Maple Leafs Avoid Elimination; Top Bruins 4-3 to Force Game 6

Toronto (4) Boston (3) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday night marked a do-or-die situation for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they set out on the road for Game 5 of their first-round matchup with the Boston Bruins—who entered the night commanding a 3-1 series advantage.  

To say the Boston Bruins were already primed for the second round is pure vanity. Let’s not forget the Maple Leafs were also down 3-1 versus Boston back in 2013 before pushing the series to an eventual winner-take-all Game 7, the narrative of which is known all too well.  

The Maple Leafs were certainly down but not out just yet.

Nazem Kadri was a welcomed addition to Toronto’s lineup after serving the last of a three-game suspension in Game 4 for his inexcusable hit against Tommy Wingels and would assume his regular position in between Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner. 

They sure needed it, considering Patrice Bergeron was back in the lineup to centre Boston’s top line following a one-game hiatus due to injury.

Although this would bolster Toronto’s centre depth, it didn’t solve the issue of offence for their own top line. Toronto’s bench boss, Mike Babcock, elected to split up the duo of Auston Matthews and William Nylander after combining for just 2 points through four games in an attempt to alienate some firepower away from Zdeno Chara’s defensive threat. 

Chara has proven to be a defensive menace even at the ripe age of 41-years-old and the experienced coach saw a need to utilize his line-blender, as follows: 

Hyman-Matthews-Brown 

Marleau-Kadri-Marner 

JvR-Bozak-Kapanen

Johnsson-Plekanec-Nylander 

With Tomas Plekanec’s recent contributions, Babcock was looking for his presence to spark William Nylander’s game the same way it did for both Marleau and Marner in Game 4. 

Regardless, the Tampa Bay Lightning are patiently awaiting the outcome of this series to determine their next opponent after officially booking their tickets to the Second Round earlier in the day with a 4-1 series win over New Jersey. The Lightning undoubtedly wants it to carry out as long as possible in order to optimize their resting interval.  

As the action got underway, the line juggling appeared to pay off in the form of an ice-breaker courtesy of Connor Brown. Skating on the team’s first line with Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman, the 24-year-old Toronto native managed to knock a rebound out of mid-air after following up Auston Matthews’ wrap-around attempt and beat Tuukka Rask. 

Toronto notched the ever-important first goal of the game, with which they held a record of 39-8-3 when doing so during the regular season. 

That wouldn’t be the only 1st career playoff goal, either, as rookie winger Andreas Johnsson found the back of the net later in the frame as well. With that being said, it was Nazem Kadri who abruptly announced his return to the series with a seeing-eye feed to set-up the goal to go ahead 2-0. Kadri snuck a pass through a pair of Boston defenders for Johnsson to skate into with authority and beat Rask with a slick backhander. 

Toronto maintained their 2-0 advantage until the second frame when David Backes capitalized on a power play opportunity and defensive error. Following up on a missed shot, Ron Hainsey attempted to clear the puck but was instead beaten by Backes, who negated his clearing attempt and instead propelled the puck behind Frederik Andersen with a quick shot.

The home crowd erupted with excitement, however, it was short lived thanks to another blue and white goal off the stick of Tyler Bozak. It took all-but 0:51 seconds for Toronto to restore their two-goal lead and simultaneously silence the Bruins faithful. 

It didn’t stop there, as the action picked up again a little over a minute later thanks to a power play opportunity. James van Riemsdyk scored a goal in classic fashion, by roofing the puck from within two feet of the net to absolutely fool Tuukka Rask—which would mark the end of the goaltender’s night.

Rask allowed 3 goals on the 13 shots he faced for a traumatizing .692 SV% before his night ended and was replaced by Anton Khudobin. His replacement fared much better, stopping all 8 shots in 26:37 minutes of playing time. 

Did I mention Toronto led 4-1, the dreaded lead reminiscent of 2013’s devastating collapse? Yeah, well, the Bruins signalled the start of a similar comeback before the end of the second period.

Sean Kuraly and Boston’s fourth line took charge to connect for the 4-2 marker, which is where the score would stand heading into the second intermission.

Under these circumstances, every Boston advance felt like a direct shot at Toronto’s playoff livelihood and only Frederik Andersen stood in the way of those advances. It certainly didn’t help when Andersen was under siege of 20 total shots in the third period…

The Bruins dug deep and minimized the deficit to just a single goal on the back of Noel Acciari’s 1st goal of the series. An errant shot off the stick of Tim Schiller influenced Andersen to defend the wide side of his net after losing track of the puck, which allowed Acciari to gain possession and tuck it behind the goal-line. 

With 16:04 minutes remaining, Boston appeared destined to reenact 2013’s rendition of the dance.

Boston pressed but proved unable to find an equalizer despite outshooting their opponent 20-5 in the final twenty minutes of regulation time. Frederik Andersen proved to be the difference and justified why he might just be his team’s most valuable player, on top of a winning effort to force Game 6 which to be played on Monday night back in Toronto. 

Leafs Nation can breathe easy while their team lives to see another day, however, it will prove to be a gruelling effort if there’s any hope of moving on to the second round. Boston’s overwhelming 63.37 CF% advantage should be enough to raise alarm until they can find an answer for their possession tactics. 

Game 6 is set to go at 7:00 p.m. EST on Monday night at the Air Canada Centre, the same conditions apply. Do or die for Toronto.

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca 

On Twitter - @GordBrown_ 

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs