The winner of Game 5 was the team that best capitalized on the breaks that the Hockey Gods gave them.
The Bruins were handed the game’s first three power plays, with two caused by questionable stick infractions and one a puck-over-glass penalty due to a bouncing puck. Boston’s power play is absolutely lethal and they could have easily jumped out to an early lead during their six minutes with the man-advantage.
Frederik Andersen posted one shutout in 60 games this year and he was 45 seconds away from equalling this total in the playoffs. He was outstanding and I am sure he appreciates the fact that his team has ramped up their defensive play. The Leafs did not have a power play until Boston took a blatant too-many-men penalty in the middle of the third, so the Bruins had every opportunity to jump up to an early lead and take control of this series.
Toronto’s break came in the form of a favourable goaltender-interference review, which put the Leafs up 1-0 with under nine minutes to play. No one seems to be able to predict what will stand and what will be called back at this point, so it felt like the Leafs won a coin-flip.
In Bruce Cassidy’s post-game press conference, he said: “I just hope they don’t predict whether they thought the goalie could make the save and get across on time. It’s either interference, or it’s not.”. My question becomes: “What if the puck was one inch from crossing the line when the interference took place?” Rask would have needed a highlight-reel save to stop Matthews’ one-timer, and my best guess is that the puck was going in with or without interference. While I was a bit surprised that the league’s decision favoured the Leafs, no Toronto fan is about to apologize for finally getting a break.
The Matthews goal was not an overtime winner. The Bruins still had over eight minutes to tie it up; in a Leafs-Bruins series, that is the equivalent of about 63 years. The Leafs deserve credit for closing this one out as a beautiful five-man effort earned them a valuable insurance marker. The Leafs took full advantage of the breaks they were given and deserved to win the game.
Toronto’s Defensive Effort
The Leafs have been outstanding defensively in a couple of games in this series now and they came up with their best effort on Friday night. Jake Muzzin was outstanding (and I really like that they paid a little bit more for a player who is not a one-year rental). He has excelled next to Nikita Zaitsev in a shutdown role, allowing Mike Babcock to ask Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Travis Dermott to drive play while Bergeron is off the ice.
Contrary to popular belief, Toronto’s blue line compares favourably to plenty of playoff teams. My main concern was the defense of their forwards, as Matthews is still mediocre at best in his own end and William Nylander is being challenged to take on a more defensive role due to Nazem Kadri’s suspension. Thankfully, Nylander has been playing well outside of his horrible turnover in Game 2 and Matthews stepped up in a big way in Game 5:
Mike Babcock on Auston Matthews: “This was his best 200-footer of the playoffs. He was outstanding, he was involved in so many breakouts, he was there available for the ‘D.’ … I thought he played great. I was impressed and I’m proud for him. He should feel good about himself.”
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 20, 2019
The Leafs proved that they can play tight, defensively-sound, playoff hockey. Tavares has been a massive addition to this year’s matchup, Hyman continues to be the hardest worker on every shift, and Marner continues to prove that he’s an above-average defensive forward. Meanwhile, the fourth line of Tyler Ennis, Frederik Gauthier, and Trevor Moore has been outstanding all series. Let’s hope that the same defensive focus and attention-to-detail is brought to the table in Game 6.
A Look at the Line Combinations
The Bruins made a smart decision to balance out their scoring by moving David Pastrnak next to David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. That’s an awfully dangerous second line and their first line is still outstanding with Bergeron and Marchand leading the way. Toronto had a clear edge in scoring depth coming into the series, but with Boston’s adjustments and Kadri’s suspension, this is now closer to even.
This might be hard to believe, but the Leafs have an edge in terms of depth on their blue line. I have been quite happy with the Muzzin-Zaitsev pair in their shutdown role during this series and the Leafs have plenty of high-end puck movers to attack Boston’s other lines. One player that this depth is key for is Nylander, as he doesn’t have outstanding linemates, but he’s usually playing with at least one talented defenseman.
When the shutdown pair was off the ice in previous years, you had Roman Polak in a spot where you would like to capitalize against easier competition. That didn’t work out so great. Toronto’s third pair of Gardiner and Dermott is a massive upgrade for this role. One thing that will be worth watching is Gardiner’s ice time, as we are used to Babcock using him as one of the most played 5v5 defenders in the NHL, but he played just 12:31 in Game 5.
We know that Gardiner is playing through an injury, so this could be a big part of his low usage, but we also can’t expect him to play major minutes when Muzzin and Rielly are currently ahead of him in the depth chart. If he’s able to do so, I’d like to see him play more minutes with Rielly, even if that means a third-pairing of Dermott and Hainsey.
The last thing I will say about the line combinations is this: Kapanen’s game-winning goal was massive, but he has not done nearly enough to create chances for Matthews. If the Leafs can get by the Bruins, I would go back to the Matthews-Nylander duo and play Kapanen with Kadri. If the Matthews line is not generating many chances in the first half of Game 6, I might give Ennis or Moore a shot there to see if their playing style could better complement that line.
Addressing the Power Play Difference
One area where the Bruins carry a clear edge is special teams. Boston boasted the third-best powerplay in the NHL this year, and even when they don’t score, they seem to generate plenty of high-danger chances. The Leafs need to keep each game at five-on-five for as long as possible. The Bruins took full-advantage of an early power play in Game 4.
Need to watch for this play from the Bruins on the powerplay. They use it on both units, and they’re always curling back to find guys in the slot at 5v5.
It’s a dangerous powerplay, because at the same time, you have to watch the Pasta spot. pic.twitter.com/Lokbmn1FLo
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) April 19, 2019
Boston’s favourite play (part one): pic.twitter.com/r4p6VW9iCQ
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) April 20, 2019
Boston’s favourite play (part three): pic.twitter.com/HgYpZZigXq
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) April 20, 2019
The Bruins love the low-to-slot one-timer, and if you overcommit to the puck carrier, you often leave the shooting threat wide-open. The Hyman-Tavares-Marner line has done a great job of covering this at five-on-five, but the Leafs need to do better at covering this on the penalty kill. Marner is usually amazing at anticipating the play, but Kapanen has been late to cover a few times now.
There’s plenty of dangerous power plays around the playoffs right now, as teams like Washington, Boston, Winnipeg, San Jose, and Colorado always have dangerous units, while teams like Columbus are hot at the right time. Despite a couple of timely goals, I can’t say that I am equally impressed with Toronto’s power play at the moment.
If I was coaching Toronto’s power play, I’d have a long conversation with Rielly about taking low-danger shots from the point. He has one of the best shooters in the game to his left, one of the best passers to the game to his right, and a weak shot. He has seven shot attempts in 12 minutes of power play time this playoffs, and his individual expected goals during this stretch is just 0.18. He shouldn’t have more shot attempts than Tavares and Johnsson combined, so the Leafs need to work the puck down low more often in order to generate better chances.
Kadri scored 12 power play goals in 2017-18 while playing in the middle of the 1-3-1 power play, and I’d like to see them look for Johnsson more. Tavares’ playmaking skills just don’t seem to be used enough. I’d be trying to copy what the Bruins do with the low-to-slot one-timers. If you can make the opposing penalty killers focus on Johnsson’s shot from the slot, you open up space for Matthews, who can take full advantage. What they need to get away from is taking a bunch of weak low-danger wrist-shots from the point.
That’s it for this week. Let’s hope for a big series-clinching win on Sunday.