All square at 2-2, the series now shifts back to Boston for Game 5 tonight (7 p.m, CBC), with one team able to put themselves in the driver’s seat for an elimination Game 6 in Toronto on Sunday afternoon.

Much like last year’s series, special teams are becoming a differentiating factor in a tight matchup and the Leafs have gain been at a disadvantage in that department. Through four games, the Leafs have let Boston’s power play become too much of a factor — the Bruins have scored a goal on the man advantage in each of Games 1-3 and two in Game 4. The first Boston power play goal on Wednesday, in particular, was far, far too easy:

“It’s just a spread power play. It’s easy to sort out. [On the McAvoy goal] we didn’t sort it out up top and they ended up outnumbering us on the bottom. In the end, we gave up an easy one. The big thing for us — we just went over it this morning — is we are not executing on it at game time.”

– Mike Babcock on the Bruins power play

The Leafs power play hasn’t taken as much criticism as their penalty kill, but there’s also room for more there, and the coaching staff seemed to agree by working in a new play that resulted in Matthews’ goal to start the almost-comeback and make it 5-3 in Wednesday’s game.

Off a won draw in the offensive zone at 5v4, instead of acting as an outlet for Rielly on the left half boards, Matthews crept down to the low slot just left of the crease. When the puck got to Marner with space for a pass into the slot, he had three sticks to look for (Matthews, Johnsson, Tavares) instead of two, and Toronto was able to out-man the Bruins easily at the net front. They pulled off the play a couple of times earlier in the game, but they were finally able to bury one in the third period.

Here’s a good look at the goal from the behind the net cam; you can see Matthews set up down low at the back post as soon as Leafs take possession up high. He gets plenty of room to get his stick into the crease, even though both Acciari and Carlo seem to notice him move to the low slot:

In terms of other adjustments ahead of Game 5, it took until Game 4 four for Bruce Cassidy to make a much-anticipated switch — moving David Pastrnak to David Krejci’s line to give the Bruins a more balanced matchup situation. The move put more onus on the Matthews and Nylander lines for Toronto, but Babcock seemed unfazed by the change after what was a solid game from both those lines (Pastrnak scored his 5v5 goal while back up with the big line vs. the Tavares line and the Muzzin – Zaitsev pairing):

I thought we were set up good for that to be honest with you. I wasn’t concerned about that one bit. Willy’s line was really good tonight — had lots of Ozone time, lots of opportunity. As the game went on, it didn’t matter to me whether I played Matty or him against [Krejci-Pastrnak], so I thought our matchups were fine. That, to me, wasn’t it.

If not from the start, one anticipates that Pastrnak will return to the top line for parts of the game with Bruce Cassidy having the benefit of last change on home ice tonight.

Further down the lineup, the battle of the bottom lines has been a matchup the Leafs are winning handily so far, but the Bruins are going to get a key piece of their depth back in the lineup tonight. With Sean Kuraly healthy, he will replace Joakim Nordstrom next to Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner.

That trio (Kuraly-Acciari-Wagner) was the Bruins second most common forward line after Bergeron’s regular unit in the regular season, playing just over 400 minutes together. In those minutes, they were solid in the relative possession numbers (-1.3CF%rel, -4.2xGF%rel), especially when you consider the skill and possession numbers of the other Bruins forward lines and the fourth line’s heavy defensive zone starts.  Kuraly is the most offensively skilled of the Boston fourth liners, and Cassidy noted his ability with the puck will be crucial to getting that line to exit the zone better and spend more time in the o-zone against Toronto’s Moore-Gauthier-Ennis line, who is having the run of the matchup in the series so far (see the matchup stats below).

The Leafs’ fourth line’s ability to tilt the ice in that fourth-line matchup — running the Bruins top D pair ragged a few times last game — has been helpful for setting up other lines and the Leafs will hope they can continue to find an edge in that area of the matchup game tonight.

Game Day Quotes

Bruce Cassidy on what the returning Sean Kuraly brings to his line:

Well, they were really good all year for us, Sean’s a big part of that. A bit undervalued on paper, he’s a guy that can get to loose pucks in our end and get it out of our zone — that’s what we missed a bit the other night — and he’s good at protecting it down low in their zone. He’s certainly a hard guy to get the puck from when he’s on. That complements the Acciari’s and Wagner’s who then can go to the net and win the battles for second chances when the puck gets there.

That’s what they do well on that line. That’s what Sean does — he holds it for them and gives them some separation. However it goes to the net — whether he shoots it or goes low to high — that’s where that line is effective in the O-zone. I’ve always said that, and that’s why I think they’re good in D-zone, because they can play in the O-zone. A lot of the time they start in our end, they get down to their end, and now we’ve got a faceoff and we’re building momentum up for Krejci’s line or Bergy’s. They’ve done a real good job of that, tilting the ice so we can get our offensive players out there.


Mike Babcock on his bottom line:

Yeah, I think they’ve been good. I don’t know if you’d call them fourth liners, but they’ve done a real nice job and they’ve played hard. I think Moore’s been really effective and has been good since he’s been in. Goat, in his limited opportunity, has done well for us. They’ve been physical, they spend time in the O-zone, and they’ve done a good job.

Babcock on Kapanen:

Well, I think he’s really come on here. He had a real dip and then he’s really come on. He’s been physical and quick. I think when you jam everything together, you can paint any picture you want, but I also think, if you look at his last game, I thought he was pretty effective. He needs to continue to do that and be physical and shoot the puck; throw it in from wherever he’s at.

Babcock on handling a Bruins forward group that had their best night of the series on Wednesday:

We’ve just got to get back to what we were doing. Anytime you’re a goal scorer and you score, you feel good about yourself. That’s the beauty of a series. They didn’t have it going and suddenly they have it going . We’re the same way. This series has been about responding. We have to respond here today.

Matchup Stats

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins, Game 5

Game 4 matchups from (size is scaled by TOI and colour is scaled by adjusted xG differential)

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 – #29 William Nylander– #28 Connor Brown
#42 Trevor Moore – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #63 Tyler Ennis

#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#8 Jake Muzzin – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#51 Jake Gardiner – #23 Travis Dermott

#31 Frederik Andersen
#30 Michael Hutchinson

Scratched: Nic Petan, Martin Marincin, Justin Holl, Igor Ozhiganov
Suspended: Nazem Kadri

Boston Bruins Projected Lines

#63 Brad Marchand – #37 Patrice Bergeron – #43 Danton Heinen
#74 Jake Debrusk – #46 David Krejci – #88 David Pastrnak
#90 Marcus Johansson – #13 Charlie Coyle – #42 David Backes
#52 Sean Kuraly – #55 Noel Acciari – #14 Chris Wagner

#33 Zdeno Chara – #73 Charlie McAvoy
#47 Torey Krug – #25 Brandon Carlo
#48 Matt Grzelcyk  – #27 John Moore

#40 Tuukka Rask
#41 Jaroslav Halak

Injured: Connor Clifton, Karson Kuhlman