The series is going back to Toronto after the Leafs gutted out a 4-3 win despite a bunch of tough bounces and calls going against them in Boston in Game 5.
Your game in ten:
1. Moving Auston Matthews in between Connor Brown (he of one goal in his previous 26 games) and Zach Hyman to get him going offensively didn’t seem totally intuitive, but Mike Babcock’s idea was that Matthews and Nylander needed a break from one another to simplify their games and how they were going about things offensively. It worked out, as the Leafs got off to the start they needed. A couple of workers on his flanks helped Matthews get into the game early, starting on their first shift, when Hyman got in on the forecheck on Zdeno Chara, forced the puck up the boards, Brown sealed up the wall, and the team generated a solid offensive zone shift.
A few minutes later, off of an offensive-zone faceoff, Brown and Hyman dug a puck out of the corner for a Matthews shot in the slot that deflected just wide. Later in the same shift, Matthews’ wraparound set up Brown to bang one in from just outside the blue paint – a goal the Leafs badly needed early on the road in a building they were blown out of in Games 1 and 2.
2. William Nylander’s jump was good early, as well, as he got in on the forecheck on his first shift, closed fast and forced a turnover out of Chara, although Johnsson subsequently bobbled the puck and not much developed out of it. After scoring the 2-0 goal, with the Bruins really pushing in the second half of the first period, the line came out and had an extended o-zone push-back shift in the final two minutes, winning a bunch of puck races and battles and ensuring the game went into the first intermission at 2-0. Then, on their first shift of the second period, Kadri and Nylander nearly connected on a give-and-go (x2) for a 3-0 goal, but Nylander couldn’t solve Rask in tight.
3. The Andreas Johnsson goal starts with his work without the puck. He track backed through the neutral zone, was above his man, and disrupted the Bruins’ transition. With Gardiner stepping up in the neutral zone, he covered, sent the puck up the wall, and broke up ice. A nice outlet by Gardiner to Kadri, good hustle by Johnsson to get in behind McAvoy, an excellent little area pass by Kadri in behind the Bruins’ D and a tidy finish from Johnsson later, the Leafs had their first first-period multi-goal lead of the series. The Johnsson goal and the 3-1 goal by Tyler Bozak were quintessential Leafs goals off of transition/rush plays. Both were beautiful.
4. Like the 1-0 Brown goal, the Johnsson goal started with a quality stretch pass that took a couple of Bruins out of the play in the neutral zone – both by Jake Gardiner. Catching the Bruins with a few of those really helps to back them off in the neutral zone and the Leafs managed to break the zone on the Bruins with speed – including Matthews carry-ins x2 – in the shifts that followed the 2-0 goal. The second period was actually the Leafs’ best possession wise, as they carried 57% of the shot attempts and 70% of the unblocked shot attempts.
Gardiner broke 50 points this year – with 47 assists, seventh among NHL defensemen – even though he wasn’t overly effective on the power play or at holding pucks in at the offensive blue line. Part of why he’s been so productive in this system and with this forward group this year: In general, his ability to get the breakout going and the puck in the Leafs’ forwards hands, and his ability to thread those stretch passes the Leafs thrive on, in particular.
5. There were a lot of highly suspect calls in this game, but the biggest one that helped the Bruins fight back into this one wasn’t one that actually produced a power play: With seven minutes left in the second, David Backes tried to start a fight with his team down 4-1 to change the momentum. By rights, it should’ve put the Bruins down a man. Backes was rightfully assessed a doubled minor, but Chara came over the top of that scrum to punch Gardiner in the face, and somehow Gardiner went to the box for roughing and Chara didn’t, evening the calls up. The Leafs didn’t go to the power play up 4-1 and it changed the complexion of the game.
I’m not going to go through them one by one, but the call on Dermott early in the third was also brutal — Noel Acciari chipped the puck in, went to retrieve in deep, and leaned into Dermott as the two squared up over top of the puck. Dermott won the strength battle and was handed two minutes for what appeared to be roughing based on the officials’ signal but was officially credited as a hold on the game sheet.
6. With all of those calls going against them in the second half of the game, the Leafs were in survival mode. The rhythm they had going over four lines was totally disrupted. Their top players were sitting on the bench cold for extended spells in the second half of the game. Ron Hainsey played over eight minutes on the penalty kill; Travis Dermott played under 10 total minutes. Auston Matthews played just over 15 minutes, Nazem Kadri played 13 and change, and Tyler Bozak (who was great again in this game) just over 11.
7. Late in the first, Nikita Zaitsev spit a puck right out in front and was bailed out by Andersen. In the second, at the offensive blue line, he floated a puck into the mid section of Riley Nash leading to a break through the middle for David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. He took a penalty later in that shift leading to the David Backes goal (although I’ll give him credit for laying out on the 2-on-1 and not giving up the easy pass for a tap-in this time). In the third period, he threw another puck away blindly, straight up the middle of the ice in the d-zone under no pressure, that fortunately did not land on a Bruins stick.
With his confidence looking shot and the basic execution lacking, Zaitsev is a hazard out there to the point where, in a tight one-goal game, you worry he’s going to make the mistake that decides a series. It sounds harsh to say that, but I’d really consider sitting him down in favour of Connor Carrick, and playing Roman Polak next to Jake Gardiner. I expect there is exactly a 0% chance of that happening, though, especially with the minutes Zaitsev plays shorthanded.
8. The Leafs are going to need Frederik Andersen to be their first star in one or more of these games to get themselves back in the series, and they got that tonight. He was the biggest reason the Leafs survived five of the six kills; the PK was better as far as pressuring the puck, but they still got away with a lot of blown clearances (one just before the Pastrnak post in the first, among others) and relied heavily on Andersen, who stopped 12 of the 45 shots against while on the kill. There were tons of tough saves among the 45 he made; some back at 2-0, 3-1, 4-1 or 4-2, but all look timely and monumental with how the scoreline turned out.
9. It’s an interesting question now as to what the Leafs will do with their lines going back home. The Bergeron line was kept off the board but mostly dominated the run of play (80% possession). Tomas Plekanec didn’t have his best game individually, fighting the puck on numerous occasions, and the shot attempts when Plekanec and Bergeron were on the ice were 12-3 Bergeron, scoring chances were 7-1, and the shots were 6-2. Plekanec also lost five of six faceoffs to Bergeron in the defensive zone, although part of that was the rampant cheating that the refs let go on the draw all but a couple of times. His line did keep them off the scoresheet again, though, ultimately.
Moving Kadri back with Marleau and Marner for the Bergeron matchup when Babcock has control at home seems like the easy call, but the Leafs were getting their four-line rotation going pretty effectively in the first half of the game before special teams took over, and Johnsson – Kadri – Nylander gave the team fantastic minutes in the first half of the game, exploiting some secondary matchups.
Give Babcock credit amid what’s been an up-and-down series for him – the new line combinations and four-line balance seemed to be the shakeup the Leafs needed, and he made the right call keeping Johnsson in the lineup over Komarov.
10. The Leafs played a pretty good first half to this game (excepting a 9-0 shots run for the Bruins in the second half of the first) and then had to battle the elements – the bounces off the end boards leading to two goals against, the suspect officiating on at least three or four of the penalties – to get this one over the line and take the series back home. Can this win on the road, in adverse circumstances with it all on the line, be the emotional turning point of the series? We’ll find out Monday at the ACC.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts