Toronto put up a valiant effort in their first home playoff game in far too long. Despite finally outshooting their opponents, the Maple Leafs paid the price for a handful of individual, but egregious errors. The Bruins regained their home ice advantage with the victory, but the Leafs sustained offensive pressure and created numerous chances with nearly fifty shots on the night. In short – tonight’s tilt was reminiscent in many ways of the positives from game two, with a scattering of costly turnovers that were the trademark of game one.
1. Despite a loss on the night, Randy Carlyle’s coaching changes were once again in the spotlight as calculated manoeuvres to give his team an advantage. Frattin brings a welcome physical presence to the Bozak line when they are pressing offensively against Chara. McClement appears on the same line for ever-important defensive faceoffs. Flip passes were numerous as to create speed past Boston defenders. Gardiner and Franson both saw heavy, productive minutes when trailing as the most talented offensive defensemen on Toronto’s roster.
2. Mikhail Grabovski has his legs going in these playoffs. Whether it be the ambiguous stomach ailment or the end of a prolonged slump, the Leafs best center looks to be emerging from his slumber. He will need to produce more on offense to help this Toronto team to a win, but with his usual standout defensive contributions, he is once again becoming an impact player. Alongside JVR and Nikolai Kulemin, the trio have punished Bruins players with their bodies and are defensively responsible.
3. The Peverley goal was a result of carelessness and a costly giveaway. Jake Gardiner made a back-pass to Ryan O’Byrne and then took off up the ice, apparently assured that his partner was in the clear. However, a certain Czech all-time great swooped in to pick off O’Byrne’s ill-advised attempt at a back-pass of his own. With Gardiner long since gone on the expressway, Peverley was left alone in front of the net for an easy conversion.
4. The offensive presence Gardiner brings to the lineup has a lot to do with his sublime puck carrying skills, but he has shown an increased willingness to shoot over the last year, especially in his periods of AHL dominance. This was on display with Toronto’s first goal of the night as he had two good looks at the net before finishing the play with a carefully directed wrister.
5. Gardiner’s goal immediately infused some life into the tepid ACC crowd, with the Leafs within a goal. Unfortunately, this energy was quickly deflated as Nathan Horton finished off a quick rush with Milan Lucic. The size of these two wingers is tough to contain at the best of times, let alone with a full head of steam against the recently shaky Mark Fraser.
6. One would have hoped that the subsequent Toronto powerplay opportunity would allow the Leafs another chance to get back in it, or to create some momentum. There’s no point in overanalyzing the untimely shorthanded goal that arose as a result, as consecutive mistakes by Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel served the puck to Paille on a silver platter.
7. Thankfully, the officiating crew was determined to leave their misguided fingerprints (how awful were the linesmen on the faceoffs?) all over this game, granting the Leafs yet another powerplay opportunity to start the third. Phil Kessel, as usual, was in the right spot in front of the net to bury his second of the postseason. The goals and points will come with normal frequency against Boston in these playoffs, although it remains to be seen if that will be enough to propel the club to victory.
8. Boston went into full bunker mode for the remainder of the third period, weathering many Leafs chances and icing the puck with vigor. In conjunction with a number of creative stalling techniques, the Bruins barely held on as Toronto fired eighteen shots on net in the period, with a shot off the post to boot. At the forefront of this push was some incredible offensive pressure from the blueline trio of Franson, Gardiner, and Phaneuf.
9. One player who could make a larger impact? Nazem Kadri. Of course, it should be considered that Kadri is no longer playing alongside Lupul and Kulemin, thus putting the impetus to create offense largely on his shoulders when he steps on the ice. It is certainly possible for the skilled youngster, but nobody should expect the near point-per-game pace that he put up in the regular season.
10. As noted above, Carlyle is a thinking coach and will certainly make changes for Wednesday’s game. After their performances tonight, one would think Jake Gardiner remains and Ryan O’Byrne takes a seat. Up front, Clarke MacArthur will likely be rotated in, although it remains to be seen who will sit in his stead.
We will be witness to the coaching staff and players’ reaction to this game over the next two days. Ideally, they will focus on the positives of Toronto’s offensive performance while preparing to be a tighter defensive team like we saw many times this season. The Bruins once again looked beatable and with a win in the next match this could be a lengthy, physical series in the making.