A night full of promise. The first playoff game at the Air Canada Centre since 2004 gave the Leafs some added jump. Well, most of them.
Everywhere I went today, someone would look at my Maple Leafs car flag and comment on what a “debacle” Monday night was. It got me thinking, did the Leafs really play that badly?
During the game I became furious with two members of the blue and white. One of them on the bench, the other behind it.
Dion Phaneuf became a turnover machine and looked completely out of sorts when carrying the puck. He couldn’t make a pass, couldn’t keep the puck inside the blueline on the power play and kept turning the puck over.
Even still, throughout the first 40 minutes, Phaneuf continued to play on the top power play unit and take the bulk of the minutes on the back end. All the while, Jake Gardiner remained on the second unit and had his minutes closely monitored.
Every Leafs power play had the same complexion, a heavy dose of turnovers from the captain for the first minute and a half, then a couple of scoring chances in the last 30 seconds from Gardiner.
Even after Gardiner scored late in a man advantage when taking over a lack-luster effort from Phaneuf and company, Gardiner remained on the second unit.
The very next shift after the Gardiner goal, Phaneuf proceeded to carry the puck across the Leaf blueline and attempt a meaningless pass to an in-stride Phil Kessel just feet away from him. This hiccup bounced onto a Bruin stick and ended up in the back of the Leaf net just seconds later.
This summed up Phaneuf’s game overall, turning the puck over and horrid pass attempts. All night long, his passes were either way off the mark or too hard for anyone to handle. All night long, Gardiner continued to create open ice and scoring chances seemingly every shift.
Only in the third period, when the Leafs were down 4-1, did Gardiner’s minutes see a significant increase.
Enter the second culprit, Randy Carlyle.
On top of the misuse of Gardiner, one of Toronto’s most electric forwards was rarely used.
Like Gardiner, Matt Frattin barely got any minutes until the game was out of reach in the third period. This is a real head-scratcher when considering his impact in Game 2.
Frattin has had a bit of a dry spell since returning from his injury, but he was one of the team’s most effective offensive players during the regular season.
Is it any coincidence the Leafs finished the third period with 18 shots to Boston’s six and 47-37 overall? Of course the Bruins were in lockdown mode with a three goal lead in the final frame, but that’s a huge margin.
Back to point number one, the Leafs played well overall. The top line was effective and Mikhail Grabovski had another positive game despite not finding twine. Even Nikolai Kulemin raised some eyebrows with some great chances, namely the filthy dangle in the early going that found the far post.
The Leafs were generating scoring chances and hitting goal posts all game long, yet the Bruins seemed to have every Leaf turnover find their sticks.
The hockey gods simply were not wearing blue and white Monday night.
Should Carlyle make any lineup changes? I would say no. Although he needs to get over the fact that Gardiner is not physical and give him minutes for his offensive creativity.
As an analytic fan, the only defenseman I have any confidence in, in carrying the puck, is Jake Gardiner. I would also play Frattin with Nazem Kadri. He’s had a very quiet series, but both players have excellent hands and creative hockey minds.
Toronto is not going to win this series with defense or goaltending, in spite of how well James Reimer has played. Offense is the name of the game and those odd-man breaks have to be the focal point of the Leaf attack. Those attacks will come with giving Frattin, Gardiner and Kadri some more ice time.
The Bruins lack speed and the Leafs don’t. This has been exposed very well by Carlyle, who coached a brilliant first two games but let his stubborn side eek through and let Game 3 slip away from him.
Leafs Nation, don’t give in to everyone who just saw the score on the bottom of the screens, the Leafs played well Monday night and will clean up those turnovers to bounce back for an even better in Game 4.
Expect a ton of hitting and relentless forechecking. I am predicting a Grabovski goal and an Orr fight. Way to go after Kessel, Marchand. You will feel the wrath of the toughest team in the league. Maybe Phaneuf bounces back strong with a good tussle?
Game 4 will go down Wednesday night in Toronto.
Go Leafs Go!