Here we go… again.
After a disappointing 4-2 loss in Game 6 to the Boston Bruins on Easter Sunday, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves, yet again, in an all too familiar position. For the third-straight series, Toronto and Boston will play it out in Game 7 to decide who will advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Game 6 was Toronto’s first opportunity at ending their fifteen-year drought of winning a playoff series, but Sunday’s loss was a reminder that veteran teams never go away easily—especially when the team consists of Stanley Cup champions like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Tuukka Rask—all of whom have played and won elimination games together in the past.
The Leafs got off to a strong start in Sunday’s Game 6 with Morgan Rielly’s first goal of the series, giving the Leafs a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. The Bruins quickly tied it up two minutes later with a lucky deflection, marking the first of their two power-play goals of the game. The Leafs, on the other hand, went 0-3 in power-play opportunities.
With three minutes left in the first, Bruins’ defenceman Torey Krug got a shot off a rebound and quickly fired one past the left shoulder of Leafs’ goaltender Frederik Andersen to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead going into intermission.
Andersen played a decent game, stopping 37 shots—a 0.925 SV%—and making two highlight-reel glove saves, but he was no match for DeBrusk’s goal in a two-on-two race halfway through the second period that gave Boston a 3-1 lead.
Despite Matthew’s early goal in the third to cut down Boston’s lead to one, the Leafs never fully recovered. Game 7 was made certain as Marchand buried his second of the game, an empty net goal, with 2 minutes remaining, lifting the Bruins to a 4-2 win and avoiding elimination.
“We weren’t happy with the chances we got in Game 5,” said Krug, who had 9 shots against Toronto on Sunday. “We weren’t happy with our ability to push them back on their heels. If you funnel pucks to the net, force the goalie to control his rebounds or stop the puck, then it bodes well for us. We just continue to try to do that, have the right mentality, and hopefully, that’ll be the recipe for success in Game 7.”
Maybe Krug is right, maybe the Bruins do have the recipe for success. After all, they’ve won the past two playoff series in which they faced the Leafs, one last year and the other in 2013, both of which have gone to seven games.
Leafs fans don’t need any more reminding of last year’s historic near-comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, only to fall 7-4 in the final game.
And they certainly don’t need any more reminding of the heartbreaking final fifteen minutes of Game 7 in 2013, when the Bruins shocked the world by scoring three back-to-back goals to tie the Leafs at four. In dramatic overtime fashion, Bruins’ forward Patrice Bergeron then scored the winning goal to advance to the second round. Boston ended up going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals that year before ultimately losing to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Without a doubt, the Leafs’ underwhelming playoff runs in 2018 and 2013 will haunt them this Tuesday when they head over to the TD Garden to play Boston in the last game of the series, but this time, the outcome may be different.
The Leafs’ roster and lineups have changed quite drastically—as well as the chemistry between the players. They have a lot of young firepower in players like Marner, Matthews, Nylander, and Kapanen, who have all got the skills to make important plays and know what it takes to win this series just as much as the veterans on the team. The Leafs are currently the only Canadian team left in the playoffs and have a chance at ending Canada’s twenty-six-year Stanley Cup drought. They’ll have the support from fans all across Canada.
“We’ve got a one-game series against these guys,” said Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock following the loss on Sunday. “We’ve got a good group that enjoys being together and plans on having a good run. In order to do that, we’ve got to go into Boston and win a game.”
With the long-standing rivalry between these two Original Six teams along with all the hype surrounding the last game of the series, Game 7 is a must-watch. A Toronto win on Tuesday would mark Toronto’s first playoff series win against Boston since 1959. The stage is set as both sides bring their best to the table. It’s a do-or-die situation for both teams, and whether or not you’re cheering for the Leafs or Bruins, Game 7 will be one to remember.