We’re going seven.
That’s where Toronto finds itself today.
Few people gave the Leafs a serious chance to beat Boston, but here we are. After falling behind in the series 3-1 following a heartbreaking game 4 loss in overtime, the Leafs have battled back to tie up the series.
Both teams started the game off tentatively as there were only 15 shots on net by the Leafs and Bruins combined after one period. Toronto started to pick it up in the second, but still went into the third tied 0-0. From there they went for it, as the Leafs came out and really pushed the pace in the third.
It feels like the Leafs have grown so much in the last few weeks. The 4-1 loss to Montreal to end the season seems like it happened years ago at this point. When Toronto went up 2-0 on Friday they were content to sit back and hold onto the lead, but with a lead on Sunday they did no such thing. Lupul and Kessel both had the puck on 2 on 1s and just missed converting, but beyond that the Leafs did show general push back and were able to get the puck in the Bruins zone for some time in the offensive end while protecting their lead.
Carlyle eventually stuck with lines of MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin, JVR-Kadri-Kessel, Lupul-Colborne-Frattin and they worked beautifully with all three units creating scoring chances and looking strong defensively. It will be interesting to see if he stays with those units for game 7 tonight.
On top of that, the Leafs actually rolled their lines more than we’re used to. The Leafs didn’t have any forwards play over 20 minutes; Nikolai Kulemin led forwards in ice time with 18:53. Meanwhile, Phaneuf led the team overall playing 25:16, Gardiner was out there for 21:19 and Gunnarsson played 20:38, so three guys are the only players who played over 20 minutes for the Leafs last night. In other words, Carlyle did a great job of rolling his lines and not dishing out big minutes to anyone.
Conversely, Chara played 28:26, Boychuk and Seidenberg played well over 20 minutes while Krejci and Lucic both surpassed the 20 minute mark.
The Bruins played 6sixgames in the last 11 days of the season, compared to the Leafs’ four. Expand that to the playoffs and the Bruins have played 12 games in the last 23 days.
I don’t really believe in momentum carrying from game-to-game, but I definitely believe in fatigue setting in at some point.
Let the best team win.
- In two straight games the Leafs have been handily outplayed in the first shift of the game, although it was nice to see Franson hammer Marchand.
- Also two games in a row where the Leafs had Reimer make an incredible save on Bergeron with the score tied 0-0. Getting out to a lead has been one of the most important things in the last two games because the Leafs haven’t relinquished it once they’ve gone up. Playing while you’re losing is a completely different ball game than what the Leafs have encountered in the last two games, but they deserve full credit for going out and scoring first because in both games they did deserve to have a lead.
- Playing Colborne with his Marlies linemate Matt Frattin turned out to be a good idea. They worked the puck around to each other a few times, including a Frattin one touch pass to Colborne, who just missed the mark with his shot. You could tell they were comfortable playing together. In terms of setting a guy up to succeed, Carlyle did exactly that. Lupul isn’t a bad line mate, either.
- There was one shift of Colborne’s that was really impressive in the second. The puck squirted out of the Bruins zone and Colborne came from behind, won the battle, turned back to get it into the Bruins zone, was pinned to the boards by a Bruins defender, fought through the check and got the puck in deep. Then, he worked the corner for a bit. Nothing ultimately came of it, but the best thing Colborne can do for this team is work the boards, cycle, use his size and create space for others. He asserted himself more physically than he has at any other point in his time with the Leafs. Colborne was credited with 6 hits, although I think that’s generous.
- In a less impressive moment for Colborne, with less than 5 minutes left he inexplicably got the puck behind the Leafs net and tried to rush it all the way up ice. The Bruins predictably stopped him in the neutral zone and got the puck back into the Leafs zone. Only a few minutes later, though, Carlyle put him right back out there for an offensive zone faceoff. I don’t know if that’s a sign of things to come for next year, but that’s a pretty big vote of confidence from Carlyle to put him right back out. Colborne had as many shifts as Kadri, and actually played around 40 seconds more.
