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A game of inches, yet again, as Leafs lose to the Bruins in Game 4...

Now that was a playoff game.  If you saw it, you know what went on.  The back and forth action, the emotional ups and downs.

There was way more to this one then I will try to describe, but here is some of what captured my thoughts as I took notes throughout the contest:

  • With the Leafs taking the 2-0 lead, I thought the Leafs were back to doing a good job of making Chara move—and work.  He was on for both Toronto goals.  Leaning on the big defenseman and wearing him out was something I had talked about earlier in the series. (But then I looked up later in the game and Chara had three assists…he’s still a hard guy to shut down.)
  • I liked Reimer’s play.  A solid game for him, not that he did anything to discredit himself in Game 3.  It was what a lot of us expected—a “bounce back”game for the Leafs—and for the young netminder. There were a lot of little saves that were a lot harder than they looked, and he played with skill and heart.
  • I kept noting that if Grabbo ever gets one, the floodgates may not quite open, but it would set him free a bit, and help his play.  I’ve loved his drive and determination in the series but a goal almost always helps a guy feel better about himself. 
  • Not that the Leafs were home and cooled out, but the Leafs were looking pretty strong with the 2-0 lead.  But a quick goal to start the period brought the Bruins within one.  Toronto still had the better of the play for a while but Boston then added two more and the tide had seemingly turned the other way.
  • But just when we might have thought we were really in trouble, Gardiner gets the puck to Frattin, and MacArthur pounces on a loose puck and does what he can do—put it in the net.  Tie game. 3-3.

There was so much in this one.  The unfortunate injury to Mark Fraser, a hard-working player if there has ever been one, a guy giving every ounce of skill and determination that he is.

In some way, the MacArhur goal  was really the trigger for some of the “real” action.  Big saves in regulation time from Reimer (and yes, Rask).  Gardiner all over the ice.  The Leafs killing off Kadri’s four-minute penalty was huge and they deserve immense credit for that.  Lupul had jump.

Playoff hockey?  There was Gardiner standing up Jagr.  O’Byrne finishing his check on Seguin behind the Leaf net with 8 minutes left in the game stood out for me as what playoff hockey, in a sense, is all about.  Maybe the most skilled (certainly one of them) player on the other team head to head with O’Byrne, yet the Leaf defender not only makes the defensive stop but eliminates his more skilled opponent completely from the ensuring action.  That really is hockey the way it has to be played at this time of year.

In overtime, we could see Kessel in Reimer’s crease to clear a loose puck (heck, he was back and all over Lucic if there was a rebound on the Krecji winner)…the Leafs were dishing out some big hits (notably Kadri) in overtime, so it was not as though these were two teams playing “not to lose”.

Frattin hit the post.  It went back and forth and ultimately, the Leafs lost after a pinch, but I absolutely support Phaneuf’s play in the heat of the moment.  As I said above, they weren’t playing not to lose.  They wanted to win—badly. The boys in blue were trying to make things happen.

I rarely say this sort of thing, and the series sure isn’t over, but I was very proud of the way the Leafs played on Wednesday night.  I’ve said here in the past that flaws are exposed in the playoffs, and they are.  But any flaws the Leafs show they are working to make up for with relentless effort.

I’ve written that players and teams face a whole other kind of challenge in a series like this, and I believe the Leafs are responding awfully well.  How many expected them to finish the regular-season where they did, or beat the Bruins on the road in the playoffs?

They could easily be tied or up in this series.  That they aren’t is no discredit to them, their effort or the heart they have displayed in the last three games in this series.

Best Leaf player on the night?  Different guys at different times.  Reimer.  Gardiner.  Lupul.  Kessel.  I could throw a bunch of names into the hopper.  I’m sure you have your own views.  I thought Rask was the best Bruin by far, but that’s easy to say and not terribly discerning, perhaps, given that Krejci scored the hat trick.

I can’t really do justice to the game, but I invite you to give it a shot!


**

Though I enjoyed it a lot, I'm leaving the Leaf Matters podcast- thanks to everyone who supported me and the show!


21 comments:

  1. Good game tonight. Excellent effort but a little short on excution.

    I'm sorry but that was a terrible decision by Phanuef. His play all night was not what I would expect outta a number one dman. Had some real trouble handling the puck tonight and seemed to me to be showing some nerves. His physical play was good though but still a bad bad decision. If the leafs had won this game, they had a real shot at winning the series. As it stands now they are in tough to win in Boston. Your number one dman simply cannot make that play at that juncture of the game. I hate to say it but that play could have cost the Leafs the series. We'll never know but that really hurts.

