If you want to look back and find a Game 7 featuring the Leafs, you need to go back to 2004, the last time the Leafs made the playoffs. The Buds emerged victorious in a 4-1 win over Ottawa to wrap up a first-round series win. Really, this game 7, the first against Boston in 57 years, should’ve ended much the same way. Instead, hearts were broken. This is the toughest Game in 10 I’ll ever write.
2) The first powerplay of the game went to the Leafs and it returned a lot of momentum after the Bruins started the game strong. Then, Cody Franson committed a bad turnover, making a soft between-the-legs pass off the boards and Boston took the lead. Bartkowski had time to walk in and release a shot which beat Reimer between the legs. Soon after, Rask robbed Lupul on a one on one break which resulted in another Leafs powerplay.
3) After some solid, be it erratic, pressure and cycle on the aforementioned powerplay, Phaneuf let a blueline shot go, Rask made the save but ended up coughing up a rebound in a scramble in front. JVR touched it and Franson redeemed himself by digging the loose puck and tying the game. He immediately made a good defensive play at the other end which certainly raised his confidence even more. Like Franson, the entire Leafs team did an admirable job of battling back after an early Bruins surge and ended up dominating most of the first period. The shot count after 1 stood at 12 -7 in favor of the Buds.
4) The second period started with an unfortunate Kadri penalty on Boychuck as the two got tangled going for the puck in the Bruins D-zone. If that had resulted in an injury, Boston would be down 2 defensemen as Seidenberg was nowhere to be seen and Ference didn’t feature in the game. Then, just like that, the Leafs took the lead. Grabo, with some excellent work on the boards, got the puck to MacArthur, who found Franson in his money spot. Franson used his trademark half-clapper shot to put the Leafs in control at 2-1.
5) 5 Leafs had NHL Game 7 experience prior to this one (Kessel, Phaneuf, JVR, O’Byrne, and Kessel). Pit that against the 19 Bruins that previously experienced it and you’ll get some idea of what the Buds were up against. Throughout the middle of Game 7, it made little difference as the Leafs were using the recipe that led to success is this series. Good job on the forecheck, high intensity, fast skating, lots of energy. Dion got hit by a puck and left the game 12 minutes into the second but returned shortly and drew a call on Lucic. A smart play by the captain to not react to the bruiser’s pushing and shoving.
6) Kessel had great legs right from the puck drop and played like an energizer bunny. He absolutely deserved the goal which gave the Leafs a two goal lead early in the 3rd. It was probably the easiest goal he scored all year. At the same time, it was most certainly the sweetest goal he scored in a Leafs jersey.
7) As if 3 goals weren’t enough, Phil Kessel decided to complete his revenge on the Bs. Off a two on one rush, a calculated shot turned into a Rask rebound. Kadri made no mistake and it should’ve been done and dusted right here.
8) The Leafs simply got too passive too soon in this game. The Bruins could not and would not have beat the Leafs if they stayed proactive. That is what hurts the most. The last three games the Bruins could not generate anything against a Leafs team playing its game. Instead, the Bruins were allowed to set the pace, gain the zone, cycle endlessly, generate traffic and fight for loose pucks around the net like they do so effectively. Way too much time on the clock to do that. Horton, Lucic and Bergeron scored a series of dirty goals to tie this one up and send the Leafs into a state of shock.
9) As expected after a comeback like this, the Bruins had all of momentum coming into OT and they kept pressing hard. In the end, a dumb clearance by Gardiner cost the Leafs as he put it right on Bergeron’s stick off of a rebound. Reimer had no chance, already down and out off the initial save. Here’s your reminder that for all of the youth, talent and promise on this club, they aren’t yet seasoned pros.
10) This isn’t the Game In 10 I was supposed to write. Like Cody Franson, the Leafs were simply battling back, all game, every game, all series. These truly are our Toronto Maple Leafs. The identity is back, the team played well and we can all be proud. How much does that mean after a loss like this? I’m not sure. Right now, I’m guessing nobody is.
Boston was ripe for the taking. Everyone knew it, even their fans saw it. Question was, would this inexperienced Leafs team be able to handle the pressure of Game 7? Turns out, they couldn’t. But it was darned close. For now, that will have to suffice. This playoff appearance was supposed to be a learning curve and yet the Leafs were winning games and looking more than capable of taking the series. Going on a little run, even. In the end, perhaps they got the harshest lesson of all.
With the benefit of some time to heal this wound, we’ll come to fully appreciate what this team did for us this season and how it bodes for future seasons. It may not be what you want to hear now, but it’s true. Chin up, Leafs Nation.