May 13 2013 12:07PM
What the Leafs and Bruins are playing for
There isn't a whole heck of a lot to discuss in advance of Game 7.
To this point, we know the strengths and the weaknesses of each team. The Maple Leafs are weak when it comes to forward depth. The Bruins are weak when it comes to defensive depth. The Bruins top line has been unable to score goals and the Leafs have had the better goaltending through six games.
There is no reason whatsoever to trot out a player's statistics from "elimination" games or "clinching" games. Looking at playoff results to form any conclusion is just looking at a small sample size. Remember how coming into the series it was assumed that Phil Kessel couldn't play against the Bruins, and it showed because he had 3 goals in 22 games against Boston?
He has 3 in 6 games now. It's not because the playoffs mean anything different, but now you can look at it as Kessel having 6 goals in 28 games. It's still too small a sample to form any meaningful conclusion (really, Phil Kessel has 197 goals in 525 career games) but aren't you glad you let Kessel show you what he has rather than form an opinion based on a fraction of Kessel's career games coming into the series?
Before you accuse me of suggesting otherwise, yes, I get that there is a human element that determines outcomes. The problem is that it takes years and years to notice it as having any real predictive significance, and even then, it's not foolproof. Take Patrick Roy, widely regarded as one of the more clutch goaltenders of all-time. He won three Conn Smythe Trophies and went 10-0 in overtime of the 1993 playoffs to lead the Montreal Canadiens to the Cup.
His career ended after he lost two Overtime games in the playoffs, against the Minnesota Wild in 2003. Richard Park scored in the first OT at 4:22 in Game 6 to force a seventh contest, and Andrew Brunette scored 3:25 into the first OT in Game 7 after Marian Gaborik tied the game with a little under five minutes to go.
The human element is difficult to predict, but still factors into regular season contests. You've seen teams fall apart when they drop down by 3 or 4 goals pretty early on. An awful start by either James Reimer or Tuukka Rask and everything goes off the rails early and nobody will remember a thing.
I don't buy that the Bruins will come into this game on their heels. Boston have made an existence of letting teams back into series and getting themselves back into series. Overall, they're a good hockey team made vulnerable, whose depth defenders have to rely on goaltending to keep their heads afloat. If the goaltending fails, they're hooped.
I also don't like giving out single game predictions (which is likely why I suck at StreakCred). I think the most any team has an edge over any other in any night is 60-40. It would take about 70 games, not just 7, for any discernible difference to be noticed in team records. The playoffs as a whole usually have around 70-85 games, wherein we do get to spot the differences and eventually we'll find that the better teams advance. Series-to-series and game-to-game though, anything can happen.
What I do expect is for the Bruins to find the match game again. Claude Julien was worn down by Randy Carlyle's line-matching in Game 2 and tried to play to his team's strengths in Game 5:
Kessel got away from Chara a lot in Game 6, but Julien was real stingy about the 33-on-81 matchup even as Game 1 got out of hand.
In the comments section, mark an "unlikely" thing you expect to have happen. Such as: in last year's Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals, Roman Hamrlik scored a goal.
All I think is that the game will probably be pretty close. The Leafs and Bruins have played seven one-goal games (not counting empty nets) this season out of ten contests. Game 1 of this series was the only "blow out" any team has had.
If you're downtown, win or lose, stay safe. It's a biggie. This calls for the old Billy Baroo: