After such a critical shortage of meaningful moments in the last decade for this hockey club, these last few days have been almost too much, too fast. Last night, the Leafs earned their first playoff home win in 9 years and the city went bonkers. Dion Phaneuf redeemed himself for his role in an OT loss last playoff home game – which at the time could have been the last this season – splatting yolk on the faces of certain media members eager to get an early start on their postmortem scapegoating of the most valuable members of the hockey team. Phil Kessel scored his third of the series in what proved to be the game winner, of which he now has two against the Bruins in this series. Now, there is a less than 24-hour turnaround to get ready for Game 7, the next biggest game for this fanbase since 2004.
My oh my.
To the credit of those who hang around these parts, most here stayed positive. We could see in Games 2, 3 and 4 (even though 2 of 3 were losses) that the Leafs had the ability to take this Boston team to 7 games. When the Leafs are playing solid defence and minimizing turnovers, the Bruins have really hard time generating quality scoring opportunities on their own. Behind the Leafs defence has been a brick wall providing timely and at at times jaw-dropping goaltending if and when things do break down. In the past two games the Leafs have stepped it up with smart, physical play in their own zone; they’re breaking up the tenacious Bruin cycle with greater ease and are finding efficiency with simple clearances and cleaner breakouts. The adaptation by Carlyle to go with both Liles and the Leafs best defenceman the past three games, Jake Gardiner, has been a key factor as well. Depth in speed and skill paired with the intensity needed for playoff success, of which the Leafs have shown in spades, has seen the Leafs crawl back onto level footing in this series against a slower Boston foe.
One could make the case that the Leafs may have the psychological edge going into tonight, confident winners of two straight after limiting Boston to two goals in their last two games, and with Boston having basically no time to reset before puck drop tonight. The Leafs have won two of three on Boston ice this series, one of which was an elimination game for them. You could also just as easily make the case that the core of this Boston team has been here and done this before; they won 3 of their 4 series in 7 games en route to the Cup win in 2011. Game 7 is Game 7 and you don’t need me to remind you that this has been a tight series, that it’s all come down to one game, and that anything can happen.
Nor need I remind you that making the playoffs in the first place was a necessary step forward for this organization… taking Boston to 7 is two steps forward. Is there a reason to believe this team will stop surprising us now? In front of them is a chance for this Spring to represent more than “bonus hockey” or a lesson in the learning curve, it’s a chance to embark on an underdog’s run for the Cup. I can’t wait to see how this next chapter unfolds.
From last night:
- Joe Bowen calls last night’s win.
1:53 is the Phaneuf goal; 2:05 is the Kessel goal.
- Game recaps: The Leafs Nation, Vintage Leaf Memories
- Superstition and the Playoffs: What do you do to help the Leafs win?
- The Star: History on the line in Game 7
- Intentionally bad link of the day: Series is winnable for Leafs.
At 3-3 in this series, the Sun is officially making their declaration that the Leafs could be one of two teams to win this series.