We have ourselves a series.
Your game in ten:
1. It was the first period the Leafs needed at home in front of a raucous ACC crowd that brought its A-game as the team’s seventh man. The Leafs got off to a fast start, manufactured some heavy offensive zone shifts, Zach Hyman showed some physical push back against the Bergeron line by catching Brad Marchand with a hit in open ice, and Frederik Andersen got a feel for the puck with some manageable early saves (i.e., that weren’t David Pastrnak alone with all the time in the world a foot from his crease). The Leafs then finally caught a break with the puck-over-glass penalty and took advantage of it with a timely power play goal (finally) courtesy of JVR in front for their first lead of the three games so far. The team looked like it settled in and remembered they could play with these guys.
2. The second period opened up into back-and-forth action with more space available through the neutral zone; the Leafs connected on some long bomb breakouts and caught the Bruins out on a number of stretch plays, including Morgan Rielly’s bank pass that sent Mitch Marner – who took a hard, airborne pass off the instep of his skate in stride – on the 2v1 that Patrick Marleau finished off for a big response following the Bruins’ 1-1 goal. The Leafs looked like the faster team for the first time in this series and managed to force the Bruins defensemen into some uncomfortable foot races in open ice against their forwards.
3. With Adam McQuaid‘s status in doubt after leaving the game with an injury and Nick Holden trusted with just 12 minutes of ice time tonight, the Bruins could end up leaning really heavily on their top four of Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller for the rest of the series. The Bruins played the hell out of Chara last year in the playoffs against Ottawa and he wore out over the course of the series, finishing bottom of the team in plus/minus and with just a 44% shots share. It’ll be interesting to see what happens here; the Bruins have made an effort to conserve Chara’s minutes more this time around, but that’s about to be tested if they lose McQuaid on top of the injury to Matt Grzelcyk. Remember, Miller is only up in the top four due to the injury to Brandon Carlo. The Leafs might be able to wear this group down over the course of games and the series at large if they can push the pace on them.
4. Who knows what happens if Frederik Andersen doesn’t make that jaw-dropping paddle save with about three minutes left, because the Leafs didn’t exactly put this game to bed quietly in the third period (the Marleau insurance goal was huge). Andersen’s third period was massive in general, starting with an early Leafs penalty kill that was maybe the worst penalty kill a team can have without actually getting scored on. There were ups and downs for Andersen, including an ugly 1-1 dribbler in the second period, but as far as the resilience, bounce-back-ability and game-changing saves, Andersen won the goaltending battle decisively in this contest. If you were to point out one single reason to believe the Leafs can come back from 0-2 down and win this series, it’s Andersen’s performance tonight. Just what the doctor ordered.
5. The line combinations were instantly panned when Tomas Plekanec was moved up to the second line role with the game plan of playing matchup minutes against the Bergeron line, but Babcock’s audible worked well enough in Game 3. The fourth-line role has never been something Plekanec has done for any length of time, and his best moments as a Montreal Canadien came when he was handed a marquee assignment (e.g., vs. Crosby and Ovechkin in the playoffs in 2010).
In his prime, Plekanec was at his best as a matchup center who was good defensively and could score, all while getting under the skin of the center across from with subtle little hits, jabs and gamesmanship off of draws. It was often extra annoying to his opponent because Plekanec is so stoic and difficult to rattle (he doesn’t say much or retaliate). You could see that Patrice Bergeron was starting to get irritated with him a little bit by the end of the game (At the start of the third period, the puck went into the bench five seconds in and Plekanec nonchalantly buzzed by Bergeron and clipped his knee after the whistle).
6. This was the first time Plekanec’s played with a real purpose in a Leaf uniform; Babcock’s bet that he had something left in the tank for that role seemed to work out, at least for one game, with Kadri still on the sidelines. It’s worth noting he did finish with under 40% possession on the night and that line took the penalty early in the third that nearly — I have no idea how it didn’t — cost the Leafs, but Plekanec was on for two goals for and none against with Brad Marchand on the ice, and that’s a massive improvement over Games 1 and 2. This isn’t the ideal setup matchup-wise, but he did a job for the team there tonight and it got the Leafs one game closer to Kadri’s return.
