YOUNG LEAFS HAVE CHANCE TO CREATE GAME 7 MEMORIES
Some of these Toronto players have experienced it before, but never as a group
The dream is never about scoring an overtime goal in Game 62 of the regular season. It is never about scoring in Game 5 of a playoff series.
The dream remains constant and unchanged for anyone who has ever taken shots with a frozen tennis ball on a driveway with a half-put-together Canadian Tire net. It is always Game 7. It is always overtime. It is usually the Stanley Cup final.
Now it’s April and Game 7 is upon the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. Only it’s different for these mostly young Leafs. This is new. This is special. This is a first for this group in its entirety. Oh, some of these players have been in Game 7s before, just not together — and no matter what ends up happening, it will be memorable.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock calls it fun. He hasn’t always said that, but this is his narrative, his message for the day. He didn’t call it much fun when his Anaheim Ducks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2003, as a rookie coach, losing that championship to Lou Lamoriello’s New Jersey Devils.
He didn’t call it much fun when his Detroit Red Wings lost the opportunity to win two straight Stanley Cups, bowing out to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
In all, Babcock’s teams have played in nine Game 7s: His winloss record is 4-5.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Babcock said. “This is what we’ve talked about. Tonight, this is fun. This is where you want to be. You want to be in these moments in your life, you remember everything in your life. But you remember moments. Here’s an opportunity for us to create memories with a good group of guys that like each other a lot.
“We want to have a good playoffs. Now we’ve got to go to Boston, get some clam chowder, and win a game.”
This is Tomas Plekanec’s fourth Game 7 against the Bruins. There is no residual effect around him and most of his teammates from Toronto losing Game 7 with a 4-1 lead in 2013. That wasn’t this team. Some of the players remain, but few of the major players.
Plekanec’s first seven-game series against the Bruins was in 2008. They met again in 2010 and 2011 and then in 2014 while he was playing with the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal and Boston seem to go seven games every time they meet.
This is the stoic Plekanec’s sixth career Game 7: His record in the first five games, 4-1. He is unlikely to be rattled Wednesday night at a rowdy TD Garden.
James van Riemsdyk has been part of two famous Game 7s. He was part of the 4-1 collapse by the Leafs. Before that, he was part of the remarkable Philadelphia Flyers, who trailed Boston three games to none in 2010, then trailed 3-0 in Game 7 before coming back to win the game and almost the Stanley Cup that season.
These are stories for him to tell at another time — memories, as Babcock calls them. For a young team like the Leafs, looking for its first bit of playoff success together, a win could be monumental. It could carry them places they never thought possible.
But a defeat is so stark and so sudden. Especially after battling back. These teams, Boston and Toronto, are too good and too varied to be eliminated in the first round. They both should be advancing if the NHL was a little more appropriate with its playoff format. This is a series that has changed in every game and sometimes in every period and often from moment to moment.
The Leafs were outscored 12-4 in the first two games and looked like they didn’t belong in the same ring with the Bruins. In the past four games, the Leafs have outscored the Bruins 12-9. In the past two games, Frederik Andersen has faced 78 shots: His save percentage has been a remarkable .949. In the past two games, Tuukka Rask has faced just 42 shots after being pulled in Game 5, recording a save percentage of just .857.
Does that trend continue? History says no. There is no continuing trend. One game doesn’t necessarily translate into the next. But sometimes in a playoff series, a goaltender can get into the heads of the shooters.
And Patrice Bergeron, with a semi-breakaway in Game 6, did the illogical. While in alone, rather than shooting, he passed the puck to David Pastrnak. This may be nothing. But it may be a sign Andersen has got to the Bruins’ best players. Maybe.
There is no way to predict Game 7. The story unfolds as it will. Memories? Maybe.
Let the game and the games begin.