Perhaps the two most anxiety-inducing words in sports. At least for fans of the participating teams. And on Wednesday, we will witness the first game seven of the 2018 playoffs as the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs close out the first round with a do-or-die matchup in Boston. The winner will meet idle Tampa Bay who closed out their own first-round series several days ago.
The Bruins jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. Thanks in part to two dominating performances on home ice to start the series. However, that offensive outburst is a distant memory for the Black-and-Gold as they have been unable to solve Leafs netminder, Frederick Andersen, with any regularity for the last three games. Andersen has been by far the Leafs best player, especially in the past two games where he essentially stole two victories for the Leafs. Both elimination games. Now, Boston faces the same fate if they can’t win in their third and final try.
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By The Numbers:
Game Seven Record: 13-12 (12-8 at home)
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Game Seven Record: 12-10 (5-9 on the road)
What to Watch For: Boston Bruins
Even before this grueling series, these teams were no strangers. On top of being division rivals for many years, this exact scenario played out five years prior in the playoffs. The Bruins jumped out to a 3-1 series lead but the Maple Leafs battled back to force game seven in Boston. Sound familiar? The Leafs build a big lead early in that game only to watch it vanish in an instant late in regulation. Bruins center, Patrice Bergeron, ended things less than a third of the way through the first overtime.
It goes without saying that the Bruins would prefer to not have to go through all that trouble to win game seven this time around. They would rather jump on Andersen early. Similiar to the way they did in game two at the Garden. But that is much easier said than done as Andersen has been nearly unbeatable. Far from the goalie that got chased in game two. Could shuffle in lines happen? Perhaps. Bruce Cassidy is never shy when it comes to making roster changes. However, I would pump the brakes on Donato getting the nod.
The likely scenario would see a continued shuffling of the second and third line that has underwhelmed. Albeit not without their chances. Rick Nash has been good. Not great. He has created chances for himself and others and has played well defensively, especially in his own end. However, finding the back of the net is the real problem. And that doesn’t go just for Nash. This is a team-wide issue. One that could ultimately sink the Bruins promising season.
Keys to Victory: Boston Bruins
- Finish. It is very simple. The Bruins need to find ways to convert the bevy of scoring chances they have had over the course of the last two games. If they can’t do that then it will just be much of the same.
- Avoid the bad mistakes. Yes, this is an obvious one. However, the Bruins seem to always make the mistake at the most inopportune times and the Leafs have converted nearly every time. Examples of that in game six are the Brad Marchand giveaway and the miscommunication between Rask and the defender which led to the first goal.
- Relax. It is easy to forget who you are as a team in situations like these. The Bruins are the better team and they must remember that. It is impossible to forget the struggles of the past two games but they can’t be at the forefront when the puck drops on Sunday. The Bruins need to ignore the noise and focus on the task at hand… winning one hockey game.
What to Watch For: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs come cruising into Boston with the momentum clearly on their side. However, that grasp is tenuous at best because of their reliance on Frederick Andersen in many situations. In fairness, the Leafs have done an unbelievable job in their own end blocking and disrupting shots. However, the Bruins have controlled the majority of play throughout the past two games with Andersen being the only thing they haven’t quite figured out yet.
Having a hot goaltender is the ultimate equalizer in the playoffs. A goalie is the only player on the ice that can single-handedly control a series despite what the stats tell you. As evident by the last two games of this series. However, it’s a dangerous way to live by when their offense hasn’t quite been a dominant force. Auston Matthews (one goal, one assist) has been quiet for his standards thus far in the series. Both goals for Leafs prior to the empty net clincher in game six were direct results of sloppy play by the Bruins in their own end. The Leafs were able to sustain some pressure late in the game but have yet to play that well consistently for 60 minutes.
Toronto enters the game with the ultimate advantage…the play of Frederick Andersen. If he plays the way he did in game’s six and seven, the Bruins will be hitting the golf course on Thursday. However, if his play slips just a bit or the next attempt at a paddle save fails, the Bruins could pounce. Therefore, in order for the Leafs to survive this, they must be aggressive and attack offensively. They can’t sit back and rely on Andersen yet again because eventually, this Bruins team will break through.
Keys to Victory: Toronto Maple Leafs
- Auston Matthews. Matthews has had moments in this series where he has shown why he is already one of the best players in the league. However, for much of the series he has been stymied by the Bruins. Evident by his two points (one goal, one assist) and a plus/minus of -5. That has to change for the Maple Leafs who should expect the Bruins best game of the series. Matthews will have to counter the Bruins attack.
- Avoid dumb penalties. Nazem Kadri’s slash in the offensive zone during game six was a terrible play on his part as it came at a crucial time in the contest with the Leafs season on the line. Fortunately for him, Frederick Andersen had his back and the Bruins were kept off the board. However, with one game to decide who moves on, all it takes is for one undisciplined play to swing the momentum. The Bruins powerplay was deadly during the first two games in Boston. The Leafs can’t tempt fate in Boston this time around.
- Frederick Andersen. Andersen must keep up his hot streak from the past two games where he undeniable won the each for the Leafs. Without Andersen, this series would have likely ended last week. If his play slips, this game could get ugly. Andersen has been the Leafs MVP this series and they will need him to play that way one more time in Boston.
— Full Press NHL (@FPC_NHL) April 25, 2018