I remember it like it was last night. An ill-timed pinch, two Bruins streaking out of the zone, and a “dagger” into the heart of Leafs Nation after an overtime in which the Leafs carried the play. This one is going to take some time to digest. Although the boys battled their tails off, and went toe-to-toe with one of the favourites in the East, some mistakes and puck misfortune ultimately sealed the Leafs‘ fate after starting 2-0 up in a brilliant first period.
I know this series isn’t yet over, but here’s what I learned about the Leafs after their showing last night.
The Leafs are a young and an inexperienced group. Much was made of the Leafs‘ lack of playoff experience relative to the Bruins prior to the start of the series. Last night, although it may not have seemed like it, I think the experience-gap played out in front of us. Boston showed that they could weather an early onslaught, keep things tight, and respond opportunistically. As I said earlier, you cannot fault the team for a lack of heart or effort. Neither should you fault a team for a lack of playoff experience because last night will one-day serve as a tool in Nazem Kadri’s arsenal, as he’s facing off against Crosby in the Eastern Conference Finals. As heart-wrenching as the loss may have made us feel, imagine the heartbreak the players must have felt. They are a young group that will learn from this experience and take the first steps in writing the City’s new playoff future. As my old tennis coach used to say, these are one of those losses that you need to bank, because you’ll need to draw on them one day.
With Game 5, and hopefully Game 6, to take place back in Boston, I’d be remiss to say that I don’t think the odds are looking very hot for our boys. TD Garden is a hostile building (funny how their arena is under Toronto’s Dominion, though) and the Leafs will need to sustain a similar, if not better, effort as last night if they want any chance of extending this series. That may seem like a tall task but hopefully with some prudent line changes (please insert Liles), Toronto can find a way to endure to the very end. Win or lose, I just want these guys to continue to battle their asses off and create an experience that’s worth drawing back on later down the road for them, and for us.
-Aaron Chan (@Mapleleafmuse)
Here’s what some of our writers thought:
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“Jake Gardiner had a really strong game (again), Clarke MacArthur came back with a vengeance and he looks destined to make the Leafs look foolish if they let him walk this summer. Frattin continues to make his case as a player who should have been in all along, and Lupul, Grabovski, and Kessel continue to do what makes them the teams top forwards.” -Jon Steitzer (@YakovMironov)
“This team finally has legitimate young talent contributing at every position. James van Riemsdyk, once considered frail, he’s played this series with great vigor, bulling over the opposition to park himself in front of the net. James Reimer, though he hasn’t been getting the wins, is providing the reliable (if acrobatic) goaltending of a number one guy. This series would be over without him, and I couldn’t pin any of the losses on him. Finally, Jake Gardiner, the team’s prodigal son, was all over the ice last night and recorded two assists. He has four points in three playoff games and must be having just the most wonderful conversations with Randy Carlyle right now.” -Michael Stephens (@MLHS_Mike)
“In those mere ten minutes of overtime, the Toronto Maple Leafs displayed more heart, will, effort, and ability than they did in all of…well, 2005-2012. The value of that experience cannot be overstated, and in those moments, they skated toe to toe against not just one of the best teams in the league, but a bitter rival against whom they’ve suffered under a pall of near-constant defeat. Results aside, there’s a well of pride to be found in that” –Matt Mistele (@TOTruculent)
“The Leafs got burned by the Bruins’ second line of Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and most notably David Krejci. The trio has combined for 22 points in four games, providing offense enough to mitigate the drop in offensive contribution from the Bergeron-Marchand-Seguin line.” -Michael
“Everything surrounding the Orr penalty that led to Boston’s first goal, and I’m NOT just talking about Colton. Grabovski’s stick was visibly slashed out of his hands nearly simultaneously, and went seemingly unnoticed by a referee staring directly at the play. But instead of a 4 on 4, the slash is missed/ignored and the Bruins score a power play goal because, what, Orr’s elbow kind of visibly nudges Chara’s chest protector in a barely-considered action of desperate self-defence?” –Matt
