May 14, 2013 by bmcconnelluwo
Here we go again.
After winning their second elimination game in a row last night against the grizzled Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs have forced a final and decisive game seven tonight at TD Garden.
They said we were crazy, non-Leafs fans did.
But the buds have shown the league they are a much, much different team than they were during their nine-year playoff drought. They’re faster, more aggressive, and skilled, they can score and, above all, they have the confidence of a team who is hungry to keep on trucking in the playoffs.
It’s going to be one hell of a game seven.
Four things stood out to me in game six as reasons for the Leafs success this year. And these four things are going to be essential for the Leafs going into tonight’s game.
I’ve mentioned him in every blog post I’ve done here and with good reason—it’s almost impossible not to mention this man.
Once again Reimer stood tall in the face of a barrage of Boston shots in the dying minutes of game six. There have been picture perfect saves and saves that will define this series—his diving saves, his incredible lateral steals, his unwillingness to allow even the most intense of flurries to lead to a goal.
Reimer has proven himself above and beyond all expectations. He’s answered critics who claimed he wasn’t playoff ready and that the Leafs should have traded away part of their future for Luongo or Miller. He’s given the team hope and THAT is something that is going to be dangerous to the Bruins in tonight’s game.
Kessel is another man who’s answered the critics in a huge way this series. Can he play effectively against his former team? Will he score? Can he handle Chara and play his game?
The answer to all these questions has been a resounding YES.
Kessel was the best player on the ice—with the exception of Reimer—in game six. He scored, he hit and he even chopped the Chara tree down.
Kessel’s two-way game has improved remarkably over his previous -20 seasons. He is effectively using his speed to get back and bail out pinching defensive and, more than once, spoiled a Bruins odd-man rush.
Let’s see if he can keep this up in game seven.
What a roller coaster ride this series has been for big Phaneuf.
He’s gone from leader to having people call for the impeachment of his captaincy to being the game’s hero.
Phaneuf—in this Leafs fan’s opinion—has been an essential part of the Leafs all series.
In order for the Leafs to win tonight’s game, Phaneuf is going to have to be big. He’s going to have to play the gritty, physical minutes, he’s going to have to lead by example and he’s going to have to be the consistent rock instead of the risk-taker.
Let’s see which Phaneuf we’ll be seeing tonight.
The young guns are coming up big.
The youth in the Leafs dressing room has been a major question mark for the team this playoff series. Are they too young? Too inexperienced? Will the Bruins and their experienced team be too much for the young group to handle?
So far the answer has been no.
The young players on the Leafs—Jake Gardiner, Joe Colborne, Matt Frattin—have been some of the best players on the ice.
Colborne, who didn’t even know if he was playing last game until minutes before puck drop due to a last-minute Bozak scratch, showed poise and skill throughout the game. He can move the puck, he can make responsible plays and he can create odd-man rushes.
If Bozak is out again tonight, Colborne seems like a pretty decent replacement for him. We just need another centre to step up and win the draws that Bozak is reliable for.
Gardiner’s puck movement has been quite the sight to see all series. The Hockey Night in Canada team has noticed it, the fans have noticed it and I’m sure Randy Carlyle has noticed it.
Despite his youth—just 22 years old—Gardiner’s speed, puck movement and hockey IQ have proven to be incredibly valuable assets for the Leafs.
The youth, freshness and—let’s face it—naivety of the young Leafs team could, after all, prove to be their most lethal weapon against the older, worn down Boston Bruins.
The Bruins looked tired in game six—the Leafs didn’t.
Let’s hope the Leafs can use their speed, energy and explosive scoring ability to their advantage tonight and wear down the black and yellow with their fast-tempo play.
The Bruins are going to come out flying, the crowd is going to be ecstatic—it’s time to see what the Leafs are really made of under playoff pressure.