    Ona side note Frattin, Kadri and Gardiner were all excellent in the overtime. Maybe the long playoff run on the Marlies stood them in good stead? This team has a future, probably not this year now but in the very near future, look out.


    Ps. I'm curious, isn't that one of the knocks about Phanuef's play. That his hockey IQ isn't very high. I am honestly asking because I seem to remember that being said in the past. Oh well gonna be very tough for the Maple Leafs to comeback next game after such a heartbreaking loss.

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  2. I know what you're saying, Willbur- I just saw the Phaneuf play as the Leafs going for it, which they were doing from the get-go in overtime. But I can see where the play will be criticized, yes.

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    1. Sure he was going for it and being agressive. But there is a huge diffrence between playing agressively and playing recklessly. If your going to be the Capatin and a leader and you want to be an elite guy there is no excuse for that play. None. If Gardiner makes that play you can say youthful exuberance, part of the learning curve. Phanuef is a veteran though.

      I have been a Phanuef believer this year, but that play really hurts. That one crushed me. I was starting to think the Leafs are the better team and had a real shot at beating the Bruins.

      But boy that was a hockey game. Fast and exciting. Next year is going to be good I think.

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    2. You've been pointing to a better future for quite a while, Willbur- and we saw evidence of that tonight!

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  3. This one is gonna hurt for a while.
    Gardiner has arrived.
    At risk of sounding like a Canucks fan (and we can at least thank we have a few more days at least, to enjoy, unlike them), the penalty on Orr was BS and the goal on Reimer was uncalled Goalie Interference.
    But Toronto left nothing on the table tonight and had everything to be proud of.
    Win the next game on the road and come back home to get to 7...anything can happen

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  4. Lots of positives tonight, for sure, Sean. It's not over yet.....

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  5. Once again I was lucky enough to be at the game, and I guess I saw it a little differently. We certainly had good stretches, particularly the first five or six minutes of the second period, and most of the overtime, but the score flattered us. At the rink, it looked to me like we were generally out-hustled and outplayed. I lost count of the number of times we were beaten to the puck.
    We have a lot to learn from Boston's patience and sound positional play. There seems to always be someone supporting the rush, someone in position for a rebound or a deflection, someone in front of the net. Their breakouts from their own zone and their power plays are a model of efficiency. Our tendency on the rush is to throw a Hail Mary pass over the blue line and hope someone gets to it before the Boston D. Usually, the D beat them. I count those as giveaways, just as Gardiner's tendency to hang his partner out to dry when under pressure is a giveaway.
    Why the Leafs cannot consistently set up an attack is beyond me. Hopefully, a year or two of the core guys playing together will result in the kind of intuitive sense the Bruins seem to have about where their linemates will be. That would also help the power play!
    Speaking of which, it's easy to finger Phaneuf for the winning goal, but to me we lost the game because of our execrable power play. And let's be honest - that's a save Reimer just has to make.
    As we often say, this was a winnable game. The problem is, we keep not winning them. There were things to like - Kessel seemed possessed; Frattin, Grabo and Kulemin all had some pop. But our rookies keep making rookie mistakes, and the only way that's a positive is that they're getting that valuable "playoff experience". Our guys have a lot to learn yet - hopefully we'll add two or three veteran pieces this summer that will up our consistency and bring us closer to being a true contender.

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    1. All fair comments, Gerund. You had a good perspective from inside the building. The playpff experience you cite may be the most important thing that comes out of this experience. Talk soon.

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  6. Bruins are more experienced and it paid off in the OT where they hooking holding and interfering at will and I guess they knew the refs would ignore everything. To me it looked like the Bruins had several great scoring chances after grabbing and hauling down Leafs which made the refs lack of a call even worse. So maybe that is where the experience of the Bruins is paying off. They know what they can get away with and the Leafs don't. I also did not like the call on Orr which resulted in a goal as all he did was put up his arm to protect himself as Chara charged him and I didn't see him hit Chara - just another bad call from the refs.

    Bu on a positive note I really liked what I saw from Gardiner tonight. Things seemed to happen when he had the puck. From what I am reading Rielly is even better than Gardiner so it really looks to me like the Leafs will be around for a while with the players they have now. The interview Leafs new CEO Tim Leiweke also looked promising where he said he does not have the knowledge to be an NHL GM and he likes Nonis and he will but they will do whatever it takes to win a Cup.









    that Maybe I Aa because the refs the refs just ignored y

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  7. portuguese leafMay 9, 2013 at 7:55 AM

    Great game for sure. The post in OT was the series I believe. Here we go with the IF's... IF that had gone in, and the series tied 2-2, there would be no reason the Leafs couldn't beat the B's. But down 3-1 it'll be very tough. It can be done, we'll hope and see.

