Now Comes The Hard Part

TORONTO (Apr. 23) — It isn’t often, if ever, that a team will pursue a split of consecutive playoff games on home ice. That objective is normally reserved for a road team, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs in their opening–round series with the Boston Bruins. Therefore, it was “mission accomplished” for the visitors on Monday night at TD Garden; Auston Matthews scoring on a third–period breakaway to power the Leafs over the Bruins, 3–2. Toronto always stands a chance when Matthews imposes himself on a game. Which doesn’t happen often enough in the Stanley Cup tournament. And, now, the Leafs must wade into the abyss — also known as Scotiabank Arena — for Games 3 and 4. It is currently a best–of–five clash with the Maple Leafs possessing home ice disadvantage. How else can we position the series after the Leafs finished the schedule with a pedestrian 22–15–4 home record?

Only Vegas, with 16 losses, coughed up more regulation points in their own barn among the 16 playoff teams.

Boston, meanwhile, recorded a league–low nine regulation losses on the road in the 82–game season. In the past two regular seasons, for what it’s worth, the Bruins are a ridiculous 54–17–13 on foreign ice. Just as ominous for the Maple Leafs is that franchise–killer Brad Marchand has yet to become a factor in the series. Few visiting players make themselves more at home here in the Big Smoke than bad Brad of the Bruins. So, the Leafs still have lots of work ahead if they’re going to eliminate the Beantowners. Kudos, however, to Sheldon Keefe and the players for accomplishing what they absolutely needed: a rebound victory at TD Garden. Coming home down two–cob to the black–and–gold marauders would not have sat well with fans or media. Now, everyone can breathe easily until the puck is dropped tomorrow night in Game 3. Yes, the Leafs, theoretically, do have home–ice advantage with three of the remaining five potential clashes on Bay Street. Including Game 6, which becomes necessary if the Leafs split their upcoming two home encounters. So, Toronto hockey fans are smiling today… and deservedly so after being tortured throughout the lopsided opener on Saturday. The Leafs are even in the series. For now.

And, yes, Matthews scored the caliber of goal that only a select few in the National Hockey League actually can. Full–speed corralling of the puck with his glove after a high pass from Max Domi was impressive enough; Auston’s forehand deke of Linus Ullmark left most observers wondering, again, why he cannot be more prominent during a best–of–seven playoff round. If he has even the slightest desire to dominate, once more, it will flourish in the next two matches on Bay St. Should, however, his career playoff pattern continue, we won’t hear much from No. 34 at Scotiabank Arena. Really, it’s his choice… as it has been, all along. Perhaps less–so for Mitch Marner, who appears incapable of competing once the hostility of the Stanley Cup pursuit begins. As during most of his nine–year NHL career, Marner was difficult to locate in the first two games. Imagine how the opportunity for an upset in this series would increase were Mitch a factor. Can he perform at a higher level at home? As always, time will tell.

And, it brings me back to my initial point — the interminable, age–old issue of the Leafs failing to capitalize on home ice. This dilemma pre–dates the birth of any current Leaf; the construction of the Air Canada Centre and was common in so many of the post–1967 seasons at Maple Leaf Gardens. Used to be that visiting players from Ontario would get jacked up to play the Leafs on Hockey Night In Canada each Saturday and Wednesday. In an era when games were shown across Canada only on those two nights. But, today? With NHL’ers hailing from all corners of the planet and every game available on live television? Why should the Leafs still underperform in front of home audiences? I can recall three occasions in which Toronto won the first two games of a best–of–seven on the road… and still lost the series: 1977 against Philadelphia (Flyers in 6); 1987 against Detroit (Red Wings in 7) and 1995 against Chicago (Blackhawks in 7). But, these were during the old “Ontario kids get jacked up” era.

There was no reason for the Leafs, this year, to have a better road record (24–11–6) than at home (22–15–4).

Nor does it bode particularly well for Games 3 and 4 against the NHL’s best road team in 2023–24.

As for Marchand, the Leafs have somehow prevented him from becoming a story in the first two playoff matches — which is two games longer than normally required. There’s been no face licking, face washing or slew–footing by the NHL’s premier pest. And, more significantly, no real impact yet on scoring in the series. If both trends continue, the Leafs have an excellent chance of staying with the Bruins… and, perhaps, defeating them. But, bad Brad isn’t one to remain quiet for long. Especially against the divisional foe he most enjoys tormenting. So, we can all–but expect Marchand to be at least part of the discussion while the series moves north for the next four nights.

Local media coverage of the Leafs triumph in Game 2 wasn’t nearly as over the top as I anticipated. All elements were in place for the usual post–victory fellating, including a winning goal scored by the Omnipotent One. But, most accounts were appropriately measured, given the bushwhacking of Game 1 and that Game 2 was in doubt until the last second, with the puck bouncing crazily about the Leafs net. Matthews scoring the decisive goal did overshadow the reason the visitors were in position to win the match: a spectacular performance by Ilya Samsovov; the sort of which he is entirely capable, even if wildly unpredictable. As my ol’ Leafs traveling partner Rosie DiManno frequently ponders in the Toronto Star: “Who will we see tonight? Good Sammy or Bad Sammy?”

Rosie’s guess for Game 3 — and yours — is as good as mine.


In my collection, Boston Bruins media guides from 1963–64 to 1968–69.

Just prior to Bobby Orr’s arrival and at the start of his unparalleled career with the Bruins:


2 comments on “Now Comes The Hard Part

  1. Augghhhhhhh

    Brad Marchand’s salary is $5,000,000 and his cap hit is $6,125,000. His game winner was the best goal that I’ve seen in a long time. The last time I saw a goal that pretty was 2004 when Jeremy Roenick scored an OT goal to send Toronto packing – It was also the same corner.

    The worst part of the game was … despite Marner giving away the puck with his no-look passes … Toronto should have won this game. They led twice and just had to shut the door. No way Keefe survives another year.

  2. Game 3. Leafs 0-5 on the pp and Bruins 2-3. B’s win 4-2 on an empty netter. Nuff said. Better for the Leafs to lose the next two games and the series. This team is too far from even being a cup contender let alone winning it. Don’t bring back Domi and Bertuzzi. Bring in some talent.

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