For about four years we’ve heard the same tired story about how Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel couldn’t win the big game, how they had talent to burn but never led the Toronto Maple Leafs.
If you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs fan and have heard that crummy story from anybody lately and it bugs you, just print out the boxscore of this game, and show them the relevant section: Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, the two best skaters on the Toronto Maple Leafs, scored the two most important goals for the franchise in over a decade in the third period of an elimination game.
James Reimer was excellent but didn’t necessarily have to be. The end of regulation came from an expected push by the Boston Bruins, and the result of a tightly-fought defensive battle through two periods turned up in the favour of the home side.
Final score: 2-1. Series tied 3-3. We will have Game 7.
-Other than the occasional screened shot in the first couple of periods, there wasn’t a whole lot of space out there. Mikhail Grabovski and Phaneuf matched up against—and shut down—the David Krejci line through two and restricted the movements of the best Boston line all series. Phaneuf ended up matching up 16.2 of Krejci’s 19.2 minutes, and Grabovski was 13.5. That was the only hard match done by Carlyle.
-The Leafs didn’t give a lot of freedom to some of the depth forwards. This looked like one of those mid-season games where the Leafs were winning games because they refused to trade chances, wanted to wait for a breakdown, and rely on their goaltending. The breakdown didn’t come through two periods (although a couple of missed nets by Nazem Kadri hurt) and Reimer only had to make the one big stop off a Patrice Bergeron wrap-around.
-The first Leafs break came after what I can only assume is a botched line change. Zdeno Chara was fooled ever so slightly by Kadri’s little feint around James van Riemsdyk, and had the three feet of space in front of the net no team had to that point:
-After that goal, the game opened up a little, although Toronto still controlled the bulk of the play. Rich Peverley got a good shot away from the right circle, and Kessel cut in for a chance after another botched Boston change. The best chance for either team was Dougie Hamilton missing the net and the puck karomed in front to Jaromir Jagr, but for the zillionth time in the series, Jagr was stopped by Reimer.
-Again, the Leafs torched the leaky defence of the Bruins. Zdeno Chara had another good game, although looked bleak on the Phaneuf goal and was also on the ice for the Kessel goal, but the Bruins were +1 in scoring chances with him on the ice and out-shot the Leafs (counting misses) 24-14. Underneath him though, the Bruins just blew too many coverages and none of the Bruins’ depth guys were moving the puck well enough to exploit the gaps in Toronto’s neutral zone coverage.
-Seems like everybody but Chara (and maybe Wade Redden) just clear the puck up the boards and hope Jagr gets it and will carry it the rest of the way. Johnny Boychuk looks like he’s skating in mud and Dougie Hamilton looked like he was moving one of those Bridgestone pucks from the Drew Doughty commercial.
-Without Tyler Bozak in the lineup, the Leafs still got creamed in the faceoff circle, but were much, much better at clearing the defensive zone. The NHL doesn’t count “puck battles” or “successful exits” but those are as vital to puck possession as faceoff prowess can be. Except for the end of the game, the Leafs didn’t spend any long shifts in the defensive end struggling to clear a puck.
-Claude Julien’s reliance on his third and fourth lines has helped the Leafs back into the series. Other than Jagr, nobody on the Bruins’ bottom six scares me. Yet Chris Kelly played 14:44 and Gregory Campbell played 8:57, including that shift with 3:30 to go down by a pair of goals. With guys like Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Jagr… Campbell-Shawn Thornton-Danny Paille are the guys you turn to? Worse, Campbell actually set up a good chance but Paille got very little wood on the shot and it wasn’t that difficult a stop for Reimer.
-One thing that’s interesting about fourth line matchups is that the home coach always seems to throw his fourth line out against the visiting coach’s fourth line. I’ve seen this referred to as a “gentlemen’s agreement”, but the agreement is voided after icing calls. It’s almost like those moments aren’t fair game.
-A note on the defence: after getting hilariously GIF’d by Jaromir Jagr a couple of times in the fifth game, Ryan O’Byrne was much steadier in Game 6 and played fine on a pairing with John-Michael Liles. Other than Liles’ delay-of-game penalty at the start, it was a fairly mistake-free game for the two, which is what you can ask of the third pairing. I still like Liles as a skater and he did get a few shifts with Cody Franson and did just that, although no Leafs’ defenceman other than Phaneuf on his goal was particularly visible in the offensive end.
-Jake Gardiner is very good. There was one shift in the second period where he stopped two Bruins clearing attempts and a third in the neutral zone to keep that unit on the ice. I’d have to re-watch the game to find out exactly where. He did have three minute-long shifts in the second. Two of them ended in the Boston end and the third was a Leafs’ offside call.
-Julien will get eviscerated for not calling a timeout after his first line and defensive pairing iced the puck midway in the second. The Leafs scored the 2-0 goal right off the defensive faceoff. It was one of those “put the puck on the net” goals. James van Riemsdyk was credited with a shot on goal, but I’m not sure there was a puck that actually reached Tuukka Rask in the sequence. Easy pickup for Phil Kessel at that point.
-That’s three goals for Kessel in the series. How many for Tyler Seguin? For all the criticism Brian Burke got for that trade, I’ve always been reluctant to throw Burke under the bus. The Leafs got a franchise player and the Bruins got a couple of lottery tickets. The series shouldn’t change anybody’s opinion because it is, as they say, a small sample.
-A story you won’t see in a newspaper tomorrow, but you should: “I talked to a scout about Seguin, and the scout suggested that Seguin has difficulty scoring in the playoffs because he’s more concerned about the festive atmosphere of the postseason than the hockey. It’s springtime and he’s a young man that likes to party and frequent the bars and the beaches. He cares more about his arm ink than his teammates and two unnamed Bruins suggested off the record that it was a concern every post-season.”
-Of course, that statement would be total BS. Seguin has 27 shots on the series (I do believe) and isn’t necessarily “due” but he has been getting chances. I’m counting them, trust me. He’s getting a lot of good looks in front of the net but is missing the net and is a millimeter off his release. Some may say “confidence” but the Bruins’ first line, while inconsistent, is still going to be a hell of a unit to cover in the seventh game of the series.
-Is there a game seven? Yes there is. Tomorrow night from Boston, the Leafs can pull off the most unlikely upset of the first round with another win. The scary thing? They’ve outplayed the Bruins in three games this series, and most certainly deserve to be where they are.
-(And all it took was for certain circumstances to replace Mark Fraser, Ryan Hamilton and Tyler Bozak in the lineup with Jake Gardiner, Clarke MacArthur and Joe Colborne. It’s scary how good the Leafs have been when they’ve actually put their best players in the uniform. Makes you wonder how high they’d have been in the standings with a team that’s held a better shots and scoring chances differential with the shooting percentages they put up this season.)
-You may ask why Mikhail Grabovski is the second star listed? Because he was a +1 in scoring chances and EVEN in Corsi despite starting 9 shifts in the defensive end and just 1 in the offensive end, playing primarily against the best Bruins line all series. That’s why.
Individual Scoring Chance Differential:
|Total||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chance Diff|
|James van Riemsdyk||7||3||4|
|Total||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chance Diff|
|Toronto (EV)||2 (2)||2 (2)||5 (5)||9 (9)|
|Boston (EV)||3 (2)||2 (2)||6 (5)||11 (9)|
LeafsNation Three Stars:
- Phil Kessel
- Mikhail Grabovski
- James Reimer