Desperation sets in for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they try to claw back in Boston tonight amid endless debate about how and why the series got to this point.

The Leafs have been able to push back against Boston and control possession, shots and scoring chances the past two games, but they’ve yet to be able to score at a rate that puts any serious doubt in the Bruins’ minds. It certainly felt like a major opportunity lost on Thursday — especially with Patrice Bergeron missing the game, the Bruins power play units never touching the ice, and the Leafs outplaying the Bruins for most of the game.

Fortunately, the Leafs will now get Nazem Kadri back, who is returning to his regular line with Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner, two of the Leafs‘ best forwards through the opening four games. Kadri should be should be raring to go coming off of the three-game suspension. If Patrice Bergeron does play tonight — knowing he is battling through injury — Kadri has to play him hard physically and exploit that as much as possible.

The lines could change come warm-up, and could certainly change depending on how they look to start the game, but the rest of the lineup appears as though it will receive a total shakeup, with William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and Connor Brown moving to different lines on the right wing. It will be a balanced look as Babcock attempts to get his depth scoring going with lots of skill and offensive ability kept away from the Bruins’ top forward line of Brad Marchand – Bergeron (if he plays) – David Pastrnak and top defense pairing of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. The trade-off is that Auston Matthews does not have as much to work with on his wings as far as offensive creativity.

In net, it goes without saying that the Leafs are going to need a lights-out performance from Frederik Andersen ASAP if they have any chance of extending this series to six or beyond.

Whether valid or not, the narratives that the Leafs’ young core doesn’t have the experience yet to know what it takes to win or get it done at playoff time are already in full swing with the series still not officially decided. The likes of Auston Matthews and William Nylander have a chance to flip that script still tonight. It’s now do or die.

Playoff Stats

Regular Season Record49-26-7 (105pts)50-20-12 (112pts)
Shots Against/g34.828.8
5v5 CF%47.9% 52%
5v5 SV%.911.917
5v5 SH%8.38.9

Game Day Quotes

Mike Babcock on getting Nazem Kadri back in the lineup and the lines shakeup:

Naz being back changes things for us. I haven’t decided which center is going to play on which line, to tell you the truth. By game time tonight, we’ll know, and then we’ll see how things are going in the first five minutes, too, and go from there. Naz is an important player for us and it’s good to have him back.

Babcock on splitting up Nylander and Matthews to start the game:

I’m starting like that, for sure. The bottom line is it wasn’t going. We’ve got to change something and try to get it going. In saying all of that, if you go through the games, the games have been real tight except for the one that got away in Game 2. They’ve been tight right through to the second period. It’s not like there is a lot of change. You’re right in the game and it’s going pretty good. But we’re not scoring enough and we need to score.

Kadri on the play that led to his suspension, and if he’s believes his past record led to a tougher verdict:

That particular play, I felt like a liberty had been taken on Mitch. I’m always going to stand up for my teammates and stand up for myself. That part is not going to change about me. Was it worthy of a suspension? I definitely think so, but I think the three games is definitely a little harsh.

As far as I know it, there’s a certain probational period that everyone goes through. I’ve been through that before, and I’ve been good for an extended period of time. I don’t know if that played a part in it, but, if it did, I understand the situation.

Kadri on whether the suspension factors into his mind now that he’s back on the ice:

I’ll just be back playing like I’m always playing. That doesn’t change my mindset. Obviously, I’ve got to be a little more cautious, but I think I understand the rules and the concept of hitting. I’ve been doing it long enough. My game is not going to change.

Kadri on tendencies he’s noticed watching from the last three games:

One of the things I’ve noticed is that they’re doing a really good job of clogging up that neutral zone. It’s one thing they’ve been very effective at. They don’t give up odd-man rushes. They’re always above players and always make sure they have their F3 and are aligning their D to pinch. That translates to playing more offense. That is going to be a key concept for us tonight.

Kadri on needing to manufacture dirty offense against the Bruins:

That’s where the neutral zone comes into play. It’s important for us to get pucks in behind their defensemen and force them to turn and try to make plays and put pucks on the walls. Hopefully that leads to some offensive chances. These goals aren’t going to be pretty. We’re going to have to simplify and get pucks to the net and try to jam a few in.

Babcock on the lack of pressure his team faced in the playoffs last year vs. this year:

What I think is, when you become a good team, you feel this every single Spring. You’ve got learn to embrace it and enjoy it. Pressure means you have a chance; no pressure means you have no chance. You go to the Olympic games and you’ve got no chance for a medal, there’s no pressure. You want to be that person or you want to be the person under the gun? I want to be under the gun. We want to build our program so big that we’re under the gun and we’re supposed to win.

Babcock on Matthews’ line, who haven’t scored much despite considerable time in the o-zone:

Well, I think the biggest thing is, when it’s not going good, you have to simplify your game. The first thing is, when you’re a good player and you’re used to having the puck all the time, how do you get it. You play better defensively and you get it faster. Second thing is you’ve got to compete harder in your 1-on-1 battles. To score at playoff time you’ve got to be at the net, it’s real simple. You’ve got to be at the net, you’ve got to create second chances. Both teams are doing the same thing. Most of those shift last game were 50-50 and nothing happened. They got a couple breaks on their 2-on-1s and they scored. But if you look at the whole game, they didn’t get much, but they got enough to win.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lineup

Hyman – Matthews – Brown
(4-1-2-3) – (4-1-0-1) – (4-0-2-2)  |  Total Goals: 2
Marleau – Kadri – Marner
  (4-2-1-3) – (1-0-0-0) – (4-1-4-5)  |  Total Goals: 3
Van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kapanen
  (4-2-0-2) – (4-1-1-2) – (4-0-0-0)  |  Total Goals: 3
Johnsson – Plekanec – Nylander
 (3-0-1-1) – (4-1-1-2) – (4-0-1-1)  |  Total Goals: 1

Rielly – Hainsey
 (4-0-4-4) – (4-0-0-0) |  Total Goals: 0
Gardiner – Zaitsev
 (4-0-0-0) – (4-0-0-0) |  Total Goals: 0
Dermott – Polak
(4-0-0-0) – (4-0-0-0) |  Total Goals: 0

Andersen (.880 sv%)
McElhinney (.826 sv%)

Extras: Leivo, Martin, Carrick

Injured: Komarov

Boston Bruins Projected Lineup

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
(4-2-5-7) – (3-0-5-5) – (4-4-7-11) | Total Goals: 6
Debrusk – Krejci – Rick Nash
  (4-2-1-3) – (4-2-2-4) – (4-1-0-1) | Total Goals: 5
Heinen – Riley Nash – Backes
(4-0-0-0) – (2-0-0-0) – (4-1-0-1)  | Total Goals: 1
Schaller – Kuraly – Acciari
(4-0-1-1) – (4-1-2-3) – (4-0-0-0)  | Total Goals: 1

Extras: Gionta, Wingels

Chara – McAvoy
 (4-1-1-2) – (4-0-1-1) | Total Goals: 0
Krug – Miller
 (4-2-5-7) – (4-1-1-2) | Total Goals: 3
Grzelcyk – McQuaid
(3-0-0-0) – (4-1-1-2) | Total Goals: 1

Rask (.911 sv%)
Khudobin (N/A)

Injuries: Brandon Carlo