Game 7 X-Factors for Bruins, Maple Leafs

We’re here. The best two words uttered in the sport. The only series to get there, it’s Game 7 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.

How did we get here?

A quick summary of the first two games of this series would look like this:

Over the first two games of the opening round series, the Bruins outclassed the Maple Leafs in every facet of the game in route to outscoring them 12-5.  The Bruins power play has been unstoppable going 5-for-10, while the Leafs have been snake bitten with only one goal in seven opportunities. Arguably the best line in hockey of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak has accounted for 20 points; Auston Matthews, zero. To say Frederik Anderson has struggled would be an understatement. His save percentage of .822, after giving up three goals on five shots and getting pulled in Game 2 says enough. Many feel this series is already over.

Since then, 180 minutes of hockey has been played. The series is now tied, 3-3 with Game 7 looming tonight.

William Nylander Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander battles for position with Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The series summary has since taken a different tone. In the three games the Maples Leafs have held on to win, the Bruins top line has zero points and is a minus 16 collectively. Anderson’s .822 save percentage after Game 2 has risen to .909. It’s been .949 in the last two games, alone; both victories for the Leafs. In the other crease, Tuukka Rask’s save percentage is down to .909. It’s been .863 in the last two games. Rask is 5-12 in elimination games in his playoff career. Since the last time these two teams met in the playoffs, Rask is 12-12 in postseason games.

Dissecting the stats game to game can be tiring, but no matter how you look at tonight’s winner-take-all game, each team has everything to win and lose with the outcome of this series.

For the Bruins, letting the Maple Leafs crawl back into the series and defeat them in their own barn in Game 7 would put a cloud of disappointment and failure on a season that seemed to have so much promise with how the team has played since the turn of the new year. A win would be a huge boost for their young players, many who are experiencing playoff hockey for the first time. A win only adds to the legacy of the current core that has already won a cup and would be poised to fight for another.

For the Maple Leafs, just getting to Game 7, with how this series started, is a huge display of character and resiliency for this young club, but it’s time to win more than the moral victories come playoff time. You never know when you’ll get this opportunity for development and success again.

Bruins forwards Patrice Bergeron
Bruins forwards Patrice Bergeron (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Turning Point in This Quarterfinal Series

In the third period of Game 6, for the first time all series, the Bruins looked frustrated and for a moment seemed to be off their game. Perhaps it’s the Leafs not going away; perhaps doubt is beginning to creep in. The Maple Leafs third period in Game 6 was the best period of hockey they have played all year. Chances were limited, rushes came off the breakout, Anderson was unbeatable.

So here we are; Game 7. All bets are off. Sure, you can say momentum is on the Maple Leafs side, having faced elimination for the last two games, playing with as much confidence as they ever had in this series. The Bruins, however, have still been the better team in this series. The difference has come down to Anderson. A hot goalie is perhaps the one thing in the NHL Playoffs that is more dangerous than a balanced, powerful attack like that of the Bruins.

A hot goaltender is a reason desperate teams beat better ones.

To be honest, what got both teams to this point doesn’t really matter. Both teams are facing elimination and both have a chance to move on. It all comes down to who shows up in this sport’s biggest moment.

Game 7 X-factors for Both Maple Leafs and Bruins

To start the year, Mitch Marner looked like he was knee deep in a sophomore slump. He couldn’t score if his life depended on it. He was demoted to the fourth line.

Since then, he has been Toronto’s best skater. He led the team with 69 regular season points. He leads his team going into Boston for Game 7 with eight points (two goals, six assists) in these 6 games.

The easy choice is to say Anderson, but he must be remarkable tonight for the Maples Leafs to have a chance. Someone in front of him will need to be the hero. My money is on Mitch.

For the Bruins, look no further than the man who’s done exactly what they’ve needed before, on an even bigger stage. Marchand has been the hero in a Game 7 that decided the Stanley Cup in 2011. Expect him to find a way to elevate his game even more tonight.

The Bruins will gladly take anyone being the hero at this point. During 5-on-5 play this series, Rick Nash, David Backes, Riley Nash and David Krejci have a combined one goal. Nash scored on the power play in Game 2, but in a Game 7, referees tend to keep their whistles in their pockets. Bruce Cassidy will gladly take a big goal from any of them when their team needs it most.

Maple Leafs with Chance to Exorcise Demons

Both teams have everything to gain with a win and everything to lose should they come up short. For the Maple Leafs, showing the resiliency to fight back in this series is paramount in their journey to becoming a perennial contender. However, the greatness of teams and players is determined by rising to the occasion and seizing the moment; this moment. The team can’t go into tonight thinking there will be another chance to take down the Bruins. They need to seize the moment, now.

Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen
Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The core of the Bruins has Game 7 experience, but much of their success has been on the shoulders of a new wave of youth that has invigorated this team and made them stronger than ever. How the young guns handle this pressure will define them just as much as the Leafs.

For the Maple Leafs, it’s an opportunity to exorcise the demons this team has endured with the hated Bruins since 2013. Most of the current guys weren’t around for that series, but they’ve lived the repercussions, the embarrassment, the lack of faith so many have put on this team since. Until they beat the Bruins, 2013 will always be in the back of everyone’s mind – lovers, haters and sceptics alike.

This Maple Leafs team has the chance to prove to the league, the world, their fans, and most importantly, themselves that this team is different. It’s the players who embrace the opportunity, not avoid it that will rise to the occasion and become playoff heroes for this storied franchise. Their story can be re-written tonight.

These are the moments that every one of the players on both teams lives for. A hero will be born tonight.

It’s Game 7. The Tampa Bay Lightning are waiting. Ready, set, “Go Leafs Go.”