These Leafs will not go quietly. After another hard fought, fast-paced game with excellent goaltending, Toronto eked out a 2-1 win that has forced a seventh game tomorrow night back in Boston. With standout performances from Reimer, Gardiner, et al., the Maple Leafs secured their first win on home ice of this postseason. Hopefully, it won’t be their last.
-This was an intense situation for an extremely young and inexperienced team. As such, the early jitters were to be expected. This culminated in a JM Liles penalty, as he threw the puck over the boards, instantly ramping up the anxiety level of a breathless Leafs Nation. Thankfully, this yielded another great penalty kill featuring Jay McClement. McClement has commented on how he likes to “lure” the opposition into making passes that he can pick off. This was on display twice in the early going, with a back pass by a lackadaisical Krejci going directly to the very Leaf he thought he was avoiding.
-Tyler Bozak is an important player to this Leafs team. He plays heavy minutes, takes draws, and is a well rounded player. That being said, his absence does not leave the type of hole that would exist if one such as Reimer or Phaneuf were missing. Joe Colborne drew into the lineup in Bozak’s stead and did not look out of place. Using his body and his growing footspeed, the former Boston first rounder made good of over fifteen minutes of ice time, driving pucks to the net alongside Matt Frattin and working the body on puck battles.
-Speaking of Matt Frattin, he has solidified his place in the postseason lineup by playing to his strengths: speed, physicality, and a driven north-south game. He laid hits on Chara, stole the puck from Jagr and took it to the net. He has created noticeable chances even though the scoring has not been there. Frattin is a player that has shown he steps it up in big-game situations (see: the Marlies ’11-’12 playoffs). He’s proven more of the same in this series.
-Toronto has looked better as this series has gone on. Contrary to what CBC would have you believe, this is not solely because the Bruins are exhausted by their impossible schedule. In part, it has been due to Toronto’s relentless forecheck, with Leafs players ramping up their physicality as the series has gone on to good effect. Specifically, the McClement-Grabo-Kule line, when intact, has used their forecheck to create puck separation and retrieval. In their few shifts, the fourth line has also thrown hits aplenty, with Leo Komarov tallying six in just under eight minutes of ice.
-Dion Phaneuf will likely never escape criticism in his career in Toronto. Certain misinformed columnists may even suggest that he should be traded. As we all know here, Phaneuf is our best all-around defenseman – one of the best in the league in that respect. This was evident tonight, especially in the moments before the first goal. Phaneuf was assertive in carrying the puck up the ice on a few occasions, leading to his tip of a Kadri shot for the opening goal of the game. The Leafs captain jumped into the air, rightfully shedding the weight of maligning by misguided media members as he propelled his team to victory.
-Phil Kessel was also dynamite on the night, noticeable with his bursts of speed and trademark laser of a wrist shot that narrowly missed the mark numerous times. Think the PPG forward is not playoff material? He backchecked, threw hits (yes, really) and of course, was in the right place at the right time on Toronto’s second tally.
-Having a part in both of the goals was JVR. Known for a tour-de-force playoffs with the Flyers, the former second overall pick has shown that he can indeed do as he pleases when the pressure is at its highest. On the Kessel goal, he was creating havoc in front of the net as he has done so many times this season. This was a fantastic addition by Burke that has given a different dimension to Toronto’s top six.
-With a great number of impressive performances, it is worth noting that Joffrey Lupul was not at his best tonight. Perhaps worried about compensating for playing at times with rookie center Colborne, Lupul only showed flashes of the dominance and puck skill that has characterized his time in Toronto. He came on stronger as the game went on, with this writer having a hunch that he will be at his best tomorrow night.
-James Reimer was near-perfect on the evening, getting beat by a late tap-in courtesy of Milan Lucic. With a performance that is in line with, if not better than his regular season excellence, Reimer is yet another Leafs player that is making a name for himself in these playoffs. Truly a treat to see as Leafs fans, after years of being excluded from the most important and relevant months of hockey.
-With very little time before the next game, it will be interesting to see if there are any lineup changes. Bozak’s absence from the lineup means that his upper body injury is seriously restricting his ability to compete, or he would be in there with a dose of painkillers. Will he draw back into the lineup for tomorrow’s game, with matchups no longer in Carlyle’s favour?
I have written many pieces for MLHS since 2008, as one of three writers remaining from the inception of the site. This is the most important game we have been privy to in this site’s history and it has been a pleasure to witness this young team’s success alongside the most knowledgeable Leafs fans in the world. Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, this young team has restored pride to this franchise and its fanbase while fostering excitement for the years to come.