The time for chills and goosebumps is upon us as Toronto and Boston are headed for a game seven!
With many people doubting them (me included), the Toronto Maple Leafs have clawed back from 0-2 and 1-3 to tie up their opening round series with the Boston Bruins.
What was sold as the odds on favourite for most intense series was looking pretty grim, pretty early for the Leafs. Toronto looked laughable in the first two games; unable to keep up with Bergeron-Marchand-Pastrnak, and throughly unorganized on the ice in general. The Kadri suspension in Game 1 was another situation the Leafs would have to deal with, as their shut down centre made a selfish decision to board a defenceless player.
Now level at three games a piece Toronto has a chance to exorcise some demons, and route out the ghosts of a previous game seven in Boston. And I’m not going to say anything else about that unspeakable night.
Where has Toronto turned it around? And how can they compete with these once believed invincible Bruins? Well, I suppose they trust in Mike Babcock. Hand up, I called him Peter Horachek not long ago and thats on me. But, when adversity struck, Babcock seemed to figure out a new look line up that can handle the physicality of Boston.
Hyman – Matthews – Brown
Marleau – Plekanec – Marner
JVR – Bozak – Nylander
Johnsson – Kadri – Kapanen
…or something like this.
Toronto has spread it out and used their two most physical centres, Kadri and Plekanec and paired them with fast wingers to bring a massive forecheck to the Boston end. The use of both centres in a flowing manner also has limited the ability to line match too easily for Boston, as they want Bergeron’s line matching up with Matthews. To ease the pressure on Toronto’s big gun, Babcock gave him a clone of Hyman, Connor Brown, to match Nylanders speed with an added edge in physical board play on his right side.
Hats off to Babcock because it’s working. Something he hasn’t solved yet however, is the face off dominance by Bergeron, by that is a different story.
The player who has undoubtedly been Toronto’s rock, MVP, and saving grace is Frederik Andersen. I’ve never seen anything like it. Nearly 40+saves every night, Andersen looks completely calm and in control when he plays. After game six he has now made two massive paddle saves reaching behind him and seemingly has broken the Bruins will to win single handedly.
What goes along with his physical performance is the mental dominance he has shown over Boston. In the first period he made 17 saves, followed by 8 in the second. Boston was throwing everything at the net but couldn’t solve the Andersen enigma in net, and it showed. Sunken heads and puzzled faces populated the Boston bench, they looked defeated. Andersen is showing all of the Toronto sports media that he in fact, isn’t tired after seeing a league high 2029 shots in the regular season.
Toronto isn’t going to get the calls from the refs, they’re not going to win a lot of the physical battles, they aren’t going to dominate the face off dot, but for some reason I’m hopeful. It’s a full 360 on where I was after game 1 and game 2, but they’ve showed me a willingness to win at any cost that I can’t not believe in.
Go Leafs Go.