Entering a rare Easter Sunday matinee game (3 p.m, CBC), the Toronto Maple Leafs also have a rare opportunity in front of them today, one they haven’t encountered in a very long time: They hold a series lead in an elimination game.
Having played one of their best road playoff games in years in Game 5 to put themselves in this position, the Leafs have earned the chance to advance on home ice today and clinch the organization’s first series win in 15 years in the process, but first they’re going to need to bring one of their best efforts of the series to oust what will surely be the most desperate Bruins team they’ve faced so far.
There likely won’t be as much of the line matching for Bruce Cassidy with his forward group today; he’ll get his best players out there as much as possible and live or die by his big guns. Based on how they lined up at practice (it’s important to remember Cassidy changed his lines after warmup before Game 4), David Pastrnak will return to Patrice Bergeron’s wing, Danton Heinen moved to the left side on Charlie Coyle’s line, and Marcus Johansson will occupy Pastrnak’s prior spot on David Krejci’s wing. We’ll see what the lines look like come puck drop, but reuniting the big line to start the game wouldn’t be a surprising move in an elimination game in which they’ll play well over 20 minutes.
The big key for the Leafs, who will leave their lineup intact, is managing the emotions of this opportunity properly — up against a veteran team that is going to be a hard out, in what should be an electric home atmosphere — and committing to the same formula that has led to success in this series so far (outplaying the Bruins at 5v5 in arguably four of the five games). Provided the Leafs stay patient and committed defensively, break out cleanly in five-man units, and take care of the puck properly, they’ve got Boston on the ropes as far as their inability to keep pace with them over four lines.
Strap yourselves in, Leafs fans. This is going to be a lot of fun.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on Auston Matthews starting to figure out how to play defensively in the playoffs:
I don’t think it’s just sinking in now. He is a young player in the NHL. You’re playing center and it is hard. It takes time. There are a couple of problems: One, it takes a ton of work. You’ve got to get up and down the rink and up and down the rink 82 nights a year and then in the playoffs, you’ve got to do it playing 20 minutes. What you find is it’s hard to do it right every time. It is way easier not to do it right. That is the first thing.
The second thing is your wingers have to understand how it works as well. That usually takes time in the league, too. That is why it takes a lot of guys a long time to learn how to win — because you’ve got to learn how to play right. It is a process. I think John Tavares being here has probably helped him, but just his overall commitment and understanding, too. As you get to be a better skater, you get stronger and you get more comfortable in the league, you’ve got a chance to get better at it.
Babcock on the opportunity to win the series:
We know the formula for us to win tomorrow. We know that. Now we’ve got to do it. It is great to know the answers, but now you’ve got to do it every day. That is the hardest part. Sometimes at home, you get a little carried away. Let’s just play.
Babcock on what a win tonight would mean for the franchise:
I just saw that the other day and I never really thought about that much. It means a lot to be a part of a great franchise. I think we are going in the right direction. I think we have been doing that now here for three years. My first year here was obviously a different project. I think we have a chance to build a real good program here. We’ve got to continue to build that program. This is all part of that process right here.
Bruce Cassidy on if his team’s experience will help this afternoon:
Every year writes it’s own story. You value [experience], but this is it’s own group and they’ve got to find their way. That was the message this morning. There was a lack of urgency in [Game 5] in our play and at times it was there but, in general, I don’t think this team has reached where it can get to yet in the playoffs at all in terms of team play.
Cassidy on what hasn’t gone right for Boston in this series:
Is it Toronto that’s taken us out of our game? Is it just that we’re not on time starting some nights? Are we not executing at the level we can because of Toronto, or because we’re not focused? We made some mental mistakes [in Game 5] on our forecheck. Guys we rely on to be in the right spots in the neutral zone forecheck, our defensive players, made bad reads. That’s frustrating for a coach. You’re in game 87. Have I not got through to it, or have these guys just not dialed in? We’re going to keep sending that message, but we better be dialed in here. No room for error.
Game 5 matchups from corsica.hockey (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 – #88 David Pastrnak
#74 Jake Debrusk – #46 David Krejci – #90 Marcus Johansson
#43 Danton Heinen – #13 Charlie Coyle – #83 Karson Kuhlman
#20 Joakim Nordstrom – #52 Sean Kuraly – #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