Maple Leafs head­ing into Game 7 with Bru­ins

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Joshua CLIPPERTON

TORONTO — Connor Brown and the Maple Leafs sent all the right mes­sages ahead of Game 7 last year.

He in­sists this time they ac­tu­ally mean it. Toronto heads into the fi­nale of a backand-forth East­ern Con­fer­ence quar­ter­fi­nal with the Bos­ton Bru­ins on Tues­day night with a firm be­lief. Ghosts of past play­off fail­ures, how­ever, still linger.

The Leafs led the Bru­ins 4-3 through 40 minutes of Game 7 at TD Gar­den some 12 months ago only to crash and burn in a 7-4 loss.

And while just two play­ers – Jake Gar­diner and the sus­pended Nazem Kadri – re­main from an even big­ger col­lapse in Bos­ton in 2013, many Toronto fans are still scarred from a melt­down that saw the Bru­ins be­come the first team in NHL his­tory to win a Game 7 af­ter trail­ing by three goals in the third pe­riod.

Up 3-2 in this year’s first-round se­ries, Toronto had a chance to finish Bos­ton off in Game 6 at home on Sun­day. The Leafs came out swing­ing, the Bru­ins re­sponded, and kept their op­po­nent at bay long enough to force an­other win­ner-take-all af­fair.

“We’re a very con­fi­dent group,” Brown said post-game in an empty Leafs locker room. “We were say­ing it all last year, but now we re­ally be­lieve it to our core. We feel as if we’re a group that can go deep.”

De­spite the most re­cent set­back, Toronto has rea­son to op­ti­mistic.

While last year’s se­ries was close in that it went the dis­tance, the teams are more evenly matched in 2019. Nei­ther side has man­aged to win con­sec­u­tive games – Toronto trailed 2-0 and 3-1 last spring – the Leafs have outscored the Bru­ins 13-11 at even strength, own a slight edge in puck pos­ses­sion at 5-on-5 and have out hit the Bru­ins 217-206.

Toronto has al­ready won twice at TD Gar­den, in­clud­ing a dis­ci­plined, pa­tient 2-1 vic­tory in Game 5 where the Leafs had to wait un­til mid­way through the third pe­riod to break a 0-0 tie.

“We know how they play, they know how we play,” Toronto de­fence­man Mor­gan Rielly said.

“It re­ally comes down to the com­mit­ment to do it right.”

One area where the Bru­ins have had a clear ad­van­tage is on the man ad­van­tage.

Third over­all in the NHL dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, Bos­ton is 7-for-16 on the power play in the se­ries com­pared to Toronto’s three goals on 14 chances.

That dis­par­ity was the dif­fer­ence in a Game 6 where the Leafs scored early only to watch as the Bru­ins struck twice up a man, al­though the first came off a scram­bled draw in the of­fen­sive zone.

Toronto found some an­swers in neu­tral­iz­ing Bos­ton on three op­por­tu­ni­ties in Game 5 and will need a sim­i­lar ef­fort in Game 7 as the fran­chise looks to ad­vance to the sec­ond round of the play­offs for the first time since 2004.

“We un­der­stand what they do,” Brown said. “It’s time for us to stop hav­ing the break­downs.”

The Leafs have a dif­fer­ent look this time around fol­low­ing the free-agent ac­qui­si­tion of cen­tre John Tavares, the trade for de­fence­man Jake Muzzin and the con­tin­ued growth of Aus­ton Matthews, who has five goals in his last four games, and Mitch Marner. Toronto goalie Fred­erik An­der­sen, mean­while, owns a .925 save percentage af­ter be­ing one of the weak links in the chain last year.

“It’s a new set of cir­cum­stances,” Tavares said. “It’s a lot of guys who haven’t been here, in­clud­ing my­self.”

“I’m not a big be­liever of liv­ing in the past,” Leafs head coach Mike Bab­cock added. “I don’t carry a lot of stuff around from the past at all.”

Bos­ton has also made changes, but a bat­tle-tested core re­mains the back­bone of their lineup. Pa­trice Berg­eron, Brad Marc­hand, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask have won the Stan­ley Cup and been to an­other.

With their team fac­ing elim­i­na­tion on Sun­day, Marc­hand scored twice and added an as­sist, Berg­eron and Chara were their usual solid selves, and Rask did enough to keep the Leafs at bay late.

The Bru­ins know the his­tory be­tween the teams, too, but like the Leafs don’t put much stock in the past.

“I don’t think any­body has a men­tal ad­van­tage,” Rask said. “Ev­ery sea­son is a new sea­son. If you end up play­ing the same team, so be it, but it’s a new se­ries, new game.

“We have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in the room, but we still have to play the game the right way.”

The Leafs’ for­mula on Tues­day won’t be much dif­fer­ent.

“We’re a group that wants to be on the ice in big mo­ments,” Brown said.

“We won’t be timid.”

CP PHOTO

Bos­ton Bru­ins left winger Jake DeBrusk and Toronto Maple Leafs de­fence­man Mor­gan Rielly ex­change words af­ter a hit dur­ing a game in Toronto on Sun­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.