Toronto Maple Leafs Win Game Five, Exorcise Demons

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BOSTON, MA - APRIL 21: James van Riemsdyk #25 of the Toronto Maple Leafs, celebrates with Nazem Kadri #43 and Tyler Bozak #42 after scoring a goal against the Boston Bruins during the second period of Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round in the 2018 Stanley Cup play-offs at TD Garden on April 21, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Twitter was abuzz with excitement and nervousness. James van Riemsdyk had just given the Toronto Maple Leafs the dreaded 4-1 lead with 8:05 left in the second period. Normally a 4-1 lead would calm nerves and allow fans to sit back with full confidence that a win was pending. Most fans enjoy 4-1 leads. That’s not how it works for the Maple Leafs, not at TD Garden in Boston. In the end, it was almost another lost opportunity, but the Maple Leafs win Game Five 4-3 and live to play another game at home.

Toronto Maple Leafs Win Game Five, Force Game Six

It was one of the franchise’s worst collapses in its history. A 4-1 lead in Game Seven converted to a 5-4 overtime loss. Since 2013, the term ‘4-1’ has been feared in a strange sort of way around Leafland. It’s not like having a 4-1 lead is ever a bad thing, but every time the Maple Leafs go-ahead 4-1, the underlying dread settles in. The comments are mostly in jest. The Maple Leafs have been known to blow leads in recent years. But it’s not like they are consistently blowing three-goal leads.

All the regular season non-blown leads in the world couldn’t exorcise this particular demon. They couldn’t stop the tirade of comments both from Leaf fans and their opponents each time that lead appeared on the scoreboard. A chance to preserve a win in the same city and in a Stanley Cup Playoff game may have finally done the trick. But the Maple Leafs didn’t make it easy on Saturday night

Penalty Troubles

It took a little over five minutes for the Boston Bruins to cut the 4-1 lead to 4-2 on a goal by Sean Kuraly. The Leafs then set up shop in the penalty box taking three minors in a row to close out the second period. The Maple Leafs faced a five on three for a minute and a half late and another powerplay carried over to the third.

Boston’s first goal of the game was on the powerplay, but the Leafs held fast on the penalty kill after that. The Bruins ended the game one for six on the powerplay. That’s after going five for ten in the first two games at home in the series.

The Maple Leafs took another minor early in the third. Despite settling down after that last infraction penalty wise, the Bruins outshot Toronto 20-5 in the final frame. The surge of powerplays didn’t result in goals, but they helped give Boston control of the third period.

“Well, I mean, we took eight minors, took nine minors. That certainly doesn’t help us. Even if they don’t score on the powerplay it creates momentum, and they come wave after wave.” said Nazem Kadri after the game.

Reversal of Fortune

There’s really only one reason the Leafs are still in this series after Game Five. Frederik Andersen was making saves when he needed to be and Tuukka Rask was not. Rask was pulled after giving up four goals on 13 shots.

Rask had been stellar this series up until Game Five, whereas Andersen had been average at best. Andersen was pulled in Game Two after giving up three goals on five shots, although it is tough to blame him for those goals. Prior to Game Five, the opinion of many was that Andersen would need to steal one for the Leafs. Considering the first four games of the series, that didn’t seem likely. Especially not in Boston. But he finished the game with 42 saves on 45 shots and was the game’s first star.

Holding On By The Skin Of Their Teeth

The Bruins first and third goals came off strange hops. The first bounced off the end boards in a way the seemed to defy physics, bouncing right to David Backes. One home-ice advantage is having a better feel for where pucks my wind up after hitting end boards.  This play had home-ice advantage written all over it. Andersen was expecting the puck to be much farther away then it was. Backes, however, happened to be exactly where he needed to be.

The third goal, by Noel Acciari, got caught up in the netting and managed to get in front of Andersen to his right while he was expecting the puck to come around on his left. Much like back in 2013, the ice was tilting in the Bruins favor. Fans of both teams must have felt another comeback in the making. Another blown 4-1 lead.

In 2013, The Bruins made it 4-3 with only 1:22 left in the game. The Bruins had 14 minutes to get the equalizer last night. The Leafs managed to wrestle some of the momentum back. They spent a little time in the Boston zone. They didn’t let the Bruins spend prolonged periods of time in their own zone. But nothing short of a fifth goal by the Maple Leafs or the final horn was going to settle the heart rates of Leaf fans on this night.

The Maple Leafs still need to win at home to force a Game Seven. And then win that Game Seven to advance. Winning two straight against the Bruins a daunting task. But the doom and gloom felt around Leaf Nation after the opening two games of the season is dwindling. The Leafs are turning this series into something interesting.

They managed to survive a 4-1 lead in the same building they didn’t survive it in 2013. And the did it in a playoff game. That may not be a huge confidence boost for the players, although secretly it may be. But it did exorcise some demons. If the Leafs manage to find themselves back in Boston on Wednesday and with a 4-1 lead, as unlikely as that may be, there will be a little more confidence, a little less fear all around.

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