That line also did a good job coming out with a pushback shift after the Bruins scored their second fourth-line goal (scored by a defenseman) of the game to make it 2-2; Marleau almost scored on a one-timer in front immediately after.
7. One question mark entering the contest was how the Leafs were going to be able to match up down the middle with Nazem Kadri out and Riley Nash back in the lineup for the Bruins. The Leafs got the collective effort they needed from their center group: Tyler Bozak, quietly one of the better Leafs in this series, played one of his best periods in recent memory in the opening stanza, winning a bunch of puck battles with committed second and third efforts, setting up JVR on the power play for the 1-0 goal, and mixing it up a little at the intermission buzzer. That line won the possession battle in its time against the Krejci and Nash lines, and that’s despite JVR… Well, there were a number of instances where you would have liked to see more of the second and third efforts we saw from his linemates.
8. On the fourth line, Dominic Moore seemed to be a shot in the arm the Leafs needed. He’s still a good skater at his age and can keep up with the young legs in Johnsson and Kapanen, he’s competitive/physical, and he’ll surprise you occasionally with his skill and ability one-on-one, such as his nutmeg dangle down the left wall in the third period. He had a number of good shifts, but on one early in the second period (five minutes in), the fourth line really got after it on the forecheck and worked the puck around on the cycle, forcing an icing; the Matthews line followed up with an offensive-zone draw against tired Bruins legs. That’s the kind of momentum-grabbing, ice-tilting, table-setting shift the Leafs weren’t getting from their fourth line in Games 1 and 2 in Boston.
Moore rounded that line out really nicely tonight and the trio could’ve given more than the eight minutes and change they were charged with. Kasperi Kapanen could have three or four goals in three games at this point with the chances he’s generated breaking in alone behind the Bruins defense (two posts and a bobbling puck on a breakaway, among other chances). He’s been one of the Leafs’ most consistent forwards through three games and it feels like he’s been a little under-utilized at 10 minutes or less (get him out there for a rip down Chara’s wing more often, I say).
9. This was a nice bounce back game from Morgan Rielly, who embarked on some great rushes in this game, picked up a couple of assists, and upped the physical factor, laying into David Pastrnak twice on the same shift in the third period (he also got into it with Marchand and Backes late on).
While he wasn’t credited with an assist on the eventual goal, it is also worth noting the role his rush played in setting the stage for that Auston Matthews goal: He turned the puck up ice quickly from his own end, sliced through neutral ice and gained the offensive blue line with control. The Leafs caught the Bruins top line out there on a prolonged shift partly because of his rush and how quickly he turned the puck up ice.
It was a good example of why most teams prefer to go up ice right away now rather than D-to-D when possible. Rielly had Hainsey available for a D-to-D option that probably would’ve gone for a dump in or up the wall for a tip in; instead, he pushed the pace and didn’t let the Bruins set up or change. The Leafs’ top line then won three or four puck races against a tired Bruins unit, including a nice pinch from Jake Gardiner, before William Nylander and Auston Matthew did their thing, linking up for their first goal and points of the playoffs.
This was a good confidence builder for that Rielly and Hainsey pairing to come out with a couple of pluses in that matchup, as well as for Matthews and Nylander to score that goal with the Bergeron line on the ice.
10. That’s 29 goals in 85 games as a Maple Leaf for Patrick Marleau after his first two playoff goals in Toronto tonight. Tonight’s third-period goal was an insurance marker, but Marleau leads all active skaters in playoff game winners with 16 (next best is 12), by the way. He’s scored four of those in overtime.
After assisting on both of Marleau’s goals, Mitch Marner now has four points in three games in this series and 18 points in 11 career games against the Bruins.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts