Leafs can’t beat Lady Luck, lose in OT and trail 3-1 in series

Photo via Claus Anderson/Getty via NHL Interactive

At the start of the third period, we saw the team that Brian Burke meant to build. Burke repeatedly said during his tenure in Toronto that he wanted to build an exciting team, with speed and heart. For 20 minutes we got that. For 33 minutes we got that, actually, as a Toronto Maple Leafs team, lead by core guys like Phil Kessel, Jake Gardiner, Joffrey Lupul  and James van Riemsdyk, all acquired by Burke, took it to the Boston Bruins and put them on the brink of tying the series.

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But all that counts is that one mistake. In a split second, Dion Phaneuf tried make the overtime more physical. Maybe he thought he’d create a turnover and give the Leafs a chance. Phaneuf stepped up to make a hit on Nathan Horton, and the result of that was disaster. The Bruins’ best two offensive players all night, David Krejci and Milan Lucic, came away on a 2-on-1 in the overtime period with Ryan O’Byrne the only man back.

No matter how much of the flow the Leafs controlled in the previous period and a half, it doesn’t matter. You often don’t survive when Krejci, both a shooter and premier playmaker, has the puck on his stick. James Reimer did his best to squeeze at the shot, but it trickled in. Boston won 4-3 and take a commanding 3-1 series lead.

I said that the Maple Leafs’ best performance of the season was in Game 2. I may have lied. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ best game of the season was in Game 4. They have nothing to show for it, but an unlikely situation forced Randy Carlyle into using lines and defensive pairings he had yet to experiment with on the season, and the result was really something.

-All season long, the Leafs’ major issue was that not only were they getting out-shot often by teams like the Bruins and other playoff teams, but they were getting out-chanced as well. They kept scoring because pucks kept going in for them, and with every successive game their rate of scoring at more than once every ten shots became more and more unlikely. But they kept scoring, and they kept winning, even as the season drew to a close and they spent large chunks of games hemmed in their own end.

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-That was the case in Game 1 of this series. This fourth game, of all things, a slapshot off the stick of Milan Lucic caught Mark Fraser in the face. Fraser doesn’t wear a visor and went to hospital. Carlyle promoted his left-shooting defenceman from the third pairing, a young man named Jake Gardiner, up to his second pairing, and they were dominant.

-All of a sudden, with Gardiner playing with Cody Franson, and Phaneuf playing with Carl Gunnarsson, the Leafs appeared to have two strong defensive pairings for the first time all year. With four defencemen in the top four who can complete an outlet pass, it didn’t matter that the Leafs have three forwards in the top nine who aren’t strong enough to handle bodies in the defensive zone.

-It was river hockey, with Toronto controlling the direction of the stream.

-I’d like to start with Toronto’s best player, because in my mind the Leafs didn’t deserve to lose this hockey game, and it’s a damn shame that they did. It feels this season as if the Leafs’ good plays haven’t been rewarded as much as their bad plays have. The percentages bit the wrong players at the wrong time.

-The Leafs’ best player was Jake Gardiner. The Maple Leafs had 18 scoring chances at 5-on-5 tonight and Gardiner was on the ice for 11 of them. His most important play of the game may have been when he stood Jaromir Jagr up toward the end of the third period. The big problem in Game 3 was that the Bruins’ depth controlled the Leafs, but Gardiner, mostly matched up against that Bruins third line that gave Boston a lot of offensive zone time in the first and third games, was restricted on this night.

-See, Jagr was minus-4 in scoring chances. He was minus-11 in Corsi, and linemate Rich Peverley was a game-low minus-18. There was a huge disparity between the Bruins second and third lines in the fourth game, and a lot of that is because Jagr played a lot against Gardiner, who came to play. Not only did he shut down hockey’s greatest active player from doing much offensively, but he turned the play north and helped generate offence against him.

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Gardiner and Cody Franson were put together for eight shifts. It seemed like a lot more, but timeonice says it was 6.4 minutes, which seems reasonable. In those 6.4 minutes and 8 shifts, the Toronto Maple Leafs out-shot the Boston Bruins 7-2, and had 7 scoring chances to the Bruins’ 0.

-Perhaps there was something born there. We’ll look at it later.

-Again, Zdeno Chara struggled. He had a rough first period, screening Tuukka Rask on a goal, running into Wade Redden that led to another, and he also took a minor penalty. Again, the Leafs did a good job at getting their top line away from Chara but they were unable to convert their chances. That said, the Leafs did a good job at converting with Chara on the ice, scoring twice and registering 8 of their 18 chances.

