After Game 4, I think the formula was pretty simple for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as I wrote heading into Game 5:
“They can’t start games the way they did, and they can’t continue to not be able to kill penalties. Heading into what will be a loud Boston crowd, those are the two main concerns to be mindful of.”
Well, the Bruins didn’t score early (not until the final minute, in fact) or build much momentum and the Leafs penalty kill went for three-for-three. The result? The Leafs now have the Bruins on the ropes, heading back to Toronto with the opportunity to close out the series.
Boston felt good about winning Game 4 and they were getting a notable player back in Sean Kuraly. They could also feel confident at home, a place that has been a house of horrors for the Leafs over the past few years. Yet this was as good of a road game as you could have drawn up from Toronto.
They were strong defensively, to the tune of Boston getting six shots on net in the first period. A few examples here:
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) April 19, 2019
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) April 19, 2019
They were also able to break free for a few chances off the rush – a nice centering passing by Tavares to Kapanen, a Hyman 360 pass to Marner, and Hyman breaking in alone, all off of the rush. When you look at it on whole, after 20 minutes in Boston, it was 0-0, the Bruins only had six shots on net (even with having a power play on what I thought was a pretty weak call), and the Leafs had a collection of good chances. Short of scoring, that’s a great first period.
In the second period, scoring chances were traded – Pastrnak got in alone, Kapanen and Matthews had a nice passing play off the rush, Kapanen had a shorthanded breakaway, Krejci hit the post, and Ennis broke in alone to end the period. Both teams could feel they were creating.
On the penalty kill, the Leafs did a better job of pressuring the initial Bruins puck carrier – that helped lead to the dump-in where Kapanen got a breakaway out of it. Right after that, Hyman poked the puck off of Pastrnak, who was trying to carry it up ice. At times, we have seen the Leafs first penalty-killing forechecker hang back for the drop pass and give the puck carrier a bit more breathing room.
Another period ended and while both teams could probably feel good about the chances they were creating, if you’re the Leafs on the road, you have to like the way you have been controlling the play and generally keeping Boston at bay. This actually happened throughout the game from start to finish. Via Natural Stat Trick:
In the third period, the Leafs finally broke through. We have talked about Muzzin’s patience with the puck and how it has helped him playing alongside Zaitsev. In the third period, though, he did it on the offensive end with a high, high-end play. His slap shot has to be respected; it is heavy and causes problems. When that backed off the Bruins defenders, who were also just lost in general, Muzzin took the space available.
Shortly after came the all-important insurance marker. A defenseman in Muzzin set up the first goal and another in Rielly really opened things up for the second goal. His net drive gave Kapanen extra space for the shot:
Throughout the season, we have discussed how Rielly’s biggest development is possibly his ability to move off the puck and understanding how to create offense with his legs when he doesn’t have the puck. In previous years, I’m not so sure he drives through the lane like that after flipping the puck to Johnsson. As a really young defender, he might have even completely curled off and hung back altogether, protecting a one-goal lead.
Boston made a slight push and even got one back, but the Leafs really closed the game off well, generally speaking, and it didn’t really feel in question in the final few minutes.
A great road win, and now a golden chance to close out at home.
- The Bruins stuck with the Bergeron vs. Tavares matchup but they also got that line out for roughly five minutes against the Matthews line. They wanted to go at Matthews defensively and he hung in there.
- On the shift before the Kapanen goal, Auston Matthews made a great play on the backcheck to break up a Pastrnak centering pass. Babcock mentioned afterward that it was his best 200-foot game and it really was. Last year in the playoffs, he really struggled defensively (which is to be expected for a 20-year-old center), and the growth he has shown has been fantastic. He was +9 in corsi events for the night.
- I also haven’t seen too many one-timers out of Matthews since he plays on his strong side on the power play. Something to keep in mind moving forward there.
- When Hyman was in the penalty box, Trevor Moore was put into the rotation – he played 37 seconds shorthanded on the night. I guess he’s next in line or close to it when someone goes down. His ice time is still pretty low, but he is definitely working his way into the good books. That fourth line, on the whole, has had a really positive impact.
- Really like what Tyler Ennis has brought since being inserted. He only has two shots on net and an assist in three games, but he has a lot of energy out there. He drives the net hard – as he did for his one shot on net in Game 5. He’s physical and we have seen him go at Chara multiple times. Having Ennis launch his generously-listed 5’9 body at players and fearlessly drive to the net is something the team can build on and use as a spark, and they have since he’s been put in the lineup.
