Two down, one to go: The Leafs have one final dragon to slay

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
Whenever you bring up a Toronto Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins series, the word “dragon” always seems to come up. And, to be fair, when you lose a heartbreaker of all heartbreakers to the Bruins in 2013 and then follow it up with an additional two Game 7 losses against them within the next five years, they’re going to be regarded as a dragon.
To no surprise, all the talk about the Leafs and Bruins’ series has been about slaying the dragon, from the Leafs’ perspective at least. As the season came to a close, with the opponent coming down to either Boston or the Florida Panthers, it became evident that the Leafs would be in tough against whoever they wound up playing. The Panthers made quick work of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1, defeating them in five games, and if the Leafs manage to pull off the impossible against Boston, the battle is only going to get harder in Round 2. That being said, they still have the task of doom ahead of them – beating the Bruins in a Game 7 at TD Garden.
You probably read the title of this article thinking “The Leafs haven’t slayed any dragons yet”, which is incorrect. They have, just on a much smaller scale and relevant only to this playoff series.
The first one? Solving Jeremy Swayman in Game 5.
The Leafs have long had issues facing hot goaltenders in the playoffs. Whether that goalie is Tuukka Rask, Joonas Korpisalo, Carey Price, Andrei Vasilevskiy, or Sergei Bobrovsky, take your pick. There’s been more times than they would like to admit where they’ve played well enough into the series to advance, but haven’t been able to solve their opposing goaltender. Heading into Game 5 on Tuesday, it was no different against Jeremy Swayman. Through his first three wins of the series, he stopped an absurd 87 out of 91 Leafs shots for a .956 save percentage (SV%). To the Bruins’ credit, they did an excellent job making it hard for the Leafs to get many quality chances, but as Leafs fans know all too well, a high save percentage in the playoffs doesn’t mean anything if you give up a soft goal at the wrong time. See Jack Campbell against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 back in 2020-21.
There was some speculation around whether the Bruins, who had been using Swayman and netmate Linus Ullmark in a back-and-forth rotation since February, would continue to do so in the playoffs. That question was answered when the Leafs fell to the former in Game 1 and defeated the latter in Game 2. After Swayman once again shut the door in Game 3, it became apparent that going back to Ullmark just because you did so during the regular season would have been a galaxy-brain move at best, thus adding another element of pressure to the Leafs’ comeback effort – a hot goalie. The Leafs have yet to light Swayman up, but they’ve won two games in a row against him. At this point in the playoffs, you have to take your leads wherever you can get them, and the fact that they’ve been able to crack him twice in a row should do wonders for their confidence going into Game 7 regardless of what kind of effort Boston might bring.
Okay, so there’s one – what’s the other demon? It’s a combination of two things – their performance on home ice, with an honourable mention to the crowd. And they slayed that one in Game 6.
Simply put, Leafs games at Scotiabank Arena haven’t been a pretty picture over the past few years. And by that, I mean 5-14 on home ice in the Sheldon Keefe era going into Game 6. It doesn’t help that the team was also somewhat lacklustre at home for most of the regular season, too, with a 22-15-4 record compared to a 24-11-6 record on the road, and when you factor in the heat that the fans in attendance have been taking for their lack of energy during the playoffs, it was a bit of a recipe for disaster. To put things into perspective regarding the crowd, it got so bad that it even caught the attention of beloved play-by-play man Joe Bowen after Game 3.
So, did Leafs Nation answer the call in Game 6? Why don’t you ask the man himself?
You heard him. The crowd was electric from the moment the puck was dropped. Whether that helped the Leafs’ performance early on or happened BECAUSE of the Leafs’ performance, they were dialled in. The Go Leafs Go chants were consistent and prominent, they chanted Swayman’s name after he allowed the first goal of the game in the final minute of the second period, and the volume level was gigantic from start to finish. Just ask Keefe.
For as much as the crowd deserves their flowers for coming and staying alive throughout the game, they weren’t the ones on the ice. Joseph Woll was about as rock solid as a goaltender can be and was outright robbed of a shutout, allowing a goal to Boston with 0.1 seconds left in the game after the Leafs already tallied the insurance marker. He’s been nothing short of excellent since he stepped in to relieve Ilya Samsonov for the third period of Game 4, allowing only two goals on 56 shots in his seven periods of action. Not only does he have a shiny save percentage on paper, but he’s also making the timely saves the Leafs need. There were a number of times after the Bruins killed off their four-minute power play (which is an issue in itself) when they got a high-danger chance and could have broken the ice, but Woll didn’t break at any point, giving the Leafs more than they could have asked for.
William Nylander also had his breakout game after missing the first three games of the series and being held off the scoresheet in his first two back. He scored a classic playoff goal to break the ice, throwing the puck on net from the point and getting a fortunate deflection, and iced the game with under three minutes left thanks to this nifty pass from Matthew Knies, who’s having a killer series for himself.
The defence also deserves their flowers for a strong performance in front of Woll. It was an interesting game in the sense that for much of it, the Leafs were playing the familiar style of game of dominating, but also running into a hot goaltender and dealing with a defensive corps that did everything they could to interfere with the play, whether that be getting sticks in the way, blocking shots, or using physicality to box them out while they have the puck. What made it interesting is that for once, the Leafs were doing that to Boston as well. The additions of players like Joel Edmundson and Ilya Lyubushkin are proving to be valuable late in this series, and their chances of slaying that final dragon will skyrocket if they bring it again for Game 7.
So, that brings the Leafs to the final dragon – beating the Boston Bruins in a Game 7 in their own barn. They’ve already slayed two, so why stop there? We’ll see if they can make it three in a row and give the Bruins their second blown 3-1 series lead in as many years.

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