10 Things that stood out to me in the Leafs 4-3 victory last night over Boston in Game 5
Edition # 3: Here are 10 things that stood out to me in the Leafs Game 5 win over the Bruins last night.
1) Conquering the curse. There wasn’t a single Leafs fan that didn’t get flashbacks of the 2013 collapse in Boston last night. This series, itself, has been weirdly reminiscent of that series, but last night when the Leafs took a 4-1 lead, it was like we were reliving that nightmare. This time though, the Leafs had Freddy Andersen to bail them out as their team’s most important player outplayed the Bruins most important player, Tukka Rask, who was pulled after allowing his fourth goal midway through the second period. The curse isn’t quite lifted yet, but we’re getting there.
2) This young team keeps getting better. The longer that this series continues, the better I see the Leafs’ fairing. The team was slow to begin the playoffs (5-1 and 7-2 losses highlight that), but with every game that passes by the team seems to get better. I know they lost Game 4, but that was because they ran into a hot goaltender; they were the better team. Look for this youthful team to keep outskating the Bruins, who seem to be slowing down just a tad *cough* Chara *cough*
3) The boys came out to play. Mike Babcock said before the do-or-die game that his team would have a short leash, about five minutes or so before he shuffled the lines, need-be. Two early goals, however, gave the Leafs the lead in Boston for the first time all series, and Babcock’s early adjustments were not required.
4) Immediate impact. One of those early goals was delicately set-up by Nazem, Kadri in his first game back from suspension. A precise saucer pass by 43 on a two-on-two split the Bruins top D pairing, and found a streaking Andreas Johnsson driving the net who finished it off with poise. That Kadri-Johnsson-Nylander line looked good early on, as Babcock’s lineup tinkering appeared to pay off.
5) 200-foot game. I thought Auston Matthews was terrific last night. He was always behind the puck, supporting his teammates, helping with the breakout, while being effectively offensively. For me, that’s when Matthews is at his best, when he’s making his entire team better. He also setup the team's opening goal, just missing a wraparound before Connor Brown batted the rebound in.
6) There will be another day. In what could have been their last games as members of the Maple Leafs, James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak scored two pivotal goals. Bozie’s 3-1 goal was a momentum killer, scoring moments after the Bruins opened their scoring on the power play, and JVR’s came just after on a power play of their own right from the big winger’s mainstay, in front of the net.
7) Within the writing. Boston never seemed to be out of this hockey game, but two pivotal penalty-kills by the Leafs killed momentum for the Bruins. Freddy Andersen was huge on the 5-on-3 that the Bruins had for almost a full two minutes, and then the team bailed out rookie Johnsson on a lazy penalty near the end of the second period.
8) True Maple Leafs. Two players on this team that symbolize the 2017-18 Maple Leafs are two of our youngest players: Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen. They’re speedy, talented, and relentless, which is our biggest strength as a team. They just look like they’re having fun, and I think their work ethic rubs off on other players. It’s always nice to have rookies on your team who need to work twice as hard to keep their spot in the lineup; it motivates others.
9) I need to, once again, highlight just how good Morgan Rielly has been. Our best defenseman last night – and probably overall in this series – Rielly made two massive plays to setup two Toronto goals last night. The first came on Bozak’s 3-1 goal: a JVR drop pass found Rielly in the Boston zone, who found a streaking Bozak with a gorgeous cross-ice pass for an easy finish. The second came on JVR’s 4-1 goal: a big pinch on the power play just prevented Brad Marchand from having a 70-foot breakaway – and more importantly – it kept the play going for his team, who scored seconds after.
10) History repeating itself. I mentioned earlier that this series was weirdly reminiscent of the 2013 series when these two teams met in the first round. The Leafs actually also went down three games to one in that series, but stormed back to force Game 7, where we all know what happened then. Game 6 is Monday in Toronto, the Leafs have a chance at home to force a Game 7 in Boston where anything can happen. Let’s dig in.