It seems somewhat inevitable – a Game 7 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins – and this year’s playoffs are no different with the two clubs staring down the deciding game yet again in the first round.
While the Bruins are a very similar team to the one that beat the Maple Leafs in last year’s postseason, Toronto has changed somewhat significantly with more speed and less grit defining the lineup they’ve iced so far in this year’s matchup with their divisional rivals.
Still, with the Maple Leafs having had a chance to close things out with the Bruins on Sunday afternoon and failing, the team finds themselves in a similar position as they ready themselves for Game 7, on the road, in Boston.
With that said, here’s a look at what we can expect from Tuesday’s deciding game.
Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots – Everybody
It’s the number one step in scoring goals and winning games – getting as many shots as possible directed at the net.
The Maple Leafs only mustered 24 on net in a Game 6 4-2 loss at the hands of the Bruins who managed to fire 41 in on Frederik Andersen, who has been the difference so far in this series. But it can’t solely be on his shoulders if the Maple Leafs are to walk away with a win in Game 7.
Mitch Marner has had just one shot in the past three games, while he tallied 13 in the first three games of the series in which he had three of his four points so far in the playoffs. The Maple Leafs will need players like Marner to get engaged if they are going to steal one in Boston. After all, the small forward has seen his Corsi For Percentage (CF%) fall nearly six percent to roughly 45.0 CF%.
While Andersen has seen 214 shots through the first six games – an average of almost 36 per game – Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask has seen an average of just 32 shots per contest with the opportunities being far less dangerous than those seen by Andersen.
Either way, the Maple Leafs are going to have to find a way to send a high volume of shots on Rask if they are going to have a chance in Game 7 – especially seeing as the Bruins’ goalie has fought the puck very few times so far in this series.
Hide and Seek With J.T.?
Another player the Maple Leafs will need to step up in Game 7 is John Tavares. Tavares has seen his face-off percentage fall to just under 50 percent and he’s a minus-four in just over 19 minutes of ice-time through six games.
That said, Tavares does have a goal an three assists in those six games, but the Maple Leafs will be looking to him to ripple the mesh a few more times if they are to stay alive in this year’s postseason. After all, he had a career-high 47 goals in his first regular season with the Maple Leafs – surely he has more where that came from.
“They really defend with all five guys in the interior,” said Tavares of the Bruins’ defence. “We’ve just got to continue to be patient.”
While Tavares’ one goal came on an empty net opportunity, coach Mike Babcock recognizes that the star forward has taken on a different – more defensive role – for the the Maple Leafs in this series.
“I would say to you that he has been a difference-maker and has made our team better and has been excellent all the way through,” said Babcock. “He’s playing against real good players and I think he’s been excellent in the series.”
Tavares – who has lost the only other Game 7 he was a part of with the New York Islanders – knows exactly what is on the line and should step up his play when the Leafs take to the ice Tuesday night.
Speed vs. Grit
Both teams will be forced to play their own game if they want to have success in Game 7. The Bruins are clearly a team that thrives on the grit and physicality, where the Maple Leafs will have to capitalize on their speed through the neutral zone to come out on the winning side.
That said, the Maple Leafs (36.2) have averaged just under two more hits per game than the Bruins (34.3), while the Bruins are plus-25 in shot differential through six games. With the Maple Leafs so focused on keeping pace on the physical side of the puck, they’ve fallen away from the game that got them to the playoffs in the first place – speed and offensive prowess.
However, the Bruins know that it won’t be easy hosting Game 7 against the Maple Leafs.
“Probably the only [advantage of hosting Game 7] is home ice, but they’ve already won twice there,” said Bruins forward and pest Jake DeBrusk. “It’s one of those things, where you try and forget the past, whether it’s this series or last year’s series, and understand they are going to come out with everything they’ve got and so are we.”
The Maple Leafs are 12-11 all-time in Game 7, but 5-10 on the road. Patrick Marleau is their most experienced in that department having played in seven Game 7s with a 3-4 record.
On the other side, the Bruins are 14-12 all-time in the deciding game of a series and 13-8 at home. This will be the 13th time Zdeno Chara will suit up in a Game 7, tying both Patrick Roy and Scott Stevens for the most in NHL history. That said, Chara’s only come out on the winning side five times.
No matter what, it promises to be another classic between the Maple Leafs and Bruins when the puck drops on Tuesday.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.