The Toronto Maple Leafs went down three-to-one in their series against the Boston Bruins, after they failed to beat a team missing their best centre, on home ice. Things seemed bleak, as the Leafs had to win three in a row to keep their cup dreams alive. Two of those games would be in Boston, where the Leafs would have to face unfavourable matchups. Help was coming, with Nazem Kadri returning from suspension, but Patrice Bergeron returning from injury would negate any tilt of the scales in Toronto’s favour.
Toronto Maple Leafs Game 7 Preview
Yet they took game five in Boston, with some flair. The Leafs bulldozed their way to a 4-1 lead and held on to the lead by any means necessary. They chased Tuukka Rask from the net, who has done a good job keeping up with Frederik Andersen‘s incredible performances up to that point. The “best line in hockey” was held to precisely zero points. Speaking of Andersen, his 42 saves was the highest by either goalie in the series, with more than one game saver. A high energy game delivered on promises to bring it all back to Toronto.
Firing on all cylinders, the Leafs dominated the early parts of game six. A Jake DeBrusk goal immediately following a faceoff seemed to be quite deflating to the Leafs momentum. However, William Nylander simply would not have it, evening it up at one just 35 seconds later. The Leafs continued to control the flow until a Zach Hyman goal was disallowed early in the second. Boston had some wind in their sail, but once again the Leafs showed their mental fortitude and rallied for a Mitch Marner goal late in the second. Some heavy lifting once again by Andersen in the third and a Tomas Plekanec goal was enough to send it back to Boston.
Do the Leafs have what it takes for Game 7?
Now, as we await Game 7, fans are beginning to have doubts. Beginning to wonder when the luck will run out, if Andersen can keep it up, if Boston’s top line will take off again. The simple fact is, the Maple Leafs are not an underdog. They’re playing a strong, higher seeded team, but the Leafs finished seventh in the league, tied for sixth. They had the fifth best goal differential, with the second best power play in the league, combined with a top ten penalty kill. They had a great roster, set for a playoff run, then they graduated Kasperi Kapanen, Travis Dermott, and Andreas Johnsson, which really pushed them into the conversation as cup contenders. The deadline acquisition of Tomas Plekanec looked like a dud in the beginning, but playoff Plekanec is a different player.
The Leafs will not get their ideal matchups in Game 7, but that doesn’t mean they won’t play the matchup game. Mike Babcock can make it very difficult for Boston to take advantage of a weak line because the Leafs have four strong lines. In games five and six we saw Babcock put Nylander and Nazem Kadri on the fourth line on separate occasions. This forces Boston to shorten up their bench, which can be detrimental in Game 7 because of fatigue. Putting Connor Brown on the Matthews line didn’t work so well in the regular season, however, it’s gotten the line weaker matchups. This has resulted in more space for the line, and a Brown goal in game five.
Keys to winning
Both Plekanec and Kadri have now shown their ability to shut down the Bergeron line, in addition to Ron Hainsey frustrating Brad Marchand. Dermott and Roman Polak have played a lot against the David Krejci line, with good results thus far. Mitch Marner has been dynamic over the course of the series, doing whatever the Leafs need him to. Nikita Zaitsev has had both fantastic, and terrible games, but he’s been good enough as of late. There’s lots of speed on the wings that Boston’s defence will have trouble with, but they’ve adapted so far. How that speed is utilized will be a major factor, as we’ve seen Kapanen get lots of prime scoring chances, still scoreless in this series.
The difference makers will be the big game performers. Andersen will obviously have the most sway, but Patrick Marleau will surely be pushing for his 120th game-winning goal. Marner has eight points in the last five games, with no signs of slowing down. Matthews has the potential to dominate any game, it’s just a matter of time before he figures out how he’s going to start putting pucks in the net when Zdeno Chara‘s on the ice. If there is any team built for a Game 7 this year, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs. If each player is given the right deployment, Boston will have a lot of trouble challenging Andersen, who may be able to stifle the Bruins on his own.
However they get there, the only thing standing between the Leafs and their first playoff series win in over a decade is one game.
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