A broad statement might be this: the Leafs played hard and were at times relentless in their determination to make things happen, but a series of unfortunate miscues sealed their fate. Did they deserve better? Yes and no. They had plenty of chances to score more goals. But they gave the bruins too many golden opportunities, eh?
Even as the third period was winding down, they had a number of shifts that could easily have resulted in goals with a break here or there—or a puck one inch this way or that. But it wasn’t to be.
What was different in this one than in Game 2—an impressive road win for the blue and white? I’ll say this: sometimes you make mistakes and they are forgotten because nothing comes out if. In this game, a number of individual, sometimes unforced (to borrow a tennis phrase) errors gave the Bruins too much time and space (as the analysts like to say)—and on this night, they happened to capitalize.
Bozak lost a draw (guys lose face-offs all the time, eh?) in his own zone, and in a split second, a floater ends up behind Reimer, who had been solid but appeared to be caught in a tough spot by a puck that might have been re-directed ever so slightly. Some miscommunication between Gardiner and O’Byrne may have been an issue on the Bruins second goal. Gardiner, skating behind his net, decided to drop the puck for his partner. Again, this play happens a lot. But in this instance, Jagr (I think it was Jagr) jumps the play, Gardiner keeps skating, not knowing O’Byrne is in trouble, and all of a sudden Peverley has a goal.
Gardiner shows his offensive touch and scores on the power-play to trigger a massive outburst in the building (and outside the building too, and in living rooms throughout Leafworld) to bring the good guys to within one. But seemingly seconds later (it probably was: I did not note the exact time), a turnover in the neutral zone put Fraser and Gunnarsson in a tough spot, and neither could stop the ensuing rush that saw Horton convert a Lucic pass.
The crowd sat back down.
Then, to compound the frustration, Kessel and Phaneuf crossed signals on a power play at the Leaf blueline and it was 4-1 after a short-handed goal by the Bruins.
Despite all that, what did I like? Well, despite those individual breakdowns, it was certainly not a lack of effort that created the problems. (Not that I would expect NHL’ers to give anything but their best in a playoff game.) No, the “will” I have talked above was there, for sure. And I really appreciated that the Leafs came out and scored on the power play early in the third period, and with any luck, could have made it 4-3 on any number of occasions.
Some observations that go beyond the scoreline, none startling, I realize:
- Rask held the Bruins in, in the early going. He was not perfect, and a couple of posts (Phaneuf and Franson that I counted, maybe there were others) helped his cause, as the often do when things go your way. He was stellar for the most part—calm and composed, as the commentators mentioned at various points. (I still think the Leafs can get to him, but they’ll have to keep hanging around the crease like van Riemsdyk did on the Gardiner goal…)
- Yes, Chara was better than he had been in Game 2. So was (hard to say this) Lucic. Was Lucic skating better, or given too much room? I’m not sure.
- Reimer made a brilliant save on Seguin in the first period, but seemed to fall victim to the peculiar way the game unfolded. He was not bad, by any means, but my guess is he and Carlyle will go for a little skate, a la Burns/Potvin (see a young Felix at right) circa 1993, just to make sure Reimer knows the coach has his back. This was not on number 34, though no, he did not “steal” this one for us either. And it wasn’t on any individual teammate, either, despite the notable miscues I cited above. But there was indeed too much ‘slippage’, too many, as I said before, unforced mistakes that gave the Bruins, who don’t score a ton, more than they probably deserved.
- Gardiner had a lot of jump, though if we’re honest, there are still, as we would expect for a precocious young defenseman, issues with his play when he is deep in his own zone and around or behind his own goal line. He is prone to giveaways and skating in wide circles when he should be stopping hard and getting where he needs to be, though in Game 3, he was hardly alone. (And he made up for it with his determination to make things happen at the other end.) Once he refines that one part of his game and is also better able to handle a tough forecheck, he can be a 20-goal, 50+ point defenseman who also is not a liability in his own zone.
- Grabovski started the game on fire, I thought, but seemed (again, probably because of the circumstances of the way the game seemed to unfold) less noticeable as the evening went along. Maybe I am off on that observation, but it just felt that way. (I’d like to hear from someone who was in the building…). I’ve loved his fire, though, and hopefully he has his best games ahead of him in this series.
- The Leafs did try to hit Chara and a few guys got some good licks in, but he was, as I noted earlier, better than he was in Game 2. They did not bottle him up and force him into errors and uncomfortable positions like they did in Game 2. I still think they can wear him down as the series moves along. He plays a lot of minutes obviously, and the Leafs need to take advantage of the fatigue factor.
Again, a lot of Leafs were energetic and played hard. Eliminate even one of the plays that resulted in Bruin markers, and who knows what would have happened?
Remember I said Game 4 is key when you start on the road, just like Game 2? Well, the Leafs now have their opportunity to bounce back on Thursday night. They’ve already proven they can win in Boston. Kessel is scoring. Myths are being dispelled.
Wouldn’t you have taken it before the series started, if someone promised you that the Leafs would only be down 2 games to one at this point?
I’ll continue to say it: the Bruins can be beaten. Will it happen? I have no idea. But the series remains there for the taking. You usually have to win on the road, sometimes more than once, to advance these days. The Leafs can do that. Just watch the Bruins, look at their body language. They know they aren’t what they were. They know they are “this close” to being a fragile team that doubts itself again, just like they were a year ago. Just like they were before their Cup season.
It’s taken everything they have to handle the Leafs, a young team with precious little playoff experience. And at that, but for some breaks, Game 3 could have had a very different outcome.
I noted the “mistakes” above. There were others, but the Bruins made plenty, too, if you were to roll back the film on this one with a critical eye. But that’s hockey. Fast pace, physicality, turnovers. Teams are going to turn the puck over.
On this night, the Leafs were a bit more mistake-prone than their adversaries, perhaps. But I don’t want to focus on what they did wrong. I’d rather discuss that they played with heart, that they tried to make things happen, that they maybe deserved a bit better fate.
I also think that, as all good coaches do, Carlyle will go back to the drawing board, and remind his guys of what they need to do in Game 4. Regardless of lineup changes, it will be, as I said after Game 1, about will, about being hard on the puck, about wanting it more than the guy opposite you on each shift. They’ve shown they can play with the Bruins. Now it’s the little things. And a little more Reimer. And a few less turnovers.
A few breaks wouldn’t hurt, either…