    The Leafs lost concentration mid-game I think. Allowing the Bruins 3 straight goals was... deflating.

    There are three players that have stood out for me. Grabbo looks to be on fire, skating, shooting, passing, scraping himself up off the ice and boards and just continuing on. That's heart. Every time Gardiner is on the ice everyone knows it, for good (and sometimes not so good) reasons. And Franson has settled in very nicely, not flashy like Gardiner, but effective.

    So now all we have to do is win 3 straight games.

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    1. It's true, portuguese leaf- this series could easily be tied. Whether it's breaks, mistakes, the experience the Bruins have, I don't know. But the series has been closer, to me at least, than the 3-1 count indicates. Game 5, we'll see!

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  8. I think the most impressive thing about Phaneuf is the leadership he showed after the game. It sounded like he was one of the first guys out of the locker room to talk to the media, and put the mistake entirely on his own shoulders (several times, as he received the same question numerous times). I thought that showed a ton of accountability that you expect from a captain.

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    1. That's a tough thing to do and a player should be applauded when he stands up and accepts responsibility. It's a cliche but it's forever true: this is a team game. They did not lose because of one decision, or one play.

      Well said, thanks, mapleleafmjt.

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  9. There is indeed reason to feel hopeful about the future, Alton. The Leafs will have to work their way through to get into these situations more often, to acquire the experience you refer to when speaking about the Bruins. It can happen, but will likely take some time. Thanks for chiming in.

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  10. Totally agree with you on the game being close. Aside from the total domination by the Bruins in game 1, all the games so far were winnable. The difference being that good team capitalize on their chances and little mistakes that results in goals would be magnified. The Bruins are a good team not a great team. They can be beat but it seems not all the Leafs are hungry enough at this point to take advantage. The Bruins plays a control game and clearly they are not prone to running around when the leafs attack with speed and heavy fore-checking.

    It's not over but the results were not unexpected. Nonetheless I will look forward to the response in Boston in particular how Phaneuf defines his captaincy. I wasn't particularly was upset at the pinch but more so with his total lack of urgency throughout the game...I will just stop here as you know I am not a supporter and his play and determination so far is giving all anti-phaneuf fans a lot of ammunition unfortunately.

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    1. It's a difficult thing, Lukas. Phaneuf came in with huge expectations, and it's almost impossible to play up to those- and his contract. Whether he is a true "1" defenseman, I don't know. Is he a high "2", a "3"? Would he obviously be better with a certain kind of partner?

      I've raised my own questions about Phaneuf over the years. But he's a good player, and where he fits on our depth chart is part of the overall challenge Carlyle faces. As I have said here, the coach does not have the roster he wants yet, and continues to experiment to try to match and fill. Is Bozak a first-line guy (old question, but still relevant)? Same with Phaneuf and some other players on the roster. Some nights we're thrilled with the results, others not so much.

      It's the old 'work in progress' situation and as Gerund said above, we're gaining valuable experience playing games when they really matter. Thanks Lukas.

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  11. Hi Michael:
    I have had opportunity to see all games except game 3 on CNBC in Atlanta. Much better than Yahoo Live which gives shots, blocks, hits, time, etc. and seemed to highlight Leafs "Defensive" hockey.

    After game 1, these games have been exciting and competitive and while I would have said the Leafs would be lucky to win one game (and it still may happen), I did not anticipate they would give the Bruins this good a run.

    Some comments:
    This is a much higher level of hockey than was exhibited during the year. While I know playoff hockey is at a higher level, it demonstrates the fact that NHL teams go through the motions in regular season which brings up the question of value? This is why I always enjoyed Junior A hockey - greater passion.

    This does not look like same team that produced 20 shots on a regular basis.

    After listening to negative comments about Grabbo all year, he has been major surprise and it is easy to wonder whether he has been misused. Kadri seems to be having trouble getting untracked, but has upside.

    Kessell is truly exciting player, although I wonder if he is too fast for his linemates? Since he plays like a center, perhaps this is where he should play? Flying down the wing and shooting for the far corner often seems to lead to easy breakouts for the Bruins.

