TORONTO (Apr. 23) — It may be a somewhat harsh assessment, but the better goalie prevailed in Game 7 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. Again.
Though he didn’t come apart like last year, Frederik Andersen was unable to follow his spectacular performance on Sunday. Not when it mattered most. Two of the three goals that beat him in the decisive match had to be stopped — the dreadful bad–angle shot by Joakim Nordstrom at 14:29 of the first period that opened the scoring and the un–screened 30–footer by Sean Kuraly at 2:40 of the third that took the remaining starch out of the visitors. Freddy wasn’t the only reason the Leafs lost Game 7. Just the biggest. Out–performed by Tuukka Rask with the result still in question. And consider the irony of the man (John Ferguson Jr.) that traded Rask to Boston in 2006 for Andrew Raycroft exulting in the Bruins’ executive box at TD Garden as his former team extended the longest current Stanley Cup drought to at least 53 years.
FREDERIK ANDERSEN AND TUUKKA RASK EMBRACE AFTER THE BRUINS 5–1 VICTORY IN GAME 7 AT TD GARDEN. JOAKIM NORSTROM’S SHOT FROM BESIDE THE NET LATE IN THE FIRST PERIOD HAD TO BE STOPPED, BUT IT SOMEHOW SNEAKED PAST THE TORONTO GOALIE. CBC/ROGERS IMAGES
So, yes, in the end — and despite my series–long contention that it was the Leafs’ turn to finally prevail against Boston — the more–polished and prepared team came out on top. Full credit to the Bruins, who had to win the final two matches of the Conference quarterfinal… and three of the last four, after Toronto had crafted a 2–1 series lead. The good clubs are able to overcome such deficits at this time of year; the not–so good tend to wither. The Leafs, despite their obvious talent up front (and on defense with Morgan Rielly), aren’t yet constructed to sustain momentum in the playoffs. Whether it’s a coaching issue; a problem with personnel — or both — Kyle Dubas has some spadework ahead of him. Three consecutive eliminations in the opening round of Stanley Cup play is more–than enough evidence that schematic change must be made. Nothing wholesale; the Leafs’ Cup window didn’t slam shut for good. But, clearly a move away from what Dubas felt would allow his team to contend: the over–accumulation of talented, quick forwards with soft hands and passive comportment. It hasn’t worked. And it won’t work when the playoff tempo and stakes incrementally rise. The Leafs must become more arduous to encounter between April and June.
JOHN TAVARES WAS MARVELOUS FOR THE LEAFS DURING THE REGULAR SEASON. BUT, TO AUGMENT HIS PRESENCE AT PLAYOFF TIME, THE CLUB NEEDS TO FIND A PLAYER SUCH AS BRAD MARCHAND OF BOSTON — SHAKING HANDS HERE WITH JOHNNY T. AFTER GAME 7. CBC/ROGERS IMAGE
There will surely be calls For Mike Babcock to be replaced — and perhaps this playoff defeat allows Dubas to hire his own coach. But, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that no person standing behind the bench will overcome the imbalance of skill and tenacity on the current Leafs roster. And, again, until Frederik Andersen steps up in a truly clutch environment, neither will the Leafs possess a legitimate playoff stopper.
We’ll delve into this more in the coming days.