I was one of the more deflated Leafs fans after witnessing game 1 of this Leafs-Bruins playoff series. I knew Boston previously matched up like kryptonite against the Leafs, and the game went pretty much exactly as I envisioned in my head; essentially, it was an extension of the last dozen or so matchups against the Bs.
Then Game 2 happened. And, even after last night’s Game 3 loss, I now consider myself considerably less pessimistic.
Let’s break down the goals against from last night:
Goal #2 was a costly individual mistake in a scenario where the Leafs seemed safely in possession of the puck. Jake Gardiner may not have put O’Byrne in the best of situations by leaving him a seemingly unexpected drop pass, but we’re not thinking about it if O’Byrne makes the routine play. That’s usually a nothing play, even for a weaker puckhandling defenceman like O’Byrne. ROB blanked for a second and, as the last man back, he paid for it dearly.
Goal #3 the Leafs, Fraser and Gunnarsson in particular, got flat out outplayed by Milan Lucic.
Goal #4 was, like #2, a highly avoidable, costly individual mistake from Phil Kessel (assist to Dion Phaneuf) while on the the powerplay. You can count on that not happening again.
Goal #5 was the empty netter.
It’s obvious goals #2 and 4 are the ones you badly want back from the Leaf perspective. They were in good shape and the individual(s) in question simply needed to make the routine play.
This isn’t to say the Leafs can’t find new and creative ways to get scored on come Wednesday, but there is a difference between being wholly defeated at the team level as the Leafs were in game 1, and shooting yourselves in the foot with individual mistakes. Last night’s loss fits the latter description.
The Leafs largely played the Bruins chance for chance, perhaps even with the slight edge in that department. Their speed game was present as it was in Game 2. Three posts and some poor puck luck around the goal, despite generating a fair amount of traffic, combined with the above two crucial mistakes was enough for the game to get away from the Leafs.
Undoubtedly, mistakes decide hockey games and the team who makes the most important ones will lose over the course of a series. And a loss here puts the Leafs in a do or die scenario on Wednesday, as the prospect of heading back to Boston down 3-1 isn’t a bright one to say the least. But at least there’s positives to take forward and still reason to believe this could be a long, hard-fought series that earns the Leafs a lot of respect, final result aside.