The one and only Game 7 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs (so far) is here.
The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs will be battling it out at TD Garden for a berth in the Second Round, and a series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Every once in a while, everything in the National Hockey League works out perfectly.
Related: Bruins Right Where Maple Leafs Want?
Everyone likely has their own opinion on how the series has gone. One thing that’s inarguable, however, is the suite of statistics the teams have generated through the first six games. These numbers, flawed as they might be (and we’ll get to that), are what they are – and tell an intriguing story while they’re at it.
Here’s what they’re saying heading into Game 7.
Bruins’ Shot Quantity, Maple Leafs’ Shot Quality
Most people don’t need statistics to tell them the Bruins have been carrying the play throughout much of the series, but the numbers do indeed back it up.
Bruins Hold Puck-Possession Advantage
The Bruins have been generating over 52 percent of the total shot attempts and over 53% of the unblocked shot attempts. That would be a hefty margin over the entirety of the regular season but, though worrisome, shouldn’t be considered altogether disastrous for the Maple Leafs.
That said, the fact the shot-attempt gap is wider when the score is close should be of concern to the Torontonians, though perhaps not altogether unexpected. The Leafs have been on the losing end of a couple lopsided games, so their possession numbers likely appear somewhat rosier than they actually are due to the wonders of score effects.
Bruins, Maple Leafs Equal in Opportunities
All that being said, the Maple Leafs are nearly equal with the Bruins in terms of scoring chances, registering 49.2% of the total opportunities and a very healthy 52.2% of the goals off scoring chances.
Toronto has looked even better in high-danger offensive situations, with a 50.5% share of the shot attempts and a massive 57.1% share of the goals.
Another intriguing difference is the fact the Bruins have only shot 6.96% on total scoring chances and 11.76% on high-danger chances, while the Maple Leafs have shot 7.84% and 15.38%, respectively.
Fancy Stats, Meet Eye Test
So just how are the Maple Leafs managing to keep pace with the Bruins in the scoring-chance department?
It’s not unreasonable to suggest the Leafs are, as a team, faster than the Bruins. It’s also not unreasonable to suggest they have a greater share of the fastest individual skaters, either.
Simply put, Toronto’s speed and explosiveness have put the Bruins on their heels at times, both off the rush and when competing for loose pucks in the Boston end. As such, the Maple Leafs can employ a quick-strike offense to great effect; that is to say, they don’t necessarily need a lot of shots – or even zone time – to produce goals.
That said, it should also be noted the Bruins have absolutely run Toronto’s show for significant stretches, and the fact the Maple Leafs have made it to Game 7 is thanks, in no small part, to a generous dollop of good fortune.
Bruins Winning Special-Teams Battle
As we all expected, special teams have played an enormous role in this series, with the Bruins holding somewhat of an edge.
Can Bruins Prolong Power-Play Prowess?
The Bruins were a very healthy fourth in the NHL in power-play percentage during the regular season, converting on 23.5% of their chances. However, on the surface, they have utterly dominated the Leafs this series, registering six goals on just 19 opportunities, for a 31.6% success rate.
That said, Toronto has been much stingier of late, only allowing one power-play goal since the start of Game 3. Such a correction makes sense, seeing as the Maple Leafs are really not all that bad of a penalty-killing team; they were tied for 10th during the year with an 81.4% kill rate.
Interestingly, 16 of the Bruins’ 19 opportunities – and all six goals – with the extra man have come at home. Read into this what you will, but it seems to bode well for them in Game 7.
Maple Leafs Mostly Okay; Just Okay
The Maple Leafs have been about par for the course, registering the league’s second-ranked power play during the year at 25%, and managing a 23.1% conversion rate during the playoffs – not bad, especially considering the Bruins owned the NHL’s third-ranked penalty kill during the regular season (83.7%).
However, the Maple Leafs have also received just 13 power-play opportunities to work with. 13. In six games. Against the Bruins.
While that might seem a little fishy (and boy, did it ever in Game 5, with the Bruins receiving six power plays to the Leafs’ one), the referees have, by and large, let the two teams play an…exuberant brand of hockey. I’ve written before how the Bruins are a much more talented team at straddling the fine line of legality (and getting off scot-free when they cross it), so that’s certainly one explanation for the discrepancy.
Bruins, Maple Leafs Have Goaltending Gremlins
Feeding off of the special-teams talk, let’s chat about goaltending, shall we?
This was supposed to be a strength of both teams; the Maple Leafs’ Frederik Andersen finished the regular season with a .918 save percentage, while Tuukka Rask of the Bruins came in at .917 – both pretty good! Prior to this year, Andersen held a career .915 SV% in the playoffs, while Rask entered the postseason with a sparkling .928. Not too shabby!
And yet, here we are, six games in, and this dynamic duo has put up save percentages of .909 and .908, respectively.
Neither has been outright bad. Yes, both have been pulled, but the play of their teams had a lot to do with that. And yes, technique has been sloppy at times, but not disastrously so. They’re simply not stopping as many pucks as they were during the regular season.
Save Percentage by Strength a Serious Concern
During the season, Rask edged out Andersen with a .924 SV% at even strength, three points above the Dane’s .921. However, thus far in the playoffs, it’s Andersen at .924, with Rask at a disappointing .915.
Meanwhile, on the penalty kill, it’s Rask who has the advantage. His .850 SV% is down substantially from his .895 during the season, but Andersen has dropped from .889 down to .808. Yikes. Still, let’s remember the Bruins scored five of their six power-play goals in Games 1 and 2, so Andersen seems to have come around since then.
Playoffs, Series Format Undermine Data
Thus, if one were to look strictly at the numbers, it would be reasonable to conclude the Bruins, with their possession numbers, stronger special teams and home-ice advantage, have the edge heading into Game 7.
However, numbers are all academic in the playoffs.
Sure, regular-season statistics provide a good idea of how a team generally plays – and how the players on it generally perform. And yes, statistics can be helpful during the playoffs, helping to identify trends and explain results.
However, the small sample size of games can make it hard to form solid conclusions, particularly in the First Round. Additionally, it should be noted that playing seven games against a single team also poses some challenges for statistical interpretation; from protesting officiating between games to constantly changing styles of play, the on-ice story can vary wildly from game to game.
But, most importantly, this is the NHL. Any team can win any game on any given night. Even the Buffalo Sabres managed to win 25 games, for goodness’ sake.
So, let’s sit back and
ferociously clench for three hours enjoy what’s sure to be another classic Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s been a long year. We deserve it.