No One to Blame: Analysis of the Goal That Ended the Toronto Maple Leafs Season

Boston Bruins Forward David Pastrnak (#88) & Toronto Maple Leafs Goaltender Ilya Samsonov (#35)
Boston Bruins Forward David Pastrnak (#88) & Toronto Maple Leafs Goaltender Ilya Samsonov (#35) / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a lot to think about.

The Boston Bruins, of course, eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in a pivotal game 7 marked with uncertainty from the beginning.

But analysis on their game 7 loss, specifically the final goal, have been lost in a sea of anger and despair, and a demand for change.

Perhaps it's something worth looking into, to analyze what went wrong, and perhaps absolve some blame.

How The Toronto Maple Leafs Got To The End

Earlier in the day, Joseph Woll, who had been dealing with an injury since game 6, informed Leafs staff a few hours before the game that he would be unable to play in Toronto's final matchup against Boston, two sources familiar with the situation confirmed. According to team sources, confirming reports from multiple outlets, Woll had been attempting to potentially play through his issue, both in practicing with the team and on his way to the arena.

Ilya Samsonov, already having been prepared for the possibility of making his return to the crease, was thrusted in with the Leafs finally making the call shortly after deciding on Samsonov to make the final start of the round.

Samsonov's return marked concern for fans of the Maple Leafs. Samsonov last played in Game 4, having been pulled after allowing 3 goals on 17 shots, with Joseph Woll taking the starting role without looking back, winning Toronto's next 2 games. Naturally, the pessimism started from fans before the game even started.

Up until the doomed Bruins goal that ended the Leafs season, Samsonov had been playing quite alright, looking like his best self, showcasing the confidence that led a resurging rebound following being placed on waivers and demoted to the American Hockey League earlier in the season.

While Samsonov wasn't playing Toronto's key asset like Jeremy Swayman for Boston in net, it will still a positive night for Samsonov, now murked by yet again, another failure to progress, with Samsonov one of the many being thrown to the wolves. But is Samsonov to blame? Is anyone?

The goal, is a pretty impressive one, to say the least.

Analysis of a Perfect Goal

Hampus Lindholm executes a perfect bounce pass of the boards to a streaking David Pastrnak. Wayne Gretzky famously said to skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been, but perhaps not even Gretzky could've anticipated that move by Lindholm, and that was the Bruins intent, to completely confuse the Leafs by making an unpredictable and unorthodox move.

It's a move you sometimes see in junior leagues to bounce the puck along the boards as some lack the strength to execute long stretch passes, but it's the first i've seen such a play used in that sense, and in a deciding playoff game. In a way, Pastrnak's goal isn't a result of blame, but a result of brilliance, and no one on the play does anything that changes that.

There is obviously blame thrown around by fans. Why wasn't Mitch Marner defending David Pastrnak? Why didn't Rielly close Pastrnak down? Why couldn't Samsonov stretch himself enough to make the save?

I feel the answer to all these questions go back to asking the reader, in that moment, with no knowledge of what Boston is doing, do you predict such a move to utilize the boards in that way? Bitterness over the Leafs losing shouldn't take away from the simple truth that the Bruins just utilized a creative passing play, and capitalized.

To answer these questions directly, it should be noted that from the time Lindholm enters centre ice, he's met with no opposition, finally getting pressure once he enters, at that point, he makes the play to Pastrnak.

So before the pass is made, there's little fault even though Lindholm is given so much open ice, but that's just a result of Toronto's focus on their own end. The biggest source of criticism I've seen is Mitch Marner's lack of reaction to Pastrnak's play.

He doesn't gain speed until the puck bounces off the boards, onto Pastrnak's stick. In Marner's defense, it's not his job to be guarding Pastrnak as a winger. The job would have been on Morgan Rielly, except Pastrnak bursts right in behind Marner, anticipating to receive the Lindholm pass. In all honesty, both Marner and Rielly did the right, and predictable, thing at that moment.

Rielly wasn't Pastrnak's man because he came from nowhere, and he wasn't Marner because it wasn't his responsibility to be the shutdown guy. Can both players be faulted for their lack of urgency in the end, sure, but their actions were not the reasons for that goal going on.

So that leaves Samsonov, who truthfully has seemed to get a slight leniency having come in on short notice, which is correct to factor, but I don't think he's to blame for the goal either. Unless you live under a rock, you know that David Pastrnak is one of the NHL's best goalscorers, and a highly creative finisher.

It takes less than a second from the puck to get from Pastrnak's stick to the back of the net. Like Lindholm, Pastrnak also had a trick up his sleeve by tricking Samsonov with a fake bury attempt, before weaving past him.

In a way, with this sequence of events, either everyone is at fault or no one is, and maybe both instances are correct, but when you break down everyone's role in that final shift, what they're supposed to be doing and how they reacted, the sum of it's parts makes sense in the whole.

Truthfully, no one is to blame for the Leafs giving up a season ending goal.

The true answer is that Boston had a great play, they executed it, and they won. Not many blame an NFL defense for not stopping a "hail mary", because it's almost a game of odds. There's an obvious feeling of needing blame after so many failures, and in what was supposed to be the year.


But in looking for a scapegoat for perhaps the ending of the Toronto Maple Leafs, perhaps the simplest answer is that in that moment, the Boston Bruins just had a great play, one that almost always, you just won't be able to beat.