway after finally sneaking on when Chara’s not on the ice.

- Tyler Bozak led the entire team in ice time playing 24:22 that game. The Bruins killed the Leafs in the faceoff circle, winning 48/75 draws or 64%. Bozak went 14/38, McClement went 3/14, Grabovski 5/16 and Kadri went 4/6.

- The most underrated play of the game: right before the JVR goal to seal the win the Bruins had a faceoff in the Leafs zone and won it, but Kulemin outmuscled Jagr after the draw and got the puck back. Considering the Bruins were pressing and hemming the Leafs in their own zone, it was huge that Kulemin won a big battle against a skilled player, regained possession and got the puck out. Huge.

- Hamilton only played 8:38 but man did he make the most of it. He drew a penalty that led to Lupul’s first goal, made a neat between the legs pass to Kadri before he sprung Kessel on his breakaway, and also created a few scoring chances.

- A lot of people noted how good Carl Gunnarsson played in his 24:02 Saturday. Here’s your reminder that he’s playing hurt. A lot of players are banged up at this time of the year, but Gunnarsson’s been battling a notable injury for months now. Will be curious to eventually find out what it is.

- Kind of got lost in the aftermath of the game, but Gunnarsson made a great diving play on a Bruins shorthanded two-on-one with 11 minutes and change left in the third period.

- This also didn’t seem to get much attention, but it was awesome seeing the Leafs stand up to the Bruins. Noted last game how the Bruins crushed the Leafs in a few instances and nothing happened. You can have as many enforcers as you want, but if your top nine doesn’t stand up for themselves in playoff hockey you’re going to struggle. Lupul and JVR were chippy all night, finishing checks and getting involved in numerous scrums in front of the Bruins net. Kadri went at Chara a few times and that led to the big guy taking a dumb penalty – they also showed Kadri chirping Lucic from the bench, which is always nice to see.

- Grabovski gave it to Lucic at the end of the game; Kulemin was his usual self when it came to winning every battle and dominating the boards. Frattin was finishing checks, and Kessel was taking hits to make plays while Bozak took a big hit from Chara trying to make a play defensively, as did Gardiner from Horton.

- There was a play in the second period in which Lucic hit Grabovski down and then Grabovski got right back up only to be tripped with no call. I’m pointing this out because, when Lucic hit Grabovski, JVR came over and hit Lucic; Fraser immediately took a run at Krejci and then took a shot at Lucic, too. Standing up for each other is not only done by fighting, it’s done by things like that.

- Lupul was a no show in game 1, but an absolute monster in game 2. Eight shots on net, 2 goals, played 22:22 and won battles all night.

- The following is from an edition of 30 Thoughts in 2011 when the Bruins played the Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals:

“Which brings us to Zdeno Chara. Chara isn’t an overwhelming offensive force, but there is no doubt the Canucks are making him expend a ton of energy. He’s looked exhausted near the ends of both Cup final games, especially when Alex Burrows shrugged off the NHL’s fittest and strongest player to score the unbelievable overtime winner Saturday night.

In Game 1, the Canucks coaches clearly wanted their penalty killers to abuse Chara if the Bruins played him in front of the net. They did just that, and it did not go unnoticed. One of the reasons Boston took him away from the front of the net was to alleviate that punishment. In Game 2, Chara saw time against both the Kesler and Sedin lines.

It’s not exactly a new strategy to throw the puck into a valuable defenceman’s corner, and then try to punish him as much as possible. The Red Wings did it to perfection with Paul Coffey during the 1997 Stanley Cup Final, while Anaheim brutalized the Ottawa defence 10 years later.”

- I bring that up because I thought it was really interesting for the Leafs to have Orr hacking away at Chara in front of the Bruins net a couple of times. Anything you can do to wear down the big guy, do it. Literally a week ago Julien was fielding questions regarding whether or not Chara needed a break to rest up.

- Chara ultimately had an assist, played over 25 minutes and was on for both Bruins goals and none of the Leafs goal, but he was also on for Bozak hitting the post, the play in which there was a mad scramble in front of the Bruins net where Kessel inexplicably didn’t bury, and took two penalties. The Leafs got to him a bit.

- Kadri drew one of those penalties when Chara hit him trying to provide a pick. Right before that, Kadri had a one-on-one against Boychuk and tried to toe drag him instead of taking it to the net; he got stopped and the turnover resulted in a bunch of Bruins pressure. That’s the fine line Kadri has to walk; when you’re up 3-1 on the road in the playoffs in the third period, should you really be toe dragging a guy in that situation? I’d be shocked if no one talked to him about that afterward.

- The Leafs really benefitted from the Ference suspension. They crushed the Seidenberg-Boychuk pairing all night. Unfortunately, Ference is back for game 3 and that will be huge for the Bruins.

- I have no real “note” on Reimer, I just wanted to point out he played great.

- After Kessel went five-hole on his breakaway goal… You can’t convince me he’s rattled right now or feeling the pressure. It takes some serious stones to go five- hole on a goalie at any time, let alone in the third period of playoffs against a really good goalie.

- The Leafs were using Frattin for defensive zone draws in Kessel’s spot pretty regularly all night. With that, I still can’t believe Frattin only played 11:00 because he was noticeable all night long and flying. His greatest play might have been after Phaneuf forechecked on offense with 5 and a half minutes left or so and got caught deep in the offensive zone. Frattin backchecked hard and ruined the Bruins’ 3 on 2. Two minutes later the Leafs iced the game.

- Toronto is going to be crazy on Monday.

***

5 Questions for Game 3

Do the Leafs make any line-up changes for game 3?

Conventional wisdom obviously says no, but the Bruins dressed Peverley in game 2 after not playing him in game 1, so who knows? MacArthur can be a useful player, but I’d be surprised if the roster was changed.

How much will changing home ice effect the Kessel-Chara match up?

Generally speaking, Chara still played against Kessel more often than not. Kessel finally scored once he got away from him, so it could be huge if the Leafs could get even 3-5 more shifts of Chara-free Kessel hockey.

What changes will the Bruins make now?

Ference coming back in for Boston is already a huge boost, but even more than that the Leafs killed them with speed all night. Dreger speculated on TSN afterward that there is talk of the Bruins bumping Jagr up to the Bergeron line and dropping Seguin to the Kelly line too.

Can the Leafs play even better?

This was one of the best performances the Leafs put on this year, but Boston can definitely play better and I expect them to.

How much of a factor will crowd be, if any?

Generally speaking I don’t put a ton of stock into home ice advantages stemming from fan bases, but considering it’s been nine years and it’s Toronto, I’m willing to acknowledge it could play a factor here. Here’s hoping it does.

Anthony Petrielli has been writing Leafs Notebooks, also known as short stories, on MLHS since the beginning of the 2011 season. He'd rather let his work do the talking but Alec and Declan have been bugging him about writing a bio, so here it is. You can contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @APetrielli

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