We’re going 7.
Your game in ten:
1. Ron Hainsey says it better than we ever could here:
“Hold your loved ones tight. Give them an extra kiss tonight… we’re going to play our heart out for this city.”
– Ron Hainsey when asked about today’s terrible tragedy in Toronto. pic.twitter.com/yo02NCK7jK
— Tim and Sid (@timandsid) April 23, 2018
Thoughts and prayers to victims, the victims’ families, and all that were affected by today’s terrible tragedy at Yonge and Finch.
2. Faced with a tough decision as to whether to place Nazem Kadri or Tomas Plekanec into the Bergeron matchup on home ice, Mike Babcock appeared to make the final call based on feel, saying after the game that the second game back after a layoff – after Kadri’s suspension – usually isn’t as good as the first (presumably, the thinking is that the player is coming down off the initial adrenaline spike).
The Patrice Bergeron line, after a pretty good start by the Leafs, basically took over the game late in the first and all the way throughout the second period (it felt like they never left the ice). The Leafs were getting run ragged by that line, unable to break the cycle or break out cleanly, yet were holding on, getting timely saves and key shot blocks, and leaning on lady luck pretty hard. Part of the problem in the middle part of the game — when the Leafs largely got snowed under — is that they were getting cleaned out on the draw, which eventually came home to roost when David Krejci beat Matthews way too cleanly on the faceoff for the Jake Debrusk 1-0 goal.
It wasn’t exactly convincing stuff – it never has been against the Bergeron line this series, and to an extent, that’s expected – but the Plekanec line kept the scoresheet clean again and it’s getting hard to argue with whatever mojo the line has going for itself at the moment in that matchup. It’s hard to see Babcock messing with success there to start Game 7 or going away from it unless he has to.
3. The immediate 1-1 response from William Nylander was the product of the kind of chaos the Leafs like to create on those long-bomb breakouts, which they use as much as anybody in the league. The Bruins were all over those for the most part, stuffing it back down the Leafs’ throats for much of the game, but on that occasion, when McAvoy went to step up on the intended recipient in Johnsson (who fell over and dropped his stick), the puck took a sharp bounce off the boards and snuck through Chara. A full-flight Nylander won the foot race to the loose puck in the offensive zone and the Leafs managed to set up. The Leafs are always dangerous and could strike at any time, even if they’re a bit of a sleeping giant at times with how they defend and break the puck out.
The whole thing obviously goes as Frederik Andersen goes, though. You’d really like to see the Leafs incorporate some bump passes and shorten their game up at times like that when they’re repeatedly banging their heads against the wall.
4. The Leafs also benefited from — and took full advantage of — some puck luck after Ron Hainsey’s point shot deflected and the puck bobbled, hopping on Marchand and winding up on the stick of Mitch Marner in the slot, who buried with a nice backhand finish. There’s no doubt the Leafs rope-a-dope’d this game for a good 30 minutes in the midsection of the contest, leaning heavily on Andersen and getting some timely offense, and it really was amazing that they managed to outscore the Bruins in the middle frame.
5. What was legitimately impressive, however, was the way the Leafs closed out the third. The second period appeared to be setting up for an all-out assault from the Bruins in the final frame, but it didn’t really ever happen to the extent you might’ve imagined. The Leafs seemed to regain the composure that was missing in the second period, when they couldn’t generate any breakout ideas beyond panic-flipping the puck to center for one Leaf to chase in vain.
While the Leafs still did not generate enough cycle time to run out the clock safely in the third period – aside from one spell by Marleau and Marner battling on the end boards in the final two minutes – they were stiffer through the neutral zone than they were when they nearly coughed up the 4-1 lead in Game 5. It was essentially open season for the Bruins to break the zone with speed and control in the third period of Game 5, with the Leafs D backing right off. The Leafs forced more dump ins and managed to clear pucks effectively to disrupt sustained pressure from the Bruins tonight. There were also a few bump passes into the middle that got the Leafs out of trouble, which was nice to see.
6. The Leafs power play was not the momentum builder they’ll need it to be in Game 7. They were far too cute at times with the puck and also hesitant to take what was given to them: point shots from the top of the umbrella. The Bruins were sagging right off, taking away the space of Matthews, Nylander and Marner on the half walls, but Rielly and Gardiner never really took their opportunities to step into one or two from the top of the zone. The Leafs are going to have to keep them honest there when the Bruins are handing it to them, and simplify a little bit in general. The power play has been a strength for the most part this series, but the Bruins are making adjustments and the Leafs will have to make their own.
7. In addition to the young core of the Leafs being one year older and more mature – see Marner, out to close a one-goal game in a do-or-die playoff situation, making a poised play off the wall to get the Leafs out of trouble and seal the game on the empty netter – the Leafs now have veterans slotted in key roles who play in key situations, which wasn’t the case last year. Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick were bottom pair guys and effective on the PK, and Brian Boyle was a solid but limited 4C, but that was about it. They certainly didn’t have a Patrick Marleau to throw on the ice in late-game situations.
Marleau has really closed out games well for the Leafs this year, scoring a bunch of empty netters and generally just making the right veteran plays at the right times and being heavy on the walls/on pucks in key situations. Marleau and Marner ran down some clock eating the puck on the boards in the final two minutes, and then Marleau laid a massive pick away from the puck – without it really being interference; he just stood his ground and extended his arms – to buy Plekanec time to seal the game into the empty net. It’s not something they had last year versus Washington, and in general, the Leafs have given up way fewer leads this year than last in part thanks to him.
8. Connor Brown’s effort on the third-period penalty kill – with the shot block, the interception and the amazing backcheck — was the best PK shift by a Leaf since Tim Brent’s famous shot blocking sequence, and this came in a playoff game of significant importance. He then got laid out late in the game making a play in order to get the puck out up the wall. That was pretty special effort from Brown, as well as Hyman and Marner – hometown kids putting it all on the line in a must-win game on an emotionally-charged night in the city of Toronto. Hair-raising stuff.
9. William Nylander sure was feeling it tonight, making up for some lost time after his struggles earlier in the series. Babcock will want to play the forecheck that set the stage for his goal later on in the same shift on a loop for him in the video room. With 12 minutes left in the second period, Nylander also came off the bench with the bit between his teeth and threw a Bruin off the puck down low, spent the shift in the offensive zone, and then finished his check hard before getting off the ice. Babcock will want to bottle that Nylander up and store him on ice for Game 7.
10. Part of me thinks the Leafs depth is starting to surface as an advantage as this series goes deeper and deeper — it was interesting to see how hard Boston rode their top guys trying to close this series out tonight while the Leafs rolled their lines, and it makes me wonder whether the Leafs benefited from that later in the game (and into Game 7). In general, you’d like to say the momentum is clearly on the Leafs side now heading into a much-anticipated Game 7 showdown, but that would be forgetting recent history between these organizations, and it’s also not really in keeping with how Game 7s typically work. It’s a whole new deal unto itself, and prior stats and storylines can be crumpled up and thrown over the shoulder for the most part.
Seems fitting the Leafs drew the Bruins.
The Leafs ended the Keon curse last year, broke the losing streak to the Habs with a sweep, set new records for home wins, total points, wins by a goaltender.
Can they exorcise the Bruins demon with their 1st playoff round win since 04?
— Alec Brownscombe (@MapleLeafsHS) April 9, 2018
It was always supposed to go 7, though, wasn’t it?
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts