The Bruins are Toast

TORONTO (May 3) — After Games 5 and 6 of this playoff round between Toronto and Boston, we can genuinely tell you the Bruins no longer deserve to win. It doesn’t mean they won’t, as the law of averages has shifted to the Beantowners, who are way overdue to prevail in a clinching game on home ice. As were the Maple Leafs to win any playoff match prior to Game 6. But, the Bruins are in deep doo–doo. They came out uncharacteristically fat and full of themselves for the fifth game, sensing all they needed was to show up, in person, against the Auston Matthews–less Maple Leafs, particularly after the northerners were hissed out of their own barn in Game 4.

Wrong approach.

Then, in Game 6 on Thursday — and for the first time in my life — the Bruins looked scared. That’s right. Dating to the glory years of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito in the early–70’s, I’ve never witnessed a Boston hockey team play frightened. Not back then; not with Rick Middleton, Terry O’Reilly and Brad Park in the 80’s and certainly not in the Brad Marchand–David Pastrnak–Charlie McAvoy era, which began when Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired after last season. Though I didn’t believe it prior to Game 6, I’m now convinced the Bruins have shot their bolt. They had the Leafs flat on the canvas after Game 4 and allowed them to rise. Big mistake. For the first time in ages, the Maple Leafs then looked like a competent and confident playoff team on home ice. They go into Boston for yet another decisive match (the fourth Game 7 between the teams since 2013) in a far different posture than in 2018 and 2019, when Frederik Andersen fell apart at TD Garden. At least, it appears that way. Joseph Woll, unheralded and No. 2 to Ilya Samsonov last week, has again usurped the No. 1 role between the pipes. And, has looked marvelous in the past two games. Few are anticipating another climactic encounter at the Garden replete with soft, untimely goals — a post–season staple of the Andersen era. In fact, this series has evolved into a goaltending battle between Woll and Jeremy Swayman; do not anticipate a high–scoring game on Saturday.

Mere days since the jobs of Brendan Shanahan and Sheldon Keefe were on the line, the Leafs go back to Beantown on the cusp of an exhilarating playoff triumph. Which was thoroughly unexpected after Game 4. The shining moment for the president and coach will arrive sometime after 10 p.m. tomorrow when the Leafs claw fully back from a 3–1 series deficit for the first time in 82 years (and just the second in franchise history). They will defeat the Bruins in a playoff series for the first time since I was three months old (in April 1959). Post–season failure against Boston occurred in 1969, 1972, 1974, 2013, 2018 and 2019. That streak will end tomorrow in Game 7.

In the immortal words of Leafs legend Dave (Tiger) Williams, the Bruins are “done like dinner.”

Nor is it a matter of what Boston has failed to accomplish the past two games. The Leafs were full value for each triumph; we’d have to return to the Pat Burns–Doug Gilmour playoff era, three decades ago, to recall as magnificent a first period (even though scoreless) as that in Game 6, when Toronto outshot the Bruins, 14–1. Naturally, there is nothing “normal” about the Leafs, who had to lose the National Hockey League’s top goal–scorer before they could look reasonable against Boston. Contending teams march through the Stanley Cup tournament on the backs of their best players. No better example being the aforementioned Gilmour and his Conn Smythe–caliber display in 1993. During the initial round, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were superb for Edmonton in a five–game ouster of Los Angeles. Cale Makar led the way for Colorado in a surprisingly easy conquest of Winnipeg. Same with Mika Zibanejad and Vince Trocheck of the New York Rangers in their dismantling of Washington.

Only the Leafs could perform better with Noah Gregor in the line–up than with Matthews.

It is, however, quite shocking that the Bruins are one loss removed from repeating their implosion in last year’s opening round. You would think a poised, playoff–hardened group like Boston would learn from such a demoralizing adventure. Instead, the Bruins have fallen even faster against the Maple Leafs. From the absurdity of Game 4, when the denizens of Scotiabank Arena booed their heroes off the ice, to arguably the best opening period of any Toronto playoff match in the new millennium. All in the span of five nights. Which, sans No. 34, is difficult to figure.

It doesn’t seem, at the moment, that Matthews is the Leafs’ most–valuable player. Astonishingly, the club has won 41 games through the years in the absence of its prolific goal–getter. Including, the past two against Boston.

All the Leafs need, now, is for Morgan Rielly to join Matthews on the sideline for tomorrow’s decisive match. It will lead to a demolition of the Bruins. Why the kooky Leafs play their best without their best is an abiding mystery and paradoxical to any Stanley Cup challenge. Yet, Toronto is on the verge of finally shaking the Boston playoff anvil. Unless Pastrnak, McAvoy, Charlie Coyle and, especially, Brad Marchand return to their usual posture against the Maple Leafs, they will spit up another “can’t lose” playoff round. Which nobody saw coming last weekend.

Fans of other NHL teams are blithely suggesting the Leafs could soil the linen on Saturday… as they did at TD Garden in the deciding matches of 2018 and 2019. And, most lamentably, in the third period of the infamous 2013 series, when the visitors had a flight booked to New York for Round 2, but regurgitated a 4–1 lead and lost in overtime. But, there is nothing we’ve witnessed from either club the past two games that would indicate such a collapse. Instead, the Leafs appear to be gaining unprecedented swagger and confidence against an opponent they could barely stand up to, let alone defeat, during the regular schedule.

Given the playoff history of the Shanahan–era Leafs, neither can we rule out a poorly timed flop. Yet, it doesn’t seem nearly as inevitable as in prior Stanley Cup skirmishes against the Bruins. Certainly not given the manner in which Woll is performing. He offers no resemblance, at the moment, to Soft Goal Freddie. I therefore anticipate, on Saturday night, the most–invigorating Leafs playoff appropriation since the magical spring of ’93. Don’t you?


4 comments on “The Bruins are Toast

  1. Howard, I’m shocked! Just when you think they’re gonna get it done, they’ll leave you at the side of the road in a heap of s**t once again. Surprised you’re buying the 2 games in 9 years and suddenly they’re a juggernaut ready to slay the dragon. Curtains on Saturday. Book it.

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