-The Leafs had no answer, again, for Krejci-Lucic-Horton. Krejci got the world’s quietest hat-trick. It seemed his two goal game in regulation was undiscussed going into the OT period. “With two goals already” I don’t think were words that escaped Jim Hughson’s lips as he called the OT period. The leafs tried to put Phaneuf-Gunnarsson out against Krejci’s trio, but lost that matchup.

-And yes, that damn OT winner was that same matchup. Phaneuf was on the ice for 4 Leafs chances and 8 Bruins chances. He played tougher minutes, but it was not a good night for either of the teams’ top defencemen.

-James van Riemsdyk is a dangerous player. He took eight shots on goal, two that counted as scoring chances. He also set up three more chances, and two of them in OT. He put together a play that resulted in Nik Kulemin taking a good shot from the right circle and another that resulted in a near miss from Matt Frattin.

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-Man… Matt Frattin hit a post a few minutes before that. Carlyle talked in the post-game about “one bounce”. The Leafs didn’t get it tonight. Very few goals are created organically. The most you can do is work for them and hope.

-More on the Krejci line… a game-high 12 shot attempts for David Krejci. Five of those counted as scoring chances. Milan Lucic had 9 shot attempts, just one counted as a scoring chance but he set up one more. Nathan Horton who had a +20 Corsi and a game-high took just 5 shot attempts, but three were scoring chances and he set up Krejci’s second goal on the powerplay.

-The Leafs are going to need to find an answer. Tyler Seguin’s gone quiet except for a couple of shifts (saw lots of Mikhail Grabovski and Dion Phaneuf tonight) but the problem is that you only have one real good defensive line. Perhaps this newly-minuted 4-51 unit can handle tough minutes against one of Boston’s top two lines? It’s a tall order.

-Two new lines were formed in overtime. Nazem Kadri was put with Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel, a variant on a line I’ve wanted all year (MacArthur, Kessel and Grabovski) and they got their chances in the OT even if Kadri looks quiet with the puck on his stick lately. Kadri was +4 in scoring chances tonight (5 for, 1 against) and got a point on the MacArthur goal* which was nice:

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*Okay, maybe Kadri didn’t get a point. But he was on the ice.

-Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin was the other line, and they have a lot of speed. The Leafs have enough versatile players that it’s not uncharacteristic to see van Riemsdyk, MacArthur or Frattin hop around together. The splitting of Bozak and Kessel was long overdue I thought. Kessel played nearly half the game without Bozak.

-Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak together were minus-four in scoring chances. Phil Kessel apart from Tyler Bozak was +4. Tyler Bozak apart from Phil Kessel was even.

-Colton Orr took a dumb penalty and was benched. When the Leafs rolled three lines, they looked awesome, and I thought it could have been better if they could squeeze Joe Colborne into those nine somehow. Orr elbowed Chara up high late in the second period, and I thought to myself that they only ice-time he ought to have got after that penalty would be skating from the penalty box to the bench after the two minutes expired.

-Unfortunately, the two minutes didn’t expire, the Bruins made him pay, and the time he spent going from the penalty box to the bench did not count on the official scoresheet.

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-There’s not a whole lot of else to say. Reimer had 41-of-45 on the night, and 31-of-33 at even strength, which should be enough to win a game at this level. Again, Rask was good at the other end and is one of the rare goalies in the Eastern Conference that is a better goaltender than the one the Maple Leafs have. He had 45-of-48 on the night and 41-of-44 at evens.

-Goaltending wasn’t the difference. Dion Phaneuf’s blunder wasn’t the difference. Dion Phaneuf is a good defenceman who had a bad night. Hockey is made up of hundreds of individual one-on-one battles, bounces and decisions that mesh together into a seamless aesthetic wonder. Only a small fraction of those battles, bounces and decisions determine the outcome of a hockey game, and Phaneuf was unlucky enough that his cost his team a hockey game.

-An overtime game in the playoffs, no less, but one of the most exciting, gut-wrenching, fantastic hockey games the Toronto Maple Leafs have been involved in for almost a decade.