    Good to see Gardiner getting opportunity. While I am sure he will give Carlyle ulcers, he has offensive skills that are not just taught. He needs to be complemented with a stay at home defenseman with size but some mobility to cover for him. Many of Leafs defenceman seem to lack mobility although Bruins are not a slow team. Unfortunately, I can't remember who covered for Orr, Coffey when they took off. Note: Neither made numerous giveaways and when they did their skating ability usually overcame the problem.

    Not sure that I agree with you on Chara - He is highly effective both ways and must be very intimidating along the boards and in front of the net. While he is not up for Norris, I believe he has that value to Bruins.

    Hopefully, Leafs can make similar effort in Boston.

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    1. Glad to hear you have had access to most of the game in the series so far, Ralph (RLMcC).

      I'm with you on junior hockey. I used to follow the old Junior A Marlies in the early '70s, including in some memorable playoff tilts. I was involved in broadcasting junior hockey in the early '80s and fell in love with junior hockey again, for the reasons you noted: the immense passion displayed most nights.

      Gardiner will no doubt make Randy grey (and I've noted his defensive issues here before) but as you say, you can't teach what he has. (I think, as I recall, Dallas Smith was often a partner of Orr's, but as you noted, he rarely turned the puck over during one of his forays up the ice...).

      My point on Chara is not that he isn't still an important player (and yes, very valuable to the Bruins). More that I think the Leafs can work him, because he's not the player he was a few seasons ago.

      Great to hear from you Ralph. The weather must be gorgeous down your way!

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  12. Phaneuf did nothing wrong. He tried to recover Kessel's puck and he took Horton out of the play with a hit. The ensuing breakaway was not actually that dangerous - Kessel had Lucic and O'Byrne and Reimer should have had Krejci between them. In fact the Captain did a very noble thing by taking the heat off Reimer and O'Byrne by taking the fall for the OT goal. He was solid as always in this game and he is by far our best defenceman although it is nice to see Gardiner playing well. The young defenceman had a great game - he played with confidence and used his reach and speed (and even body) to stop the opposition from breaking through on more than one occasion over the last few games. His offensive ability was never in doubt - he looked big and dominant out there. He is a very special player and I really think that between him, Kessel and Kadri we're in for some exciting times in the coming seasons.

    I really hoped (dreamed) that the Leafs would send the Bruins, as a great man once said, 'into the dustbin of history' - with skill, toughness and speed that are increasing with each and every game. As I said here before - I still think it's just a matter of time - clearly our young guys are still too young and their old guys are still not too old, but I really don't see the Bruins coming out with the result in a year from now (provided, of course, that we don't trade away our future).

    It's really hard to be optimistic at this point about the immediate future - it seems that the Hockey Gods are against us and it seems that we're just not quite there. Boston is so consistent and predictable and the Leafs are just a little too disorganized and inexperienced still. Nonetheless, there is already a narrative that I described above unfolding and noone can tell me that the Bruins are not worried about going back home on the heel of this very slim victory and that the Leafs won't be coming out with even more heart now that they truly have nothing to lose.

    On the other hand, I'm a little worried about the Leafs style of play over the last month or so - they seem to be reverting to the old Ron Wilson model of trading chances and, even though they're much better at it now, this is not, in my opinion, a recipe for success against the Bruins. They seem to have forgotten to pay attention to defence and I find myself looking back to some of their 'boring' but safe and solid mid-season performances (the 1:0 loss against the Bs, and then win and the OT loss) when they were being outshot often but were not giving up many scoring chances and wishing for some more of that as we find ourselves again looking to slay the giant who has been bullying us for so long. One game at the time - a convincing win in Boston, a win at home, a little luck, an injury here and there, perhaps a dirty hit or a little rise out of Rask and who knows - desperation hockey is not necessarily a bad thing.

    I will miss your commentary on the Leafs Matters podcast very very much. I wish there was something we could do to convince you to keep doing it. Is there?

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    1. Thank you for a very solid post, leafdreamer. Like most everyone here, you always bring a thoughtful perspective, which I value a great deal.

      We (Leaf fans) all see things a bitt differently (the Phaneuf play, and his play in general, is probably a good example) and that's OK. You raise important points about his play and effort, and about the overall "arc" the team is on, which based on these playoffs, is generally encouraging. (On Phaneuf, I noticed on the play in question that he took his man out of the play...yes he was "caught" up ice but he made a point of not using his elbow so as not to draw an ill-timed penalty...)

      Are we there yet? No, but we all knew that going in. Guys are working hard and the young players in the system are either making contributions or seem poised to sooner than later.

      Thank you for your kind comments about "Leaf Matters"- my e-mail is michael@prospectcommunications.com

      Thanks leafdreamer

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