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.
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.
-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.
–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.
-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:
*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.
-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.|
|James van Riemsdyk||7||3||4|
|Boston||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chance Diff.|
|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:
- Jake Gardiner
- David Krejci
- Tuukka Rask