Individual scoring chances:

Toronto Chances For Chances Vs. Chance Diff.
Tyler Bozak 4 7 -3
Joffrey Lupul 7 8 -1
Phil Kessel 7 7 0
Mikhail Grabovski 8 3 5
James van Riemsdyk 7 3 4
Nik Kulemin 3 0 3
Nazem Kadri 5 1 4
Clarke MacArthur 6 0 6
Matt Frattin 3 5 -2
Jay McClement 1 2 -1
Colton Orr 1 1 0
Leo Komarov 2 2 0
Dion Phaneuf 4 8 -4
Carl Gunnarsson 5 5 0
Cody Franson 9 2 7
Mark Fraser 3 3 0
Ryan O’Byrne 4 4 0
Jake Gardiner 11 4 7
Boston Chances For Chances Vs. Chance Diff.
Patrice Bergeron 3 6 -3
Tyler Seguin 2 2 0
Brad Marchand 3 4 -1
David Krejci 7 2 5
Milan Lucic 7 2 5
Nathan Horton 8 2 6
Chris Kelly 1 7 -6
Rich Peverley 1 8 -7
Jaromir Jagr 3 8 -5
Gregory Campbell 2 4 -2
Danny Paille 2 6 -4
Shawn Thornton 0 2 -2
Zdeno Chara 9 8 1
Dennis Seidenberg 6 6 0
Andrew Ference 4 7 -3
Johnny Boychuk 6 7 -1
Wade Redden 1 4 -3
Adam McQuaid 0 5 -5

Team totals:

  1st 2nd 3rd OT Total
Toronto (EV) 3 (3) 7 (6) 4 (3) 6 (6) 20 (18)
Boston (EV) 6 (3) 6 (4) 3 (3) 3 (3) 18 (13)


LeafsNation Three Stars:

  1. Jake Gardiner
  2. David Krejci
  3. Tuukka Rask

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  • Miker

    Hell of a game for Grabovski, too. +4 on chances, going against Bergeron most of the night, and looked dangerous whenever he touched the puck.

    Funny to see Gardiner and Grabovski excel after Carlyle kept them on the lease so much throughout the season. Actually, that’s not funny at all.

  • millzy09

    A great effort and the Leafs definitely deserved a better fate. Gardiner was outstanding tonight and I didn’t notice any defensive lapses. Reimer was solid again, although i cringe when he plays the puck. The top nine were buzzing and I thought Grabo had his beset game of the year.

    I don’t usually rag on Phaneuf but that was an awful read and an awful play at the worst possible moment. There is no excuse for it and even a good game would not make up for it. Goat horns for the captain. This can’t happen.

    To that point, I thought Ryan O’Byrne really showed that he’s too slow both physically and mentally. He doesn’t win races and he makes poor, rushed decisions. I was hoping to see Liles in for him next game but Fraser injury may negate that. He was completely useless on the gwg and just backed into Reimer, taking neither the shooter or the pass leaving Reimer to deal with both. He had the perfect opportunity to lay out and stop that goal given the back pressure from Kessel. Oh well.

  • MaxPower417

    One of the most exciting Leaf games I remember watching. If Matt Frattin’s shot is an inch to the right, I would likely be calling this the Leaf game of the decade.

  • Quasijr

    The 2 weakest defencemen all series have been Fraser & Phaneuf. Dion & Mark are slow though Dion is a strong skater his lack of speed showed up big time on a couple of Boston fore checks. I think if the Leafs insert Liles for injured Fraser & Colburne for Orr should make a huge difference in speed.
    No speed on the D has helped Boston fore check the Leafs into major mistakes. Gardiner has made a huge difference, his skating puck handling & first pass has been great since being inserted. Im thinking all the really bad mistakes during the regular season were probably lingering effects from the concussion.
    Just think he’s exciting what if Morgan Rielly had a year with the big club how that would have helped us in this series. So looking forward to that next year.

    • millzy09

      Phaneuf may not be the strongest defensively but he’s second only to Franson as far as all round play. O’Byrne is slower and weaker than both. I do like Colbourne for Orr, although I’d be inclined to use Hamilton. I really like what he brings to the bottom 6. I would have expected to see Liles in even if Fraser was ok and I can’t see Orr drawing in again. He contributed nothing.

  • millzy09

    Bruins fan here — just wanted to add my best wishes that Fraser is okay and will be back on the ice soon. He’s a solid D-Man.

    For what it’s worth, this has been a great series and the score in games could easily be reversed. Leafs are a class act and any enemy of Montreal is a friend of Boston’s!

  • justVisiting

    incredible game. i /stood/ in front of the tv from the tie game to the end.

    the b’s advantage is and will be defense and depth. if you can’t come up with at least 2 strong d-pairs, then you have to pick your poison. the leafs have slowed the bergeron line for the exposure to the krejci line. do you risk switching up, in boston, without ‘last change’, and give b/marchand/seguin some room? or ‘short bench’ and have the other 2 lines wear ’em down ’til they can’t even catch old man jagr?