It’s déjà vu all over again. Just as it has been twice this decade, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will go to a seventh and deciding game of their first round series at TD Garden on Tuesday.
Many believe the contest will either serve as an opportunity for the Leafs to exorcise the demons of the most traumatic events in the club’s recent history or simply provide further confirmation that the Bruins have Toronto’s number.
History always provides some context. The last time Toronto defeated the Bruins was in the first round of the 1959 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The series went seven games and the Leafs won the deciding game 3-2 on a late goal by 26-year-old rookie Gary Ehman. Since then, Boston has won five straight series (two sweeps during the Bobby Orr era and the pair of Game 7 collapses in 2013 and 2018).
At this point, each team and coaching staff knows their opposition inside out, and the team that wins will be which one that implements their game plan better and gets the right bounce at the right time.
“The bottom line is we've got to be better (in Game 7) and it's an opportunity for our hockey club. We're looking forward to it.” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said on Monday. “I think you can control your preparation like you always try to. Before the series -- I don't think anybody is really surprised. Before the series, when you looked at the teams, these are good teams in the National Hockey League. I don't think there's a lot to give. And, yet, in saying that, it's going to be a great opportunity for our team. I think you relish being in the situation so, enjoy being in it, but you have to play with good detail and you've got to play the way we're supposed to play and look after the puck and then you have a chance to be successful. I think that's what it's all about.”
Once again, a key for Toronto will be to weather an early surge by the Bruins in front of their home fans. The Leafs were able to do that effectively at TD Garden in Game 1 and 5, but being capable of doing that in a pressure-filled Game 7 scenario is another thing altogether.
Special teams have decidedly been in the Bruins favor throughout the series and will likely be a determining factor in Game 7. Boston’s power play has seven goals in 16 opportunities in the series and scored twice in the first period of Game 6 to reverse the Leafs early momentum.
Toronto’s power play is 3-for-14 in the series, and their success rate has to be better with weapons like John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews at their disposal.
The matchup of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak against Zach Hyman, Tavares and Marner has swung dramatically in Boston’s favor since Game 3. The Bruins top line has 13 points and is +10 in the last three games, while the Leafs trio has scored just three points and is -13.
The Leafs will need to limit the Bergeron line or have the Tavares line counter with offense of their own to balance the scales, while Matthews must maintain his hot streak to give his club a chance to win.
Goaltending is always the last line of defense and the most important aspect of any playoff team and Frederik Andersen has been the better of the two starters in this series, but he has to be with the Leafs defense not as good as the Bruins. Andersen has only had one bad game in the series, and they cannot afford a repeat of his performance in Game 7 last year if Toronto hopes to win.
With all things being equal, it may very well come down to someone on the third or fourth line, or on the blueline to have the game of their lives and make the difference in Game 7.
Six years ago, Cody Franson would’ve been lauded as the hero for his two-goal performance had it not been for the epic fail in the third. Patrick Marleau stepped up with pair of tallies early in Game 7 last year, but it is nearly forgotten after Jake Gardiner’s infamous -5 and the Bruins scoring four times in the third period.
Could someone like Trevor Moore, Tyler Ennis or Travis Dermott be the Gary Ehman of 2019???
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