Leafs suffer heartbreak: Blow late lead and lose 5-4 in G7 (OT)

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
Nazem Kadri 7 3 4
Joffrey Lupul 9 2 7
Phil Kessel 9 5 4
Mikhail Grabovski 3 5 -2
James van Riemsdyk 4 7 -3
Nik Kulemin 3 2 1
Joe Colborne 4 1 3
Clarke MacArthur 3 4 -1
Matt Frattin 3 5 -2
Jay McClement 0 3 -3
Colton Orr 0 1 -1
Leo Komarov 0 1 -1
Dion Phaneuf 2 4 -2
Carl Gunnarsson 3 4 -1
Cody Franson 6 7 -1
Jake Gardiner 9 7 2
Ryan O’Byrne 4 2 2
John-Michael Liles 6 2 4
Total Chances For Chances Vs. Chance Diff
Patrice Bergeron 6 1 5
Tyler Seguin 2 6 -4
Brad Marchand 5 2 3
David Krejci 5 9 -4
Milan Lucic 5 10 -5
Nathan Horton 5 5 0
Chris Kelly 0 4 -4
Rich Peverley 0 3 -3
Jaromir Jagr 4 2 2
Gregory Campbell 2 1 1
Danny Paille 3 1 2
Shawn Thornton 2 1 1
Zdeno Chara 4 7 -3
Adam McQuaid 3 3 0
Dennis Seidenberg 2 0 2
Johnny Boychuk 5 11 -6
Dougie Hamilton 5 1 4
Matt Bartkowski 7 8 -1

Team Totals:

  1st 2nd 3rd OT Total
Toronto (EV) 7 (4) 4 (4) 5 (5) 2 (2) 18 (15)
Boston (EV) 4 (4) 4 (2) 5 (5) 2 (2) 15 (13)


Zone Start Report
Head to Head Ice-time
Event Summary

LeafsNation Three Stars:

  1. Patrice Bergeron
  2. Phil Kessel
  3. Joffrey Lupul


  • Trophy guy

    Unbelievable game 7. So disappointed, the Bruins didn’t win we just gave the game away and left Reimer out to dry. Where was the defence?

    It’s ok, there always next year, and next year and next year. Tonight was a classic example of why we haven’t won the cup in 40+ years.

    I’m hoping the new MLSE CEO takes this attitude of “it’s ok” complacency and mediocrity out of this organization for good. Of course that means higher ticket prices to “improve the team”.

  • millzy09

    Condolences from the west coast. Despite being a Vancouver fan, and having a completely one-way rivalry with Toronto (we hate you, you seem ambivalent towards us), I found myself starting to cheer for Toronto.

    Better luck next year, I was definitely pulling for ya.

  • millzy09

    This is what happened…

    The Leafs changed their forecheck late in the third period and allowed Boston to walk right in. They should have continued to press the Boston D that was depleted by injury and was very tired.

    End of story.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Well said!

      After the Horton goal, the Leafs retreated with their tails between their legs. Even Franson admitted they’re not good when they’re hanging back trying to defend a lead. They need to be moving the puck forward but they were too scared.

      Then POOF! Their 4-1 lead was gone!

      Imagine if Peverly actually scored the winner with around 5 seconds left. Oh well, it happened in the first 6 minutes of OT thanks to Bergeron.

  • jasken

    I was neither disappointed or hanging my head on the Leafs this season even after trailing 3-1 in series and coming back to tie it, then blowing the 4-2 lead in the dying minutes of the game. I am proud of the Leafs for everything they achieved this season.

  • millzy09

    It’s okay, Bruins made history today by being the only team that came back from a 3 goal deficit in Game 7, and Seguin got a point. How nice. Ugh.

    Boys battled at least for the first 50 minutes. Anyways, there’s always next year.
    *10 years later*…”there’s always next year”…We’ll be saying this for years to come, what else is new. Good luck to every team now (especially to the Rangers).

  • Quasijr

    Im not disappointed with the Leafs they played better in this series than I thought they would. Battling back from a 3-1 deficit is a feat in its self. The series showed our kids can play & the future looks bright. It also showed were our glaring holes are in this team.
    Players who had to prove themselves did.
    Kessel Phaneuf Gardiner Kadri & Riemer proved that they belong & are the future of this team.
    Hopefully management stays with the youth movement going forward & doesn’t get foolish in free agency or trades talent for retreads
    Cant wait till next year!!!!

  • Quasijr

    You guys have a solid team that will be very competitive for years, and will likely only get better. The bruins suffered a similar loss the year before winning the cup, so even though it’s painful, it’s an opportunity to learn and get better.

    It was good to see playoff hockey back in Toronto.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The Leafs played well for the first 50 minutes, but then they reverted back to their old losing ways. For the previous 4 seasons they would always blow those 3rd period leads, however this season they managed to win those games. That was until last night which was not only one of the worst losses in Leafs history, it was the biggest 3rd period collapse in a game 7.

    Leafs fans can be proud of their team, however you should not be proud of a team that was up 4-1 with 10 minutes left a found a way to lose. Their system was exposed, Reimer couldn’t make the big saves when they were in dire straights and the captain Phaneuf was right beside him on three of those four goals.

    I know the media and Leafs fans will say that they can build on this next year, but what else do you expect them to say? It obviously can’t get any worse. After being the only team not to make the playoffs during the last lockout (from 2005-06 to 2011-12 seasons) they managed to squeeze in this season and exit in the worst way possible.

    Don’t get too excited since this season was a short season and there were no games against the tough Western Conference teams. Next year is a brand new “full season” in a new alignment against all teams.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    My Dr’s still haven’t taken me off suicide watch… I’m hearing maybe tomorrow.

    Thanks for all the excellent coverage this season lads of Leaf Nation – it’s been fun.

    …I still can’t believe it

  • Quicksilver ballet

    If men can bring an American, a Russian, and a Canadian back from space in a round “telephone booth”, the possibility of a pack of Bruins chewing up falling Leafs should not be that diffucult to swallow. Excuse the pun!