The Maple Leafs needed to break the losing streak at home to keep their season alive. They delivered. 

Joseph Woll was excellent again, the Leafs played a tight and mature game defensively, and William Nylander did what he does best: break a game open with his talent. 

We’re going to 7, baby! Buckle up.

Your game in 10:

1.   The Leafs threw a bit of a curveball to start this game by dressing Noah Gregor in place of Ryan Reaves, a move I’m not sure anyone saw coming. Gregor was inserted alongside Ponus Holmberg and Nick Robertson, as the Leafs kept together the Connor DewarDavid KampfCalle Jarnkrok line that played most of the third period for the Leafs in Game 5.

The matchups stayed the same, save for one notable switch. The John Tavares line still drew the Zacha line, and the Max Domi line went up against the Marchand line, as usual. The difference is that Kampf went up against the Trent Frederic line, which has burned Toronto a few times (Frederic has a few goals, and JVR scored in the last game in Toronto). That left the Holmberg line up against the Bruins’ fourth line centred by Jesper Boqvist.

The Leafs have not won that matchup on the scoreboard with Holmberg at 3C (partly because they have been injured and don’t have the depth available), so they presumably decided to neutralize them with a more defensive and trustworthy line. Gregor, for his part, makes it easier to do this; he’s able to make some plays alongside Robertson and Holmberg, and he’s fast enough to keep up with them.

2.   The theme of the first period, besides feeling out the matchups, was the neutral zone play. The Bruins went to a 1-3-1 and played a typical road game. They ground the play out, gave the Leafs nothing easy, and just bogged the game right down. Even without Matthews, they are very tentative in their matchups and won’t play the Leafs straight up. They will hang back defensively, hoping to pounce on mistakes and rely on special teams.

To the Leafs’ credit, they played it right. They got pucks in deep to start and forechecked heavily. They had a 12-1 shot advantage in the period, and the best scoring chance of the period — which came off a bit of a broken play off the breakout — was a Mitch Marner chance against Swayman head on that Swayman barely got a piece of with his blocker. It was easily the best look of the period.

The Leafs also got a power play in the period, and funny enough, it was the only time the Bruins got a shot on goal in the period. After the first unit again played with little purpose, the second created a little something — first, a Calle Jarnkrok rush and then a Jake McCabe point shot.

While the Bruins only recorded one shot on net, they did have 13 shot attempts at 5v5. The Leafs blocked a number of chances, particularly a Matthew Knies block on a Pastrnak shot in the high slot.

At the end of the period, Knies once again started a little commotion. After Nylander backhanded a puck to the net, Knies and Liljegren tried jamming the rebound as the buzzer sounded. Boston took exception, and Knies again appeared more than willing to extend an invite to anyone who wanted it (they didn’t). Even though he is young and inexperienced in the league, Knies is starting to learn his own size and strength.

3.   The slow period brings up an important point for the Leafs. They have been starting to forecheck more, and it has been working. Mike Kelly highlight this earlier in the day:

Their speed and hustle have been noticeable, and they have gotten into trouble when they veer away from this game. When they get pucks in deep, they are able to force turnovers and get pucks to the net. It’s not high-flying, but that’s playoff hockey, especially against a Bruins team that is determined to slow the game down. If you’re the Leafs, you simply have to process what’s happening in this matchup, stay patient, and stick with it.

4.    There was more action to start the second period, led by Max Domi forcing a turnover and setting up Jake McCabe, who went in all alone and couldn’t finish off the check trying to pull it backhand. Right afterward, the Leafs drew a four-minute power play as Tyler Bertuzzi took a high stick, giving them a great chance to break through on the power play and strike first in the game as well.

Instead, the power play created essentially nothing. It sucked the energy out of the game and the crowd. The crowd tried cheering them on about halfway through their futile effort, but they had nothing going. They couldn’t break in cleanly — repeatedly trying to enter via the Tavares side — and they wouldn’t veer from the drop-pass play. At one point, Morgan Rielly skated right by the two Bruins forwards and still turned around for a failed drop pass play instead of taking the free space in front of his face.

The Leafs’ power play has to take what they are given and capitalize. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have Matthews or were without Nylander for two games; 1/20 is beyond the pale. After the power play, the Bruins understandably gained some life (though the Leafs’ fourth line generated a really good shift to neuter some of the momentum change).

Everyone was waiting for the Bruins’ power play at this point, and it finally arrived. It was a big point in the game, given the Leafs were 0/3 on the power play, and the Bruins created basically nothing offensively to this point.

The Leafs’ penalty kill dug in. The big play was a Joel Edmundson block followed by closing on Marchand on the half-wall and clearing it. That really helped swing momentum back Toronto’s way. The crowd responded, giving the Leafs some life momentarily.

5.   The Bruins started to open the game up a bit as the period went on. The Leafs weren’t creating much, but the Bruins were creating absolutely nothing. They finally registered their first five-on-five shot on net of the game. The Leafs were managing it so well that the Bruins started looking to push the pace to some degree because they had nothing going on whatsoever.  Boston still didn’t create much, but Joseph Woll was calm, cool, and collected when they did. His best save through two periods was on a McAvoy slap shot through traffic that he turned aside with his pad.

