The Toronto Maple Leafs are in an unfamiliar spot. They have a three-games-to-two-games advantage and a chance to close out the Boston Bruins in Sunday’s Game 6 on home ice. After losing Game 4 in Toronto, the team won back the home-ice advantage with a solid 2-1 victory in Boston.
A number of Maple Leafs have played well in this series, including William Nylander, Jake Muzzin, and surprisingly, Nikita Zaitsev. Is it my imagination, or has Zaitsev’s play been much stronger in the playoffs than during the regular season? And Zack Hyman, although he isn’t putting up numbers on the score sheet, keeps playing solid hockey games.
In this post, I want to review four key contributors who I believe have stood out as the Maple Leafs have taken a one-game series lead.
Playoff Contributor #1: Frederik Andersen
It’s probably no surprise that Frederik Andersen leads the way. In Game 5 he blocked 28 of 29 shots in the 2-1 win. He would have posted a shutout, but the Bruins scored in the final minute of the game when they pulled their own goalie.
Andersen has had three really strong games and two spotty games during the series, which matches his team’s one-game advantage. In total, he has a 2.62 GAA and .925 save percentage, and that’s been good enough to give the Leafs the series lead. Even during one loss, his play prompted CBC’s Don Cherry to say in his Coach’s Corner segment during the first intermission of Game 4, “I say Andersen is the best goaltender in the world right now.”
Although Andersen gave up five goals on 30 shots in that 6-4 loss, it was an uncharacteristically poor game by the Danish goalie. He played really well in Monday’s Game 3 and Saturday’s Game 5, stopping a total of 62 of 65 shots those two games. One more exceptional performance by Andersen and the Maple Leafs will likely move on to round two.
Playoff Contributor #2: Auston Matthews
After not recording a point during the first two games, Auston Matthews broke out in Game 3 with a goal and an assist on the power play in his team’s 3-2 win. Starting in Game 3, his motor hasn’t stopped. Matthews is simply leading his team.
In the past three games, Matthews has been a load. The Bruins have struggled to keep him from scoring on the power play, containing him at even strength, and even stopping him on the penalty kill. The Bruins can’t seem to slow the 21-year-old center down, and his speed is a consideration for the Bruins on almost every shift.
In Game 4, Matthews scored
His four goals and one assist have come in the past three games, but Matthews has played well in other aspects of the game. He’s physically engaged, and he doesn’t seem to blink.
As an afterthought, how different from a year ago when Matthews had only two points in his team’s seven-game, first-round loss to these same Bruins.
Playoff Contributor #3: Andreas Johnsson
To think there was
In the first two games, Johnsson was held off the score sheet. However, in Game 3 he had an assist on Matthews’ first goal of the
Although Johnsson is a rookie, he isn’t without playoff experience. During the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs with the champion Toronto Marlies, he scored 10 goals and 14 assists (24 points) in 16 games. It looks like he remembers something about playing with pressure.
Playoff Contributor #4: Maple Leafs Fourth Line
From Game 1, the Maple Leafs fourth line of Frederik Gauthier, Tyler Ennis, and Trevor Moore has looked good. This line is averaging under eight minutes of ice time per game, but they’ve been a pleasure to watch. That’s, in part, simply good coaching by Babcock. He seems to know when to use this line effectively.
The Maple Leafs fourth line has clearly outplayed the Bruins fourth line, and their even-strength minutes have been consistent in each game the team has won. They add to the team’s chemistry and they’re banging Bruins’ bodies all over the ice. Elliotte Friedman, in an interview on April 19, noted that he’d like to see more Trevor Moore play more.
If the Maple Leafs are going to move on to round two, they will need one more game of persistent commitment to using their team speed to make the Bruins chase them. They cannot get caught up in retaliation for any physicality the Bruins will surely throw at them.
As the team knows from last season, the fourth win is the toughest. They couldn’t get it done in the playoffs in 2013, 2017 or 2018.
Home ice advantage gives the Maple Leafs top line of John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Hyman a chance to match up against the Bruins top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. And, the Tavares line has played them well.
Here’s hoping that Matthews plays with speed and skill and Andersen is on this game. But, here’s a wild thought. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Patrick Marleau turn back the clock with a multi-goal night to lead the Maple Leafs to a blow out win? How fun would that be?
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf