After a devastating Game 4 loss in overtime, the Maple Leafs travel to Boston to try and steer the series back through Toronto.
Despite out-shooting the Bruins in both home games, the Leafs were unable to salvage a win in either of them. The story in Toronto has been turnovers. Dion Phaneuf had an especially woeful Game 3 and he capped off another unimpressive Game 4 with a costly error in overtime.
Much has been made of the pinch he made with all three forwards below the hashmarks, but his play over the course of the last two games should be even more worrisome.
In my last piece, I dedicated to the focus on the captain’s struggles and how Jake Gardiner’s leash needed to be cut loose. Carlyle did just that.
Through the opening 40 minutes, Gardiner led the team in ice time. He did not disappoint. Equally as impressive as his skill was his speed. Against the big bad Bruins, this bodes well.
Despite his stand-out game and plus-1 rating, it was Phaneuf who ended up with the team-leading 31 minutes. He also finished with the team’s worst plus-minus rating at minus-2.
Needless to say, Gardiner’s ice time is paramount to a Leafs win tonight. With Mark Fraser injured and Jean-Michael Liles set to enter the lineup, the fast-break offense will look to present itself in Boston.
“Ever since Game 1, they’ve really taken over the series,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. “The scoreboards don’t really reflect how this series has gone.”
At the centre of this dominance has been the quick-paced offense. It began in the late stages of the opening frame in Game 2. The Leafs began chipping pucks just over the tightly-pinched Bruins defensemen to cause odd-man rushes all night, en route to their only win of the series.
The key to the series has been the utilization of their speed. It’s become clear that stopping the Krejci line will be next-to-impossible — Fraser’s injury certainly doesn’t help — so Toronto will have to rely on their offense to beat Tuukka Rask.
Rask hasn’t been given much credit in the back-to-back wins in Toronto, but his performance has been remarkable. The sheer number of scoring chances, and quality of them, have also gone largely unnoticed simply because Rask makes it look that easy. Yes, he was a first round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs a few years ago.
Nevertheless, the keys to victory in Boston tonight include much of the same. In order to nullify the Bruins getting their sticks on everything, the Leafs need to continue the quick pace. Look for Randy Carlyle to call on Matt Frattin more in Game 5. He had a solid fourth game, hitting the post in overtime, and is the Jake Gardiner of the forward group.
Frattin brings a unique combination of speed, skill and play-making ability. He’s seen an unwarranted low-number of minutes this series, as he’s played extremely well in the last three games.
I expect James Reimer to rise to the occasion and make some big saves early. It’s important the team gets off to a quick start and that includes the man behind the mask.
Last, but most certainly not least, Dion Phaneuf.
Through all the criticism of his overtime hiccup, I believe he comes to play tonight.
He’ll look to take the crowd out of the game with some thunderous hits and probably throws every attempt on net. Also watch for Colton Orr to get big minutes again early on in order to keep the Bruins on their toes physically. But for the Leafs to get the series back to Toronto, they need their captain to step up in a big way.
The hockey gods are clearly not on our side, but the blue and white have played better than the 1-3 record shows. However, justice will be served tonight and the Leafs will take the series to seven games.
The trek up the mountain begins tonight in Boston at 7 p.m.
Go Leafs Go.