- Nice move by Babcock to get William Nylander up with Matthews out for a bit after some penalties. After a full two-minute power play for the top unit, he came back with Marleau – Nylander – Kapanen. He then came back with the fourth line after the matchups sussed out. On that shift, Moore beat out a big icing, in the third period of a tie game, to which you can be sure the Bruins top line would have come right out if he didn’t.
- On a faceoff to end the second period in the offensive zone, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson switched sides – they haven’t always done that. An interesting wrinkle to try to get a chance. The Leafs lost the faceoff, so was difficult to figure out what the play would have been.
- Travis Dermott is starting to look like himself, in particular breaking the puck out using multiple fakes, including one behind the net that led to Ennis’ scoring opportunity. He also bailed himself out on a shot of his that got blocked resulting in a 2v1 by laying out. It looked like it might have been Gardiner’s fault they got the 2v1 rush, but the transition was too quick on such a clean block and pass up to really blame him.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) April 20, 2019
- Back-to-back games for William Nylander hitting the 16-minute mark. I think the only thing holding him back is he can’t really move up the lineup due to the center options. Otherwise, he is playing really well now, has six shots over the last two games, and he has set up teammates for multiple opportunities. When he was at center during the season, I thought he was a different player – the ice just opens up more for him and he can go wherever he wants. With his speed, that’s dangerous.
- Game 5 was the first game of the playoffs in which Mitch Marner has not recorded a shot on net – he was also -11 in corsi. The Bruins have really focused in on him and were very vocal about it after the first game. I think it has helped free up Matthews a bit in the process. This is how the Leafs can be a matchup problem.
“A little bit of frustration. If I actually missed the net, you know, that’s my fault, but the ice conditions here aren’t the best and it just exploded off my stick.”
– Kasperi Kapanen on the shorthanded breakaway that he missed
The quick backhand-forehand is Kasperi Kapanen’s breakaway move and we’ve seen him do it a number of times successfully. That said, it’s a hard move to make with someone right on you, in addition to bad ice. I think he needs to have a backup/quicker move to make when guys are right on him, even if he just straight up shoots it (he has a bomb of a shot). With Kapanen’s speed, he is going to get a lot of breakaways in his career. He needs to diversify and not be the next Nikolai Kulemin making the same move over and over.
“I didn’t think that we had energy in the bottom of our lineup. They don’t generally play their fourth line a lot, so if our fourth line and the guys we use in that roll aren’t going together in sync then it works against us. That’s the way I saw it. We had a couple of shifts that I thought they got outplayed to a certain extent. When I used them individually, in pieces, with different lines I thought we had a better result so we kind of went three lines and then added a player here or there.”
– Bruce Cassidy on mixing and matching his lines
Throughout this series, it really has felt as if the Bruins have chased the matchups and really the series as a whole. Cassidy has lamented many things in his lineup – depth play, trying to get Pastrnak going, his young defense in game one, etc. It appears he’s planning on notably changing the lines again for Game 6.
“We know the formula for us to win tomorrow. We know that. Now we’ve got to do it.”
– Mike Babcock
5 Things I Think I’d Do
- I think this is going to be a difficult list to make because what am I realistically going to suggest changing at this point?
- I will say I don’t think this series is an indictment on Nazem Kadri. He’s a good player and again, he needs someone to ride shotgun with him. That is when he is at his best – Leo Komarov and Joffrey Lupul, two mouthy players, got the best out of him on a regular basis. He hasn’t really fit into the soft, sheltered third line center role. If anything, I’d consider moving him to wing because he is one the Leafs’ six best forwards.
- I think one nice development for the Leafs this series is how they are using the middle of the ice and their centers for breakouts. Wingers are bumping it to the middle off the wall and defensemen are looking for it – obviously, Hainsey did this before the Kapanen goal. He also did it earlier with Tavares in the first period, leading to the Hyman – Marner rush opportunity. There are countless examples. They have stopped simply throwing it off the wall and are actually making plays up the ice to move up with control of the puck.
- I think Mike Babcock did a good job mixing up shifts after special teams’ situations – giving Nylander better wingers at times, moving him up with Matthews. We haven’t always seen this flexibility in his lineups, but it is paying off. As Cassidy noted above, they don’t play their fourth line much, but their top nine is playing so well that it is really causing the Bruins matchup problems.
- I think the Leafs are just straight up playing better than the Bruins and should feel really good about that. It should give them the confidence to just keep playing their game and trust everything will work out. In Game 1, I thought the Bruins played poorly, and in Game 2 the Leafs played poorly, but after that, the Leafs have legitimately been the better team.