- Speaking of confidence, I can’t believe Kadri didn’t drop the puck back to JVR right before the Phaneuf goal. JVR leads the team in playoff points and was great during the regular season, so you’d think he’d actually want to give him the puck, but Kadri is a player who wants the game on his stick and he delivered. That’s what game breakers do; they don’t always dominate nor are they always noticeable, but suddenly they are able to do something special with the puck and create a goal. Not every player on the Leafs would have received that much respect, and thus space, from the Bruins defense.
- Kadri has had a hand in the last three Leafs goals now.
- Not really into mocking, but I did think it was a little funny that the Leafs celebrated that Phaneuf goal basically right on top of Rask’s crease.
- Was nice to see Clarke MacArthur rewarded for his good play with 16:26 of ice. He played less than 10 minutes in each of the last two games. MacArthur started off the game playing with Komarov and Orr, and then worked his way into the coach’s good books.
- What a great point shot Franson had on Kessel’s goal. We’ve spoken so much about Franson’s ability to get pucks through in this space and that’s another one that got through to help the Leafs. For my money, he’s been one of the Leafs best players consistently speaking from game 1 through 6. The Leafs are looking at a top 4 defenseman now in Franson and have their top 2 RD in the pecking order lined up.
- Another thing we’ve spoken about quite a bit: JVR in front of the net. He was a major catalyst on Kessel’s goal and was buzzing all night, again. Only Kulemin played more at forward for the Leafs, and both were out there after the Bruins scored to make it 2-1. After game 5, I noted that JVR played less than 16 minutes which was disappointing to me because I think he’s one of their better defensive players. It was nice to see him trusted with that responsibility at the end.
- I do wish JVR would have been able to connect with the pass in the slot he got from Kadri after Kadri worked his butt off behind the net against Chara to get it to him. That’s a hard play that developed quickly for JVR so I get why he missed it; I just would have liked to see both rewarded.
- One of my favourite plays of the game was Gardiner bouncing it off the boards to himself in the Bruins zone near the blue line. He’s playing at another level to be doing that in the NHL playoffs in a game 6 elimination battle.
- Another great off the boards play was Kessel doing it at the defensive zone blue line to get it around the defenseman and spark a 2 on 1. He was buzzing all night and was one of their best players without question.
- Grabovski made a bad play which I don’t really have a defense for when he iced the puck at the end of the game before Boston scored. Ultimately it didn’t cost the Leafs in the win-loss department, and I’d be surprised if he ever did that again.
- Komarov is only averaging 9:21/game this series, but he’s been out there for every penalty kill. It’s nice that the Leafs have that kind of dependable guy on the fourth line that specializes in something important like penalty killing and can excel in it even though he only plays an overall limited role.
- Pretty amazing that there were only 3 penalties called in that game. The refs seem to have put the whistle away as one of those penalties was a clear delay of game call which is a no-brainer. Going into the series many – including myself — pointed to special teams as one potential key advantage for the Leafs because 5 on 5 play favoured the Bruins. But there were the Leafs, winning against the Bruins directly 5v5 in the biggest game of the season.
- This much is clear through six games: The Leafs speed and physicality is really getting to the Bruins. Ference is out, Redden is playing banged up, Kelly did an interview with what looked like half a face in intermission, Lucic has been banged up, and the Leafs speed is starting to create chances galore against Boston.
5 Questions for Game 7
1 – How fatigued are both teams going to be, if at all?
It sucks that such a great series is going to be decided on a back-to-back, but both teams find themselves in the same situation so it’s fair game.
2 – Will the lines stay the same?
I noted the Leafs eventually ran MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin, JVR-Kadri-Kessel, Lupul-Colborne-Frattin, but Carlyle has had the blender out all series so who knows what will happen tonight.
3 – Will Bozak play, and will that affect Colborne’s roster spot?
Building off of question two, will Bozak play at all and where does he slot in if he does play? The JVR-Kadri-Kessel line had two goals and the other two top nine lines also played well. They could always play Bozak and drop someone to the fourth line in Orr’s place.
4 – How does Carlyle allocate ice time for game 7?
In game 6, the head coach rolled his lines and Kessel only played 15:39. Now that it’s a winner-take-all in Boston, is he going to play all the top players substantial amounts or roll the lines again?
5 – Will anyone in Toronto actually get work done today during the day before the game?