With a few minutes left at the end of the second, the Leafs started pushing to close out the period. The first came from a third-line shift where Pontus Holmberg probably boarded Lohrei behind, but it didn’t get called. Nick Robertson walked out from the corner but lost the handle. Either way, the Bruins iced it from there, and off the faceoff win by John Tavares, William Nylander collected the puck up top.

It reminded me of his turnover in that spot in Boston in the regular season, which led to a Trent Frederic breakaway goal. This time, though, Nylander didn’t fall. He got a step on the checker, giving him enough space to throw the puck to the net. The puck deflected off McAvoy and went in. It wasn’t pretty, but the Leafs deserved the lead, and as we say all the time, pucks to the net with traffic are what playoff hockey is all about. 

6.   In the third period, the Bruins came out and started pushing the pace now that they were trailing. They generated a few early shots from Brandon Carlo and Morgan Geekie off the rush, and it was a little loose for the Leafs in the neutral zone, but Toronto started to tighten up a bit as the first half of the period went along. The Domi line got carried away chasing offense, and the Bruins counterattacked on a 3v3 that was really a 3v2 as Bertuzzi was out of gas. Geekie tried to hit Coyle at the backdoor on the initial play, and then Carlo attempted a slapshot with Woll down and out, but he missed the net.

The Bruins kept pushing, and Coyle had a chance on a drive to the net, but Woll stood tall against both the first shot and the rebound. The Leafs needed to settle the game down, and they got exactly that kind of shift from the Dewar – Kampf – Jarnkrok line as they cycled the Bruins hard for over a minute, pinning them in their zone and working the clock. It was a beautiful sight to see, and I am 100% confident it was Dewar’s best shift as a Leaf, especially as he won a 1v2 battle in the corner to keep the possession alive. The Domi line also generated a great shift a little later on as Domi and Marner both threw pucks to the net, and Bertuzzi couldn’t bear down. Tavares also had a partial breakaway where he faked the shot before trying to rip it over the corner, but he missed it high and wide.

7.  Within reason, the Leafs pushed to try to extend the lead, but Swayman was sharp, and the Bruins boxed the front of the net out well. The Leafs couldn’t get their stick on a few chances in the crease to extend the lead, but they were also stingy defensively. Bertuzzi had a few good desperation dives to get pucks out, Benoit handled a Pastrnak net drive really well, and Knies’ great backcheck broke up a McAvoy attempt in the slot.

There was detail to the Leafs’ play, and they were digging in. They were also not hesitant to go off the glass and out. We have consistently said in this space that the Leafs need to keep it simple by getting pucks out and forcing the Bruins to beat them. It also slowed the game right down, even as the Leafs iced it multiple times. It made the game super slow for the Bruins. The Leafs then got a counterattack chance as Bertuzzi caused a neutral-zone turnover and sprung Domi on a breakaway. Domi tried to shoot it over the shoulder, but Swayman stood tall.

8.   A missed chance like Domi’s naturally makes you worry about the team going the other way and scoring (the Leafs did it last game). But the Bruins tempted fate again, and they gave the breakaway to the wrong guy this time. William Nylander won the initial battle to chip the puck out at the blue line, and Knies slashed across the neutral zone and made an awesome heads-up play. He could have chipped it deep given the score and time, but he knew Nylander took off right through the middle, and he made a spin to turn and hit him in stride for a breakaway.

From there, Nylander did the rest. He has really struggled on breakaways this season and went 0/7 in the shootout; he didn’t really have a go-to move because goalies jumped on his backhand high shot. This time, he went to the backhand again, but he slipped it five-hole to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead.

9.   From there, the rest of the game was academic. It’s slightly annoying that the Bruins scored with .1 seconds left, but at the end of the day, it meant nothing. The Leafs locked it in on defense, and Connor Dewar just missed an empty net as the Leafs were airtight in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers. Before the Nylander goal, Simon Benoit also stood up on McAvoy at the blue line.

The Leafs still aren’t scoring much, but they are grinding defensively. Morgan Rielly played over 24 minutes and had two points on the night. Jake McCabe played over 21 and was solid defensively. McCabe and Benoit are causing real problems for Boston with their size and physicality. They give up nothing easy. Matthew Knies played a series-high 19:19 this game, and he is getting better and better with each game at this point. Tyler Bertuzzi also eclipsed 19 minutes, Nylander was at 19:49, Tavares was at 20:09, and Marner was at 20:48. They all played heavy minutes, and while the offense hasn’t really been there, they have given the Bruins nearly nothing the other way while also dictating play and tilting the ice. 

10.   In a 2-1 game, it gives me a little space to write about a broader topic: the versatility of the Leafs’ forward lineup. The Leafs kept the same lines together in playoffs past and had zero alternatives. Now they can move Marner up to play with Domi and Bertuzzi, and nobody bats an eye. Domi going from wing to center is seamless. We can go up and down the lineup with their combos, but the Leafs have tried all kinds of options throughout the year, so none of it is particularly foreign. That is what the regular season is for. They are down Matthews and McMann, two really important pieces, and they are finding solutions.

See you Saturday, everyone!

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts