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Despite Game 3 loss at home, the Leafs are not out of this series yet…

There were so many “key” (and potentially game-changing) moments within the game in Monday night’s affair at the pent-up Air Canada Center, I could not possibly capture them all.

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…

12 comments:

  1. There wasn't too much wrong with this game in my opinion. Like you said a couple breaks here and there and the game could be much different.

    Like I said last post the Leafs would have to be ready for a much improved Boston team and I think they were for the most part. Rask was very good and the Bruins don't give up many second chances.

    To borrow your phrase Michael if we are being honest Gardiner has been no worse in his own end than Fraser, O'Bryne and Liles. Fraser is clearly having issues with the speed of the playoffs as is O'Bryne. Not to beat up on either player but even with his miscues Gardiner brings so much more to the game with his offensive play. I think this speaks to a lack of depth on the Toronto blue line. It's not that Fraser, O'Bryne or Liles are bad players it's just that they are being asked to do to much. Both are #6 guys and you can never have too many defenseman in a long playoff run but you still need elite talent and the Leafs are at least one elite dman away. Remember back at the deadline when I was saying I wanted a player like Bowmeister, a minute muncher guy to take the load off Phaneuf? Just imagine what the d would look like now. Even Gunnarsson, who has been pretty good is being asked to play above where he really is. If Fraser was primarily being used as a pk guy who took the the occasional regular shift he would be pretty good. Really though we need at least two guys who can play upwards of 30 minutes a night, every night in the playoffs. Right now we have one and I'm not sure he is capable of it either.

    Overall though there was nothing wrong with this game. If they keep playing like they did tonight it should be a long series. Even if it isn't a long series if they play like tonight they won't go down easy and some valuable lessons will be learned. The effort was there just didn't get the results.

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    1. I think we're seeing things much the same way, Willbur. Gardiner needs to work on the details of his defensive game, but he needs to be here and to play. Others are, as you suggest, maybe cast in a tougher role on the depth chart than they should comfortably be. But they are working and doing not too badly for the most part against a tough, experienced opponent.

      You and I have talked here about the roster moving forward, and the good, young team they may potentially become in the years ahead. This playoff experience should make them that much more prepared for the challenges - and higher expectations - that will surely lie ahead. Thanks Willbur.

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  2. I think your assessment is fair here. They had every chance to win this game, and I'd even go so far to say that short of a few sloppy individual plays, they were overall the better team out there. The Leafs seem to have solved the Bruins relentless forecheck and are skating fast up the ice into Boston territory.

    Was it bad luck behind the net when O'Byrne got pick-pocketed, or when Kessel flubbed at the blue line? You could call it that. I also worry at times that the constant line shuffling and line matching is creating unfamiliarity among the Leafs, as we have seen far too many teammates colliding and making short awkward passes that lead to turnovers. Maybe it's what they need to do to counter the Bruins, I don't know. I do think that they might be better to just play their game, and let Boston waste their own time and energy with the matchups.

    I don't complain about the officials often, but I do have one bone to pick, and this is not new from last night's game. What in the world is with these linesmen playing around and not dropping the puck, and quickly throwing guys out of the faceoff circle? It's become a constant source of aggravation to watch, and we saw as Bozak nearly lost it finally last night. Stop playing God and drop the puck! As I watched us lose key faceoffs last night, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of impact that might have in the game.

    Ultimately I do believe, as you do, that Boston can be beaten by the Leafs. If I were a betting man I would still put my money on the Bruins, before last night as much as after the game. But the Leafs have shown this series is far from a slam dunk, and it is far from over.

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    1. We both sound like Don Cherry, but the game was better "in the old" days when guys cheated on the face-offs and generally got away with it. (Phil Esposito cheated all the time...) It slows the game game down- and since this is hockey, that's not a good thing. Why sell it as the fastest game in the world and then take a minute for a bloody face-off?

      We digress.

      No question there were mistakes by the Leafs all over the ice. And the lack of familiarity (and pressure, of course) is surely part of it. How much did Gardiner and O'Byrne play together before the second game of this series? You cite other similar examples.

      We are obsessed with getting Kessel away from Chara. I get it. But as I noted in my previous post, let them obsess about Kessel, rather than us change our game.

      I understand what our coach is trying to do, and at times, it's working. But we gave Boston too many 'silver platter' opportunities (maybe, as you say, because of our players being somewhat unfamiliar with one another), and we all saw the result. Thanks Pete.

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  3. I was fortunate enough to be at the game, and I echo a lot of your comments, Michael. This was a winnable game - the Leafs no longer feel intimidated by the big bad Bruins - and but for some killer giveaways, we'd be up 2-1.
    The team had energy at first, and didn't even seem to lose steam after that whiffle ball that started the scoring for the B's. We became prone, however, to trying the cute play instead of the simple one. That "one pass too many" that never bodes well.
    Gardiner is definitely getting more confident as he goes along, but he handcuffed (footcuffed?) O'Byrne on that second goal by dropping the puck in his skates as Jagr was on him instead of just shooting it out. He atoned for that with his goal, but Fraser's misplaying of Lucic and the resultant goal was a killer. Another simple play that wasn't carried out, though I'll give credit to Lucic for the move. (Lucic seemed more engaged in this game than the previous ones). The Phaneuf/Kessel giveaway was on the sort of play the Leafs were guilty of all night - not paying attention to who's covering or is the last man back.
    Grabovski played well throughout, I thought, as did the whole team, really for the most part. We vacated the front of the B's net too much, and there were too many unsupported rushed deep into the Bruins zone, but apart from our self-inflicted wounds, we were in it.
    What is noticeable, however, and is to be expected, I suppose, is the superiority of the Bruins in positional play and breakouts from their own zone. The Leafs had trouble sustaining much o-zone pressure, and Rask saved the day once or twice. When our group has played together as many games as this Bruins squad has, I expect we'll see the same cohesiveness.
    Lupul and Kadri seemed less evident last night, and our face-off percentage was awful - I expect a bounce back on Wednesday.
    The key takeaway for me was that we're very much in this series. We aren't being manhandled, and we aren't being terribly outplayed. As with our Game 2, our Game 4 response will be crucial in determining how far we can hope to go.

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    1. Thanks Gerund O'. Good to hear your perspective from inside the building.

      I neglected to mention the face-off issue (except for the opening goal which I tried to describe above) but like you, that will, I think, be an improved "statistic" on Wednesday.

      Yes, the Bruins are an experienced bunch, and are generally pretty good at moving the puck out of their own end.

      Agreed on Lucic- he was more of a presence on the night, for sure.

      We also concur that it was one game, one outcome that could have been different. Still 'series on'. Thanks Gerund.

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  4. To echo Willbur, to me Fraser and O'Byrne are similar defensemen to Komisarek (though notably cheaper). All three are good at clearing the front of the net and playing physically, but are painfully slow footed. This results in a lot of problems getting beat on the rush by quick forwards, and also having trouble getting back into position if they move away from the front of the net towards the corners.

    There's still a ways to go in the series, but one thing that has been highlighted for me is we need to get quicker and more mobile on defense, ideally without sacrificing much physicality.

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    1. I think we agree, mapleleafmjt, that the players you cite (including Komisarek, when he was here) are hard-working, tough defenseman who do their "job" well for the most part. That some of our guys are struggling at times with the Bruins attack is not a shock. As we keep discussing here, little flaws become exposed on a bigger stage at playoff time. Gardiner is in there to help balance the "slow-footedness", and that helps, but he brings his own defensive issues to the table. That said, he has the ability to skate out of trouble at times, so he brings a skill some others do not have.

      The series is definitely not over. As we saw in Game 2, the Leafs are capable of beating the Bruins. Game 4 is huge, for sure.

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  5. To me, they seemed out of synch, possibly a little too self conscious with all the hoopla around them. I guess the jury is out as to whether some of the effective players during the regular season are in over their heads in the playoffs. I am hopeful that it is just a mental adjustment and not skill deficiency. Also, I would repeat what I said about beating Rask – traffic and crowding the net – not enough of that going on last night. They are going to have to go straight to the crease and reduce the perimeter play. If all of the forwards were playing like JVR, Boston would have too much to handle. Was it weak play or bad bounces? I would lean toward weak play that was cold-bloodedly capitalized on. I envy Gerund’s view of the game, too bad the result was not better for him. Then again, I agree with most, with less self-conscious play and enough determination and more driving the net, the series is still there for the taking.

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    1. You're so right about van Riemsdyk, Bobby C.- the Bruins really don't have an answer for him, but the Leafs somehow need to have more guys with that crease area impact.

      You asked a key question- weak play or bounces? A bit of both and as important will be that the weaker-play aspect of it is reduced in Game 4.

      It's always a challenge, I sense, playing in front of the ever-hopeful home crowd here in Toronto. (I always write about Game 4 in the '71 series against the Rangers. The Leafs were full measure for a Game 3 win the night before at the Gardens, but their heads were still in the clouds in Game 4 the next night, also at home. Before they got their heads right, it was 4-0 New York...game over...)

      So here we sit, and it's still a series- thanks Bobby.

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  6. portuguese leafMay 7, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    The point about the lineseman dropping the puck is dead on. I don't think most of us even know why most players get thrown out to begin with. The players skate in, drop it and away we go. Doesn't seem too complex.

    The Leafs started the game great, skating and banging. Then they seemed to have just forgotten to do it throughout the game. They hit Chara once or twice and then just stopped.

    We were victims to a few bad bounces and posts, but the giveaways were killer.

    Like we were saying in yesterdays posts, if we can get Rask moving he has the habbit of overplaying some shots, and that's how he was beaten by Gardiner.

    It's still winnable, but the guys can't forget to play their game after 15 minutes. We don't need to obsess over matchups, it might throw us off our game. Some line juggling is ok, but not to the point the players don't know who they're playing with on the next shift.

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    1. You hit the proverbial nail on the head on all counts, portuguese leaf. On to Game 4....

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