Look at that glorious playoff ice paint. I haven’t been this excited about ice paint since… well, when the Leafs painted on their logo at center ice and streamed it online during the lockout. Desperate times, let’s not talk about it. After all IT’S PLAYOFF GAME DAY!
We received a good reminder last night about what playoff hockey is all about. Game 1 of St. Louis/LA was war, a game fought on the boards as the Blues brought an intense forecheck and cycle game, bringing it to the Kings for much of the game before Jonathan Quick went from hero to goat in OT. Each inch was fought for, each game tight and low scoring. Throw out the empty net goal by Anaheim vs. Detroit and it was essentially three 2-1 games, two requiring OT before the third and decisive goal was scored. How interesting it will be to see how the Leafs respond to the ratcheting up of the intensity level.
There is a little uncertainty about the Leafs’ line situation heading into their first playoff game. Indications are that Tyler Bozak will play but may be hampered on faceoffs – not good news as the Leafs will need their best faceoff man against a Bs team that was 57% overall on the dot this season. As far as lines go, it seems safe to say that Randy Carlyle will stick by his two main “duos” up front in Tyler Bozak/Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri/Joffrey Lupul. Most seem to think Nikolai Kulemin will unite with Kadri and Lupul, while JvR obviously joins Bozak and Kessel. When the lineup was fully healthy up front, those were the two lines consistently producing. Building an effective grinding line around Jay McClement and Leo Komarov will be important in terms of balancing the attack with a line that might be able to chip and chase, get in on the forecheck, cause some turnovers and develop a cycle game. Komarov will need to get down to pissing off Bruins players early and often, and he can start with his hotheaded compatriot in net. From there, the other line logically falls into place as Frattin, Grabovski and MacArthur. Call that the X Factor line; while all players have had extended cold streaks this season, there’s a lot of offensive ability on this line still and it will get the third pairing match up (vs. Redden and McQuaid).
Cameron broke down the Leafs vs. Bruins line by line scoring comparison, and keep in mind that Lupul played only 16 games this season:
Bruins scoring by line:
Line 1: 44 goals (Marchand, Bergeron, Seguin)
Line 2: 30 goals (Lucic, Krejci, Horton)
Line 3: 12 goals (Peverley, Kelly, Caron/Jagr)
Line 4: 17 goals (Paille, Campbell, Thornton)
*Not the exact current lines, here’s the lines the Bruins have been icing recently.
Leafs scoring by line:
Line 1: 50 goals (J.V.R., Bozak, Kessel)
Line 2: 36 goals (Lupul, Kadri, Kulemin)
Line 3: 24 goals (MacA, Grabo, Frattin)
Line 4: 16 goals (Komarov, McClement, McLaren/Orr)
The problem is the Leafs have struggled to manufacture much in the way of offense in the season series against the Bruins, particularly the 50-goal line of JvR, Bozak and Kessel, all pointless in 4 meetings with the Bs. The storyline of Kessel’s production in this series has and will continue to be flogged ad nauseum, but while Kessel and his two linemates battle the Seidenberg and Chara pairing and (with last change) the excellent defensive center that is Patrice Bergeron, I’m looking more at the likes of Grabovski (our best point producer vs. the Bruins btw), MacArthur, Frattin, Kadri and Lupul, hoping they take advantage of the much less stellar bottom 4 Bruins D.
Goal scoring meanwhile has been the problem for the Bruins that ultimately saw them fall out of the top 3 in the Conference and into their current position. Boston enters the post-season having scored only 18 in their last 9. The Leafs best chance in this series is to hold relatively steady against that top-notch forecheck, trust Reimer to stand tall and take advantage of their opportunities with their, on paper anyways, superior scoring depth. You look at the key areas of this match up on paper and there’s three areas the Leafs could feasibly find an edge:
1) Special teams – where the Leafs have a better ranked PP and PK, tend to take fewer penalties (the Bruins were 27th with 144 minutes spent on the PK) and where Kessel has scored his only goals against the Bs; 2) Scoring depth – the Leafs are ranked fifth in overall offense; 3) potentially goaltending, as I do believe, looking at the respective workloads, Reimer stole more points for his team than Rask did this season.
That’s on paper. The reason why the Leafs are pretty heavy underdogs is because they haven’t been able to play their game with much efficacy against a Bruins team that has effectively slowed them right down and forced them to play Bruins hockey for the past two seasons. What the Leafs have done, however, is hang tight with these guys this season and did manage to fight three points off of them – all at a time when the Bruins were playing much better hockey than they are recently.
Anyways, folks, it’s playoff game day. We won’t be doing any more hard-hitting analysis of this matchup today. Put aside 6 hours, re-read Petrielli’s piece and jot some notes down if you want more of that. It’s time to take off the pundit’s cap, relish this moment and quite simply Be-Leaf.
Go Leafs Go.