Following the fourth game of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Eastern Conference Quarter-Final series versus the Boston Bruins, a game that was arguably their best of the past month, the team came away with little more than a moral victory. It appeared, for the youngest club in the National Hockey League, that they may have let the series slip away.
Heading back to Boston down three games to one, the odds of a Leafs’ comeback appeared long at best. All of a sudden, by the end of game five, those odds have grown substantially.
Toronto dominated the first half of the game, with most of the play coming at the Bruins end of the ice. The effort was necessary, as their backs were against the wall. Anything less would have been a damning indictment of the club’s lack of experience.
Despite controlling play for long stretches early in the contest, the Blue and White had nothing to show for it. The momentum began to swing in the direction of the Bruins. They needed a spark, and a spark they would receive.
It was with roughly 10:30 remaining in the middle frame when James Reimer somehow managed to get a toe nail on Patrice Bergeron’s point blank rebound attempt. It was reminiscent of a Jonathan Quick save from a season ago, but more importantly, it kept the score tied at zeros.
The save was undoubtedly a key moment in the game, as barely two minutes later, centre Tyler Bozak broke in on Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask short-handed and scored the game’s opening goal. Had Reimer not made that save, it is entirely possible that the young Leafs squad might have wilted beneath the unrelenting pressure that was sure to mount.
Luckily, for Randy Carlyle’s group, Reimer made a momentum gathering save and Bozak consolidated it with the Leafs’ biggest goal of the season. From there, it was time to hang on. The Leafs did just that, nailing down a 2-1 victory.
Now, having outplayed the Bruins for long stretches of the past two games, the Toronto Maple Leafs return home for a game six showdown on Sunday night. They have life in the series and if they manage to win the next two games, it would be easy to look back on that two-minute span in the second period of game five as the turning point in the series.
Going forward, it won’t be easy for the Buds, as their opposition will surely going be playing with an equal level of desperation. If they hope to win their first home playoff game in nine years, the club will have to rely on a similar formula to have success moving forward, which includes using their speed and shooting the puck, a lot.
The Leafs seemingly have all the momentum now, but momentum is inherently a curious thing. It can be altered so quickly by a big hit, a fight, a goal, or even a save. In baseball, they say that momentum is only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher. In hockey, it may be even more immediate than that. It may only be as good as your next shift.