It was early in the third period when the Bruins and Maple Leafs lined up for a 4-on-4 face-off in the Leafs’ defensive zone. The Bruins trailed the Leafs 4-3 and every punch the B’s took, the Leafs punched right back. The home team held a lead only once during the game so far, although that lead only lasted about four minutes.
One more goal against for the Bruins and everyone would be in full panic mode at the Garden.
As a quick personal note: I was lucky enough to be at the game on Wednesday. I had been as negative about this Bruins club as I had been all season heading into this game given their lack of effort, poise, and finish over the past few games.
Before the ref dropped the puck for this 4-on-4 face-off, I looked at my dad and said, “You know what, F*** these guys!” (meaning the Leafs, not the Bruins). I don’t think I meant that to disrespect the Leafs, but I knew in my heart the Bruins were the better team and that, like the rest of the fans and the players, they needed to wake up.
The puck dropped and, in the blink of an eye, Torey Krug one-timed a Kevin Miller feed past Frederik Andersen to tie the game at four.
It was the goal the Bruins had been looking for.
(Source: Denver Post/Getty Images/Maddie Meyer)
Time and time again, though, the Leafs had scored a goal right after the Bruins and every bounce-back goal was more soul-crushing than the last. This time, though, the Bruins made sure to not let that happen again.
Jake DeBrusk, who had scored the opening goal in this game and three others during the series, took a David Krejci pass alongside the boards and blew past Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner before going backhand-forehand and squeezing a shot through Andersen’s five-hole.
This wasn’t game, set, match, but it might as well have been.
David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand put the icing on the cake with goals of their own and the Bruins finished off the Toronto Maple Leafs in a thrilling game seven. This game was really a culmination of the whole series because of the resiliency shown by both teams to not only come back in games, but to also come back throughout the series.
This back-and-forth series was certainly an entertaining one from beginning-to-end. Things started at TD Garden with two blowout victories for the Bruins and then the series finally tightened up in Toronto.
There was much talk going into this series about how the speed of the Leafs would factor into the Bruins ability to break out and continue to play their game. Although the Bruins dominated for considerable stretches during this series, the Leafs certainly gave them fits at periods of time. These fits led to Bruins’ mistakes and turnovers, which eventually led to plenty of Leafs’ goals.
I had originally said that this series would come down to goaltending and a few key players on both sides. Well, neither goaltending was really “dominant” throughout this series, although both goalies had a couple of pretty decent games sprinkled in (Tuukka in game one and Andersen in games three and six). Ultimately, it came down to who played worse than their counterpart, as seen in the series finale.
Here are the goaltenders’ numbers during the series:
Tuukka Rask: 4-3, .899 SV%, 2.94 GAA
Frederik Andersen: 3-4, .896 SV%, 3.76 GAA
Both goaltenders had their moments in this series, although Andersen had more big games for the Leafs that allowed them to climb back into the series. Then again, Andersen was 0-2 in game sevens coming into this game and now has a 4.00+ GAA in those three games.
Rask had his moments in this series, but he was mostly average-to-bad for stretches of time. Thankfully for Bruins fans, he was not as bad as Andersen when it mattered most.
The thing that stuck out more than the goaltending was how atrocious both teams’ defensemen looked at times.
On the Bruins side of things, Zdeno Chara has been showing his age and has been playing significant ice time (over 25 minutes TOI/game). He looked shaky with the puck and was horrendously slow compared to how fast-paced the games were. Chara did, however, have a +5 in the series, essentially shutdown all-world Auston Matthews, and provided the leadership necessary for this team to will themselves to a victory in game seven. Torey Krug was arguably the worst defenseman in the series, sporting a -5 rating, although he did have 2 goals and 7 assists in the series (which is incredible, seeing as he still had a negative rating).
On the Leafs side, Jake Gardiner was an abomination in game seven with a -5 rating and -6 rating overall in the series. He was a key contributor to several big goals in this series, including the go-ahead goal by Marchand in game four and DeBrusk’s go-ahead goal in game seven.
The other players that I had highlighted in my series preview were, on the Bruins side, Brad Marchand, Jake DeBrusk, and Danton Heinen (I’ll leave out Ryan Donato since he only played one game).
Marchand was phenomenal in games one and two and finished the series with 3 goals and 6 assists. He did feel invisible at times during the series, but he was decent overall and provided more scoring than defensive prowess.
Jake DeBrusk was arguably the most consistent and best player for the Bruins in this series. The rookie had 5 goals and 2 assists, including two goals in the clinching game. He was the spark that the Bruins needed each game and had a game-winning goal to cap the series.
Danton Heinen had sort of an iffy series and was sat in game six for Tommy Wingels. Head coach Bruce Cassidy apparently made the smart play and got Heinen motivated for game seven as Heinen scored a goal in game seven from the slot.
(Souce: Chowder and Champions)
For the Leafs, I highlighted Andersen (who I covered above), Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews.
Mitch Marner had a great series for the Leafs and was probably the best player on the ice for them. Marner had 2 goals and 7 assists and had the most points on the Leafs in the series and really wasn’t even close (next closest was Patrick Marleau with 5 points). He also was tied for the second-best rating on the Leafs with a +2. Overall, Marner was the best player on the Leafs and continued his dominant play against the Bruins. He now has, including the regular season, 22 points in 15 games and continues to be a thorn in the Bruins’ side.
Color me shocked that Marner, who led the team in points during the regular season, had the most points this series.
Auston Matthews was non-existent in the series, aside from a go-ahead goal in game three and one assist for a whopping two points.
A lot of this article has been spent recapping the Bruins-Maple Leafs series. The Bruins do, however, have another series ahead of them against the best team in the Eastern Conference: the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning are arguably the best team in the league and are the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference. They led the league in goals scored with 290 during the regular season and had the third-best power-play, scoring 23.9% of the time.
From top-to-bottom, the Lightning have a stacked roster. They have high-end talent with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos up front and have a great defensive core as well with Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and rookie Mikhail Sergachev.
They also picked up huge assets from the Rangers at the trade deadline by acquiring defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller, who have been contributing in big ways for the Lightning. Both of them combined for 8 points in their first-round playoff series against the New Jersey Devils. The Lightning defeated the Devils in five games and have been patiently waiting almost a week to play their next game.
Despite all of this positive talk about the Lightning, the Bruins were 3-1 against them during the regular season, including a 3-0 shutout victory in Tampa. The one game they lost was a 4-0 shutout in Tampa, but they still outscored the Bolts 10-8 over these four games.
As far as a prediction for this series, there are so many different possible outcomes, but I’m sticking with my guts on this. I know the Lightning are a better team than the Bruins, but something’s there that makes me believe in the black-and-gold.
Prediction: Bruins in 6
I’ll have a list of players to watch and take a deeper look at this series coming up shortly.
Feel free to tweet me your predictions @acomak8 on Twitter