Playoff Notebook – May 11

Playoff Notebook – May 11

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If you have been following along with my Notebooks since the playoffs started, you’ll know that I’ve continually asked if James Reimer was going to steal the Leafs a game at some point in this series.

Well, he’s officially stolen one.

Reimer ended up with 43 saves last night, helpeing the Leafs stave off elimination after the Bruins turned it on and launched 19 shots at him in the third period. He had two saves in particular – the toe save on Bergeron, and the knob save on Jagr — that were ten bellers. Reimer has played pretty well this entire series, but it’s tough when you’re playing “pretty well” and the goalie on the other end is playing amazing. Yesterday, though, it was Reimer who got the upper hand.

The Leafs came out and simply dominated the first period of game 5. The Bruins really didn’t have any significant chances to speak of, while the Leafs had a handful of scrambles in front of the net and several strong scoring opportunities.

When Toronto didn’t score in the first after all that domination, the game started to feel like it was going to be one of those “the team that dominates is going to get a bad bounce and lose” kind of games. The Bruins then got that bounce, and Reimer made what might be save of the series on Bergeron with about 10 and a half minutes left in the second period.

Two minutes later, Bozak scored shorthanded.

It would have been easy for the Leafs to suffer from some sort of emotional letdown after the game 4 heartbreaker. After the first shift where they got dominated it seemed like a long night might be ahead, but give the Leafs credit; you could tell they didn’t want this season to end last night.

When the Leafs got their 2-0 lead, they noticeably sat back and went into survival mode for the rest of the game. The Bruins didn’t just turn it on and dominate them; the Leafs sat back and allowed it to happen. On dump-ins the Leafs would have one or even no forecheckers, and they were content to merely clear the zone and change lines rather than get it in Boston’s end and create some zone time. But it is understandable as to why a young team laid back trying to play it safe, and in the long run this is another good learning experience for the group.

Maybe the Leafs did get some lucky bounces at the end of the game, although that Bozak penalty did look like it went off Chara’s stick on at least one replay. But nobody can deny that they deserved to win that game overall.

It wasn’t pretty, and it was stressful, but they live to fight another day and that’s all that really matters at this point.

***

Notes

- This is how you know Phaneuf is playing hurt: He played less than Gardiner, Franson and Gunnarsson, but was out there at the end of the game in the last minute to seal the win. No coach plays his best defenseman only 21:38 in an elimination game and then trusts him to seal the win unless he’s hurt and he’s trying to preserve him. I won’t speculate as to what the injury might be, but he’s obviously banged up.

- Gardiner led the defense in ice time, but you could see him wearing him down as the game went on. In the first period he was incredible, and then he gradually became less involved as the game progressed which was partly due to score effects. There was one play in the third period where the puck was dumped into the Leafs zone by being rung around the boards and it came to Gardiner. Jake was slow getting to it, and then bobbled the puck and gave it away once he gained possession. I thought that was a good example of him tiring down and making some mental mistakes. He was fantastic for the Leafs, don’t get me wrong, but it’s tough to ask a guy who barely played this year to all of a sudden lead your defense in ice time in a playoff game and not expect mistakes.

- My favourite Gardiner play was the most subtle, little, almost unnoticeable play. It was in the first period and the Leafs got held up at the blue line by the Bruins. The puck squirted to Gardiner between center ice and the blue line, and instead of riffling it back down deep he turned back to his own end, hit Franson with a pass, and then provided him an outlet for the Leafs to setup again. Countless times in this space I have talked about the Leafs poor puck management, and that play is a great example of the opposite. Far too often when the Leafs are getting outshot they simply dump it in, don’t create the turnover, and then the opponent comes up the ice back at them again. Skilled guys like Gardiner and Franson have no issue turning back, resetting the play, and starting the attack over.

