Maple Leafs Top 4 Playoff Contributors

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.

Related – Maple Leafs’ Playoff X-Factors: Hainsey, Babcock & Andersen

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.

Karson Kuhlman, Frederik Andersen
Boston Bruins Karson Kuhlman slides through the crease after a save by Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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.”

Related – Frederik Andersen: Toronto Maple Leafs’ Best Player By Far

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.

Auston Matthews, Nikita Zaitsev
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews celebrates his goal with Nikita Zaitsev (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

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 twice, and had a game-high seven shots on net. Then came perhaps an even stronger Game 5, which prompted coach Mike Babcock to describe Matthews’ solid performance in almost fatherly terms, “I was impressed with him and proud of him. He should feel good about himself.” That’s solid praise, but then Matthews is on fire and the Bruins don’t seem able to put him out.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Game 1 Victory: 11 Thoughts

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. He been playing solid defense, where he’s using his speed to break up plays. It’s almost as if he’s catching up to his size.

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 talk at the trade deadline to give up Andeas Johnsson for help on the blue line. What a loss that would have been. Johnsson has played well and has recorded a goal and three assists in his five playoff games. He’s skating well and hustles all over the ice.

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 series, and scored a power-play goal of his own. These points were pivotal for the team. More apparent is that Babcock trusts him and is giving Johnsson plenty of ice time.

Toronto Maple Leafs Andreas Johnsson Boston Bruins Tuukka Rask
Toronto Maple Leafs Andreas Johnsson scores on Boston Bruins Tuukka Rask (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

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.

Toronto Maple Leafs Trevor Moore Par Lindholm
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Trevor Moore Celebrates (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

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.  

Game Six

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.

Related – Maple Leafs’ Key to Winning: The Battle of the Top Lines

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?