The Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Boston Bruins in their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff matchup on Wednesday night. As many expected this series was close with two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference facing off in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Toronto was able to stretch the series to seven games on the strength of sporadic, great goaltending and timely goals, but Boston proved to be too much in the last and deciding game.
Game 7: Boston Bruins Defeat Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs started the series in Boston. The home crowd and a wealth of experience powered the Bruins to an easy 5-1 Game 1 victory. The Maple Leafs played much better in Game 2, but some early breaks for the Bruins gave them the edge as they ran up the score on the Maple Leafs winning 7-3. The Bruins went 5/10 on the power play in those first two games. David Pastrnak had a whopping nine points. The Bruins top line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand left Boston for Toronto with an amazing 21 points between them.
The Maple Leafs got back into the series with a 4-2 Game 3 victory. Auston Matthews scored the game-winning goal, his first point of the series. Game Four started with a weak goal on Frederik Andersen by Torey Krug just 28 seconds into the game. The Leafs were probably the better team in Game 4. But they lost this one 3-1 and fell behind 3-1 in the series.
Game 5 saw the return of Nazem Kadri to the line up after a three-game suspension for a hit to the head on Tommy Wingels in Game 1. His return helped power the Maple Leafs to a 4-3 win. Although Tomas Plekanec did an admirable job replacing him on the second line for three games.
Game 6 saw Andersen’s heroics continue as he stopped 29 of 30 shots. The Bruins and Maple Leafs traded goals early in the second before Mitch Marner scored the game-winner in a 3-1 Maple Leafs win after Marchand fumbled the puck in front of Tuukka Rask.
Game 7 is a game both goalies might like to forget. Rask and Andersen allowed a combined 11 goals on 59 shots. The Bruins had the bulk of those shots and the bulk of the goals winning the game 7-4.
Our series preview focused on three questions that would be answered in this series: experience vs youth, Bergeron vs Matthews, and the demons and glory of the last time Boston and Toronto met in the playoffs.
Experience Trumps Youth
The youthful Maple Leafs weren’t prepared in the first two games in Boston and the experienced Bruins took advantage. The Bruins played a physical game all series, matching up their top line and the defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy against the Leafs top line of Matthews, William Nylander, and Zach Hyman early in the series. Mike Babcock evened out his lines to give his team more balance, but the Bruins controlled the play more consistently than the Maple Leafs throughout the seven games.
The Maple Leafs showed they have talent, but the Bruins didn’t panic as the Maple Leafs slowly elevated their play after the first two games. Boston waited for the Maple Leafs to make mistakes, and eventually, it paid off. The Maple Leafs defence, especially Jake Gardiner, fell victim to Boston’s experience and patience. The best example is the game-winner in Game 4. Gardiner has an ill-advised pinch that led to a two-on-one and the game-winning goal.
The Leafs did start to learn from their mistakes, as Don Cherry was excited to point out frequently. After the Bruins scored two goals on two-on-ones in Game 4, the Leafs defence adjusted to better prevent the cross-ice pass. That adjustment helped the Leafs prevent additional two-on-one goals, although they couldn’t prevent the two-on-ones themselves.
After Andersen stole Game 5, the Maple Leafs were brimming with confidence and emotion as tragic events unfolded in Toronto hours ahead of Game 6. The Bruins didn’t control the play in this game like they had in most of the others in the series. The Maple Leafs seemed to be turning the course of the series until the Bruins found another gear in Game 7.
The Maple Leafs have a bright future with their young core players, but their defensive woes and inconsistency gave the experienced and patient Bruins all they needed to move onto the second round.
Matthews and Bergeron
Bergeron was incredible in Boston for the first two games, scoring six points. He didn’t score again in the series until Game 7 in which he added three more points. His line had 23 points in the first four games, despite missing Bergeron in Game 4 to an upper-body injury.
Matthews was relatively quiet in the series on the scoresheet, although he did have the game-winner in Game 3. He chipped in another assist in Game 5 but finished the series with only the two points. Despite failing to score much in the series, Matthews played well. He was a focal point of Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins did a great job of limiting his chances. He’ll be criticized for his lack of production in this series, but in the small sample size of a single playoff series, it’s difficult to conclude that Matthews isn’t playing up to expectations. He had scoring chances while playing against Boston’s tough defensive players, Bergeron and Chara.
Before the series started there was much talk about the Game 7 collapse in 2013. This series ended up with many similarities. The Bruins took a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Leafs pushed back to tie the series and force a decisive Game 7. And just like in 2013, the Bruins were able to come away with a victory in the final game.
The Leafs didn’t hold a 4-1 lead at any point in Game 7 this time around, but they did enter the third period with a 4-3 lead and lost it. However this time around it wasn’t a blown third-period lead, both teams were trading goals throughout the contest. It felt like a ‘last goal wins’ sort of game until the Bruins pulled away in the third.
It is also impossible to ignore a 4-1 Maple Leafs lead in Game 5 that turned into a close 4-3 Toronto victory. The Bruins stormed back from the three-goal deficit to make it a one-goal game. Then they poured it on, outshooting Toronto 20-5 in the third period. The Maple Leafs were fortunate to not lose the series at this point. Holding the lead in TD Gardens and in a playoff game may have erased some of those bad memories from 2013.
“I’m glad we got over that curse. So, that’s out of our minds now.” Jake Gardiner after Game 5.
What Didn’t We Expect Was A Goaltending Rollercoaster
It’s easy to look at a series before it starts and say goaltending is going to matter. It always matters. This series saw two top ten goaltenders facing off. Only one of those goaltenders was playoff proven. In the end, the goaltending in this series was a huge factor.
Rask didn’t steal any games, but he kept the Bruins in nearly all of them. His numbers weren’t pedestrian, but he’s also not in Marc-Andre Fleury territory. Rask floundered a bit in Game 5, getting pulled after giving up four goals on thirteen shots. But was right back to his usual self in Game 6, allowing two goals on 29 shots. He didn’t shine in Game 7. He played well enough to beat his counterpart though, who was even more erratic with his play.
Andersen didn’t make the timely saves he needed to in the early parts of the series, outside of the save of the series in Game 3. Anderson was stellar in Game 5, stealing the game with 42 saves on 45 shots. He was great again in Game 6, although he didn’t have quite as much work. Other than those two games, Andersen had trouble stopping the puck. He was pulled in Game 2 after allowing three goals on five shots. And he finished Game 7 with 29 saves on 35 shots.
Both goalies had up and down series. They let in a combined 42 goals in seven games. Overall, Rask was a little more steady than Anderson who ranged from stellar to abysmal. But neither would be Conn Smythe material with this level of play over four rounds of play.
The series was closer on paper that it was on the ice. It will be interesting to watch how these Maple Leafs are able to improve as they gain more and more playoff experience. Future Boston/Toronto matchups are likely with the current playoff format. That’s a good thing since this series was the most entertaining of the playoffs so far. The next time these two teams meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the comparisons to this series will be abundant. Hockey fans can only hope that it’s more sooner than later.
The Bruins will go on to meet the Tampa Bay Lightning in round two. That series should be about as entertaining a series as it gets.
The Maple Leafs will take what they can from this experience, including many of the player’s first career Game 7. They’ll come back next season with aspirations of making the playoffs for a third straight year.
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