After winning their first Game 1 of a playoff series since 2003, the Toronto Maple Leafs will look to turn a good start in Boston into a dream-scenario road sweep tonight, but they will almost certainly encounter a more determined and organized Bruins team this time around in Game 2 (8 p.m, CBC, SN Ontario).
Thursday’s game was a blueprint for how the Leafs can win this series. They outskated the Bruins, competed hard in the physical department, and set up their quick transition game by skating their tails off and playing organized without the puck. Outside of a very flat start to the second period, they were able to play the game close to even in shot attempts and xG before score effects helped Boston take over while down 3-1 going into the third.
I mentioned before Game 1 that one of the more difficult to predict aspects of this series was how the Leafs D-pairs were going to be deployed. Taking some by surprise, Muzzin-Zaitsev took a big chunk of the load against the Bergeron line and they passed their first test. The big upside to deploying Muzzing and Zaitsev in that role, if they can manage it well enough, is that it frees up the Leafs‘ most skilled offensive defensemen — Morgan Rielly in particular, but Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott as well — to take advantage of the rest of the Bruins lineup.
The downside is, with Muzzin-Zaitsev in a matchup role and Rielly-Hainsey acting as the second “top pair” and taking a big piece of Boston’s second and third lines 5-on-5, it leaves two highly-skilled defensemen in Gardiner and Dermott playing tertiary minutes (Dermott played 12:19 at 5-on-5 vs. 18mins+ for Zaitsev, Muzzin, Rielly, and Hainsey). Ideally, that pair starts to settle in as the series wears on and Babcock can up their minutes, allowing the Leafs to keep the three pairs relatively fresh and balanced.
At forward, things played out more predictably in Game 1 — Tavares vs. Bergeron, Matthews vs. Krejci, Kadri vs. Coyle — and the Leafs were happy for the most part with how their top-three centers performed against the guy across from them. That isn’t expected to change much tonight, but what could for the Bruins is how their defense pairs are deployed against the Leafs’ forwards.
In Game 1, Chara-McAvoy played just over nine minutes against the Tavares line and around six minutes against Matthews and co. Krug-Carlo played ten minutes against the Matthews line and significantly less — under four minutes — against Tavares. That wasn’t the initial plan; the Bruins wanted to play Krug and Carlo in that matchup and save Chara and McAvoy for the Matthews matchup, but they were forced to adjust after the Tavares line was straining the former pairing. If Tavares and Marner can continue to demand the Bruins’ full matchup attention like that, it’s all the more advantageous for the Matthews line.
Regardless of the health of Jake DeBrusk, who said yesterday he felt “100%” and is expected to play tonight, David Backes returns the Bruins lineup, meaning some minor alterations are in store for the Bruins’ forward lines. DeBrusk didn’t skate this morning in an optional practice for Boston, so it won’t be until game time we know the exact lines that Boston will go with for Game 2. Backes’ on-ice impact has become limited in recent years, but he’ll be looking to make his presence felt physically. Expect him to draw in at RW with either Charlie Coyle or Noel Acciari.
Game Day Quotes
Babcock on Marner:
He’s a good player with and without the puck. He plays with speed and he’s intelligent, real good hockey sense both offensively and defensively. I think that’s what makes him the most dangerous. When you play real well defensively, you have the puck all the time and you’re coming at people with speed.
Babcock on CBJ’s surprising 2-0 series lead on TB:
I don’t get that surprised at playoff time, and as the league’s got tighter and tighter, the separation between top and bottom is almost nothing. We know every series is going to be ultra competitive. Now maybe, in the end, when you look at [the score] and it says 4-0 or 4-1, you don’t think it was competitive, but usually every game is ultra competitive. Columbus is a good hockey club. They acquired a lot at the deadline. They had good team before. Obviously, it looks like it’s shaping up to be a good series.
Babcock on Moore and Gauthier, who played their first NHL playoff games on Thursday:
They’ve been in the program for a while here. They had success last year at a different level but at playoff time. I’ve only [had] a one-game window here to look at it, but I thought they were effective last game. We didn’t play them a ton, but when they were out there they played with a ton of energy, they played hard and they were good.
Bruce Cassidy on Brandon Carlo, who also played his first playoff game in Game 1:
As long as it doesn’t affect his defending. Matthews made a good move on him — I think he got reading the play, it was going to be a kick out. He did it to Clifton on the other side. Obviously, when he has a head of steam, Matthews is dangerous, and that’s why you really have to work from the middle out. One of the strengths of his game is accessing the blueline with speed and getting that shot off. We need to force the puck out of his hands sooner, but that was it for [Carlo] I thought. Early on, he wasn’t as comfortable as he usually is with the puck. I think that’s normal for a guy playing his first playoff game. He just needs to get that out of his system.
Matchup Stats – 2018-19 Regular Season
A great matchup chart courtesy of corsica.hockey:
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#42 Trevor Moore – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #28 Connor Brown
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #23 Travis Dermott
#8 Jake Muzzin – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Scratched: Nic Petan, Tyler Ennis, Martin Marincin, Justin Holl, Igor Ozhiganov, Michael Hutchinson
Boston Bruins Projected Lines
#63 Brad Marchand – #37 Patrice Bergeron – #88 David Pastrnak
#74 Jake Debrusk – #46 David Krejci – #83 Karson Kuhlman
#90 Marcus Johansson – #13 Charlie Coyle – #43 Danton Heinen
#20 Joakim Nordstrom – #55 Noel Acciari – #42 David Backes
#33 Zdeno Chara – #73 Charlie McAvoy
#47 Torey Krug – #25 Brandon Carlo
#48 Matt Grzelcyk – #75 Connor Clifton
#40 Tuukka Rask
#41 Jaroslav Halak
Injured: Sean Kuraly, John Moore