- Where the Leafs were awful in puck management was in the third period when it came to getting it out. Some examples include Grabovski getting a puck about five feet before the blue line in the middle of the ice and having Adam McQuaid charge in at him; instead of chipping it past him and skating for it, he tried to make a little move and got planted as the Bruins kept it in. With under two minutes left in the game, Kulemin had a chance to get the puck out along the boards, but instead of hitting the puck immediately he tried to corral it and the Bruins got their sticks on him and kept the play alive again. McClement is another guy who had a clear chance to get the puck out after a defensive zone draw in which he was the secondary center for Bozak, playing on the right wing; the puck came to him, he took a few strides with it, and the Bruins caught him before he got it out.

- Those are just a few examples of players not getting the puck out, but that doesn’t just apply to those three, it applies to pretty well the entire team.

- When the Leafs go back and review the tape there are going to be a lot of great learning experiences on there for them. When you’re up 2-1 and hanging on for dear life, just get the puck out and ask questions later. Preferably try not to ice it though.

- JVR only played 15:47, which was disappointing. He’s one of the Leafs best players at getting the puck in deep and working a cycle, which would have been nice to see considering the Leafs were struggling to create any sort of push back against the Bruins in the third. Despite his low time on ice figure, he still led the team in shots with 6.

- Have to admit, so many questioned why Liles wasn’t in the line-up, and game 5 was a pretty good indicator as to why. He played under 15 minutes and really struggled. On one play he came around the net with the puck, had a full three seconds, and still gave it away. He and O’Byrne admirably blocked some big shots, but more than anything it was saving their butts after shoddy defense. He looked okay in the first period, but really struggled once the game tightened up.

- Bozak’s goal was pretty darn similar to what he did against the Jets earlier this year, except the shot location was a little different.

- It didn’t get any attention, but watch Kadri on MacArthur’s goal here as he drives the net and then lifts Bartkowski’s stick as MacArthur cuts across. If Kadri doesn’t do that Bartkowski would have had a chance at poking the puck off MacArthur’s stick. It’s a little thing but an important thing.

- Loved Kulemin hammering McQuaid.

- The two most underrated plays of the game: Franson getting a piece of Seguin while back checking a two-on-one to prevent him from shooting, and Kulemin blocking a Jagr pass to Chara in the slot for a one-timer during Bozak’s penalty. Two massive, massive plays to help prevent goals.

- We’ve talked about it all series, but the Leafs speed is just killing the Bruins whenever it gets a chance. It was actually embarrassing watching Ference try and keep up with Bozak on the first goal of the game. Gardiner and Franson are giving them good outlet passes now and moving the puck up ice, and that speed still remains their best chance at winning this series.

- The Leafs have to feel like they are right there with Boston now and that this series is up for grabs. It’s about two things now – execution and fatigue. This series has been tough physically and mentally, and fatigue breeds mistakes.

***

5 Questions for Game 6

1 – Can any of Kulemin, Grabovski or Kadri finally breakout?

Much like me wondering if Reimer was ever going to steal them a game, the Leafs also need one of these key players to chip in offensively and find the score sheet. Luckily, MacArthur has been picking up the slack.

2 – Will the Leafs be emotionally drained from game 5?

The Leafs went all out in game 5 and looked noticeably tired halfway through the third. There are some players clearly hurting and this has been a tough series. How much gas do these guys have left in the tank?

3 – Will Redden return for the Bruins?

Redden has been a solid addition for the Bruins and I think his absence hurt Boston more than people realize. His replacement, Matt Bartkowski, played 6:40 whereas Redden was averaging almost 16 minutes a night and plays the PP. He would probably have been on instead of Ference when Bozak scored his shorthanded goal. The Leafs will take any advantage they can get at this point.

4 – Can the Leafs get to Rask?

That might sound strange to some considering the Leafs just beat him, but he was really good in game 5 and generally speaking has made the Leafs work for everything they’ve gotten. It would be nice if the Leafs could get to him for a game and blow him out of the water, or at the very least grab a soft goal.

5 – Will home ice work in their favour this time around?

Some thought I was crazy for suggesting it might not after game 2, then the Leafs lost two straight at home. Hopefully the third time is the charm.

Anthony Petrielli has been at MLHS since 2011. He is known for his weekly "Leafs Notebook" feature, and also writes specific analysis pieces. You can contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @APetrielli.

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