Source: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins had another nail-biting seven-game series that ultimately ended in the same fashion it did in their two previous playoff meetings. The Leafs falling prey to their seven-game demons. Unlike last season and the 2013 playoffs against Boston, the Leafs weren't down 3-1 in the series. Instead, Toronto was leading the series on three separate occasions but couldn't put a stranglehold on the Bruins. Every time Toronto would win and lead the series, Boston would answer back in with good performances and tie it up. The Bruins didn't let the Leafs go too far and we're right behind them for most of the series.
Toronto’s inability to finish Boston in game 6 and knowing that another game 7 was on the horizon, the Leafs were basically up to their old antics again.
Frederik Andersen was mostly strong in this series. The Danish netminder had a great save percentage at .922 and a goal against of 2.76. Yet he allowed some questionable goals in both game 6 and 7 that put the Leafs in a hole early. There's no way Joakim Nordstrom bad Angle goal should have slipped in between Andersen's glove and left pad. The puck had no daylight but Andersen didn't hug the left post and the puck miraculously went by him. Brad Marchand's and Torey Krug's game 6 goals should have been saved as well. Those are the type of goals that can deflate a team and momentum. Andersen played well and shouldn't get the insane amount of blame, but he also wasn't able to steal that series.
Toronto’s downfall was its defence. Jake Gardiner continues to crumble when it matters most. The second Bruins goal was thanks to a costly turnover by Gardiner in their own end. He had a chance to redeem himself from last year's game 7 debacle but the soon to be free agent had a minus 3 in game 7, and is a minus 10 overall in three game sevens. Gardiner though wasn't the only defenceman that had trouble in the series, Jake Muzzin was on and off against Boston and was beaten at times against the speedy wingers of the Bruins. Also, Muzzin was careless with the puck in some instances in the series giving the Bruins opportunities at the other end. At times Muzzin was sitting back in his own zone letting the Bruins get the puck and attack. He did show some grit but he wasn't the defenceman a lot of fans thought he'd be against the Bruins. Though Muzzin did get better throughout the series.
John Tavares was mostly silent in this series and didn't bring that offensive explosion he's capable of. Tavares had a fantastic season, leading the Leafs in goals and had one of his best seasons to date. Yet the Bergeron line outplayed Tavares line. Tavares’ faceoff percentage was under 50 and was down compared to the regular season. He only had 5 points in the series and was mostly kept in check thanks to the Bruins defense. Tavares got paid big for a player that hasn't seen much playoff action in his career. In 2016, Tavares helped the Islanders get passed the first round against the Florida Panthers but we didn't see that Tavares in this series. Tavares should have been the x-factor he's supposed to be going into the playoffs. He didn't look like the 12 million dollar player the Leafs hoped for.
Mike Babcock's coaching made for some questionable decisions in the playoffs. The dump and chase tactics did the Leafs more wrong than good. He depended too much on dumping the puck in the Bruins zone instead of carrying the puck. Toronto has great skaters and with the speed they have, the Leafs needed to be aggressive going into Boston's zone. The Leafs played an old man style game that doesn't fit this young Leafs team. Most of the time Boston would grab the puck and flip the puck back out or would carry the puck to the Leafs end and create scoring chances.
Ice time was another area of concern under Babock. Matthews was one of the best players in the series for the Leafs, it's a shame he played under 20 minutes in a game where he should be playing much more. Babcock should be rewarding his players with more ice time if deserved. Matthews deserved to be in the game more and played strong at both ends of the ice. Babcock playing an unhealthy Jake Gardiner, wasn't a good decision either and a costly mistake for the Leafs in the series. Babcock didn't bother of switching up lines or even considering to put Tavares and Matthews on the same line when the Leafs were down in game 7. Babcock’s coaching style looks like the past NHL and not the style of what the NHL is now.
Nazem Kadri’s suspension was just another straw on the camels back and is likely the reason why he’s done in Toronto. His immaturity continues to hurt him and his team. We’ve seen Kadri make dirty hits before and miss games because of it. I get it, hockey pulls so many emotions out of you but what he did to Debrusk was a selfish act to get back at him for kneeing him earlier in the game. Kadri can win faceoffs and is a good option on the second power play, plus the added depth on the third line is a game changer. Needless to say, the Leafs needed him in this series. But his stupidity got the best of him where the third line was more of a miss than a hit. Boston's bottom 6 players were contributing more later in the series. Something that would have been in Toronto's favour if Kadri didn't miss games.
Special teams. Special teams is what swung this series in Boston’s favour. The Leafs penalty kill was a soft as a marshmallow, always on the back foot every time they were short-handed. Every time Boston was on the powerplay you couldn't but help think the Bruins were going to score. The Leafs weren't shorthanded once in game 7 but their poor penalty kill costed them against the Bruins overall. The Leafs penalty kill was a 56 percent and last year their penalty kill against the Bruins struggled as well. Toronto twice gave up multiple power-play goals against Boston, and gave up a powerplay goal in 5 of the 7 games in this series.
Overall, Toronto got outcoached and outplayed when the game was on the line. The Bruins showed they could beat Toronto with their secondary players. The Bruins got the best of Frederik Andersen and the Leafs as a whole. The growing pains continue to grow for the Leafs and it's painful to watch for fans. It will be another long summer and they have a lot of work to do to make them a Stanley Cup contender, and not just a first round team.