Jared Wickerham/Getty via NHLInteractive
Sports are the best.
Sports are the worst.
Sports break your heart. At some point each season, the championship aspirations of the teams we follow end one-by-one. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel. In the meantime, we have things to cheer about. Things to swell us up with civic pride, the feeling of community, the visual and aesthetic appeal of watching our favourite athletes do things we could never do, and doing it for us, with the logo we’ve grown up cheering for on their chest, representing us.
Monday night was the Toronto Maple Leafs’ turn and like zombies, thousands of hockey fans will walk away from Maple Leaf Square hanging their heads. But they’ll be hanging their heads because for the first time in nine years, the Maple Leafs had a chance. For the first time in nine years, they last just a little bit longer than all the experts thought they would.
Leafs lose 5-4 in Game 7 overtime after losing a late 4-1 lead.
When a 4-1 lead turns into a 5-4 loss, there’s a natural tendency to point the finger. It’s unclear who deserves the bulk of the blame. Sure, James Reimer allowed four goals in a little under 14 minutes to give the Bruins passage to the second round. Cody Franson made a brutal giveaway on the first goal and bookended it with being unable to clear a rebound on the winner.
You could pick apart any one individual play on any one individual shift. The reality in hockey is that no player is perfect. No player does everything exceptionally well without making mistakes. Everybody does them. You can assign blame to any one player on any one play on a scoring chance or shot against. You can credit any one player on any play leading to a scoring chance for. Hockey is a game of ratios. There are so many good hockey players in the NHL. There are a lot of good players not in the NHL. Over the course of a year, the differences begin to show up. One player will be on the ice for slightly more scoring chances for than a positional equivalent. Another player will be on the ice for slightly more against.
There’s no reason to assign blame on the players who suited up for the seventh game. Maybe there are things to nitpick about individual plays. Colton Orr can’t clear a puck or make a pass. Matt Frattin can’t score on a breakaway to seal the deal. Nik Kulemin won’t go down to block and in Game 7, unlike Game 6, it cost the Leafs. At an organizational level, maybe there wasn’t enough support or reinforcements. The team didn’t have enough defencemen. Only in the second half of Game 4 did Randy Carlyle finally begin to deploy Jake Gardiner regularly and Clarke MacArthur at all. They finally let Mikhail Grabovski skate. The second half of the series, this was a different team than the one we saw all year.
And the team we saw all year, while wins came, at some point we knew they wouldn’t. The team was not good enough to make the playoffs, but they did. The team was not good enough to get the five-seed, but they did. The team was not good enough to force a seventh game, but they did. The team was not good enough to force a tie through 60 minutes, but they did. All through the season, the players the Leafs sent out on the ice, led by James Reimer, Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and Dion Phaneuf, made it marginally further than anybody thought.
So… what the hell happened in Game 7?
Early on, it seemed like destiny was on the side of the Maple Leafs. The Bruins couldn’t even get to Boston last night because their plane malfunctioned. Dennis Seidenberg played a shift and six seconds and had to take himself out of the game, further depleting the Bruins’ frail defence. Claude Julien separated Boston’s second most dangerous line because they had yet to score together in the series, moving Jaromir Jagr into Tyler Seguin’s spot and taking away any offence Boston may have created from the fourth line.
But the Bruins most dangerous line all series, led by David Krejci, generated the first scoring chance of the game, getting an early two-on-one against a modified, uh, checking? unit of Jay McClement, Matt Frattin and James van Riemsdyk. Krejci got a couple of whacks at the puck but Reimer held strong.
Franson had the giveaway leading to a Matt Bartkowski goal (I wrote in the preview that it’s Game 7—weird stuff happens because weird stuff happens in every game, but you don’t really notice it unless the stage is much greater). The Leafs settled in at that point and got a few rushes, took advantage of a couple of dumb Boston penalties and got themselves back in the game.
No team had a real huge advantage in score-close situations in the series, and that’s a testament to how well-prepared the Leafs were coming into the series. They generated a lot of offence all series against Boston’s depth and early in the second it was apparent that even Zdeno Chara had come apart. He made himself small, but was parked right in front of Tuukka Rask and screened him on Franson’s second goal.
Through two, the Leafs had eight scoring chances, seven against Johnny Boychuk and four against both Chara and Bartkowski. Seidenberg not being out really took a toll on the Bruins as a unit and van Riemsdyk stepped around Chara to nearly set up a chance.
While scoring chances were mostly even all night, the Bruins DID have the bulk of possession with the exception of the powerplay. They out-shot Toronto 31-20 at even strength, and held a 60-34 advantage factoring in blocks and misses. But they didn’t really have a dominant line—Jagr’s love of handling the puck took away from Bergeron’s prowess at that particular skill. Krejci’s line was held back because Milan Lucic would pass up opportunities to make smart defensive plays to be physical. His game really picked up later on in the game, however, and he made the big drive around the net that set up Nathan Horton’s 4-2 goal.
What did surprise me is how little Chara saw of Phil Kessel. Kessel had a goal and an assist, and him and Joffrey Lupul were the most “buzzing” Leafs on the night.
In fact, it was odd Lupul couldn’t buy a goal. King Joffrey took seven shot attempts according to NHL.com, and I have him listed as releasing five separate scoring chances. Bruce Arthur, a master wordsmith, wrote a great line that showed up on his Twitter feed “hitting the post in overtime is like a window into an alternate future”. Lupul was robbed on two chances at the start of OT by Rask, one after being beautifully set-up by Kadri. Everything has gone in for Lupul this season… but not that one. Not the one he really earned.
The Arthur line is poignant because back in 2011, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup after winning in the first round in OT. I don’t recall precisely how that OT shook down but I recall Montreal having at least one good crack at Tim Thomas. The Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks, who would have lost Game 7 of their first round series if Roberto Luongo hadn’t made a cross-crease save on Patrick Sharp in the same situation.
The Bruins’ push wasn’t what I thought it would be like. In Game 5 they conceded nothing for the Leafs, but in Game 7 they of course gave up the Frattin breakaway while out-chancing Toronto 5-1 after the 4-1 goal. Lucic woke up offensively and was in on three of those.
Many people will pin Reimer’s “rebound control” as a reason for defeat (and overlook Reimer stopping 30 shots and stealing Game 5 and coming up huge in Game 6) but Rask allowed a rebound off that shot that allowed the Leafs a second chance. One bounce here… one bounce there… the Leafs get one of those in Game 4’s overtime and we aren’t even at this point. It’s a brutal world.
I can’t think of more to say at this point, but there really is no reason to. The Leafs played 55 times this season, and Game 7 was just another game, another game that I’ll weight the same when comparing players and teams during the short offseason. I have some scoring chance data, that says what you already know: the Bruins top defencemen got crushed, the Leafs forwards owned and there’s a “two” in the “for” column next to Tyler Seguin’s name that you just wish would go away. Those were #33 and #34 on the game, and the last two in the series for the Bruins.
Steve will have his LFR tomorrow. We’ll run a few post-mortems in the coming days but for the most part, enjoy the rest of the playoffs.
It’s never fun to lose, but the Leafs were finally able to make Toronto care this year. They made it just a little bit further.
Individual Scoring Chances:
|Total||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chance Diff|
|James van Riemsdyk||4||7||-3|
|Total||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chance Diff|
|Toronto (EV)||7 (4)||4 (4)||5 (5)||2 (2)||18 (15)|
|Boston (EV)||4 (4)||4 (2)||5 (5)||2 (2)||15 (13)|
LeafsNation Three Stars:
- Patrice Bergeron
- Phil Kessel
- Joffrey Lupul