“Mark Fraser taking a puck to the face was certainly the injury to add to the insult tonight, and there is little doubt that increased reliance on Ryan O’Byrne for important minutes in the third and overtime is not a good thing. Presumably this means Liles plays back in for Game Five. While I like Fraser as a protected minutes enforcer type, putting Liles in is an upgrade in skill which could help.” -Jon
“I said it then, and I’ll say it again: saying Orr took a ‘dumb’ penalty with that ‘elbow’ is ridiculous to me. Against the bench, Orr’s exposed in a dangerous spot to have Chara zeroing in. If Orr doesn’t throw that elbow up, he dies. Picture Big Z just…sheering off everything above Colton’s spleen. I’m sure everyone blaming Orr for that power play goal against would totally not react and just take the hit like a total man, though.” –Matt
“Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals between the Leafs and Bruins came down two errors costing the Leafs grievously. In the second period, Colton Orr took stupid penalty (or, conversely, he and Zdeno Chara took stupid penalties and the refs botched the call), leading to Krejci’s second goal of the period and putting the Bruins ahead 3 – 2. In OT, Dion Phaneuf took a pinch of half measures at the Bruins blueline, and the Leafs got scored on by – guess who – David Krejci again on the ensuing counter attack.” -Michael
“Perhaps the ugliest thing about Game Four is the numbers 8:50 and 12:02. That’s the ice time for MacArthur and Kadri respectively. Two of the Leafs best possession players combined for 21 minutes while Bozak cleared 25 minutes on his own and continued to be a less than stellar performer beyond first period faceoffs.” -Jon
“Dion Phaneuf has played 226 games as a Toronto Maple Leaf, and he picked the worst time to have his worst one. He had a rough night. Bad decisions. Bad positioning. Curious, uncharacteristic impotence on the opposing point. And an admittedly terrible pinch at an admittedly terrible time that was a key factor in Boston’s game winning goal. Watch the postgame scrum. He’s devastated. Totally shattered. That’s real human emotion you’re seeing from someone we hadn’t thought capable of physically expressing it.” –Matt
Prospects, Phaneuf, Playoff Acclimation
“As much as I’d like to still own my Leafs in six prediction, the impossible nature of that pick has forced me back down to earth and instead I’d love nothing more than players like Colborne and possibly Rielly getting a brief taste of playoff hockey. With Liles already coming in for Fraser, why not consider Rielly playing for O’Byrne? I’m pretty sure that Rielly is the only one of the two that will still be with the organization after next week (fingers crossed anyway.) As for Colborne, the choice to play him in for five minutes a night seems low risk in replacement of Colton Orr.” -Jon
“That the Maple Leafs have even had a shot at being in a position to win Game 4 of the first round of Stanley Cup playoffs is due, in no small part, to the success of Dion Phaneuf. [He] messed up, but he’s going to take far more heat for it than he deserves. It was a very poor decision that will ultimately be magnified by context, result, and stakes. Phaneuf knows he made a mistake, he admits it, and accepts full responsibility even though he probably shouldn’t. It’s not an excuse, but it’s a demonstration of true character. But ultimately, he’s a huge part of the reason why we’ve even been granted a situation in which we’re allowed to be mad at him. I’m just asking that we all try and remember that before we write comments, Tweets, and message board posts in the next few weeks in which we demand he be traded to southern California as soon as possible.” –Matt
“[Look] how well the club has acclimated to the playoff game play. You watch games 2 – 4, and you wouldn’t think there was a 1000+ playoff games played imbalance between the Bruins and Leafs. Whether it has been Phil Kessel raising his game and learning to score against the Bruins, or the indestructible Mikhail Grabovski’s kamikaze rushes, this team has the skill and tenacity to challenge one of the best teams in the league.” -Michael
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In case you missed it, here is the cute, and edgy, exchange of eye-contact between April Reimer (James’ wife) and Elisha Cuthbert (Dion’s fiancee), following Dion’s failed pinch and Krejci’s OT goal. At first blush, it doesn’t look like the friendliest of exchanges between the significant others of two of our team’s core players. However, what the video did not show was context and later on, April Reimer cleared the air with this tweet:
Case closed. By the way, nice catch Reimer.