Going into game one of the Stanley cup playoffs, a lot of the original support and favour given to Toronto after the John Tavares signing had shifted towards doubt and ridicule after the leafs played sub-par hockey for the last quarter of the season. On top of that, Boston won the season series this year and literally man-handled the leafs in each and every game up to now.
Well it looks like Toronto has been practicing and maybe even downplaying their full abilities. Its almost hard to believe they are the same team as the leafs of last week. The way they finished all their checks and had all eighteen players involved was highly satisfying. By no means were they bone crushing hits or a physically intimidating presence but they were consistent and played the complete opposite of eveything we’ve witnessed in Toronto this season.
In full likeness to the classic david and goliath, the leafs were triumphant by playing smart, using their speed and utilizing every tool they had within their four offensive lines. Toronto had 33 hits last night, almost double their average of 17.3 per game during the regular season.
A rare treat, fans had the opportunity to witness so much more out of the team then they are accustom to. Nylander was throwing the body and playing like a seven-mil player should, complete with a 200ft game and A+ zone entries. Johnsson was a sparkplug, throwing his body around, digging at the puck and in the corners and showing fans flashes of his strong supporting play from last years series and the Marlies calder run. Except this time he was better, more acute and properly honed. Andersen was…well Andersen was Andersen which historically isnt always the same guy you get in the playoffs. Its a good thing he showed up though because despite Torontos success, Boston still managed to fire off an impressive 38 shots.
And Mitch Marner, the hometowm boy, the MLDN fan choice for leafs MVP this season, was the belle of the ball, while scoring two goals, getting five shots and pulling off an impressive, game leading four takeaways. The best though was his highlight reel goal and possibly the play of the game which happened to be a nail biting penalty shot that seemed to shift the momentum of the game in the favour of the leafs.
The buds had more takeaways than giveaways and had plenty more takeaways than Boston, 15 more to be exact. They shut them down, showed that they could play a physical brand of playoff hockey and at the very least, whether they win the series or not, showed the critics and doubters that they could dance with the bruins in their house, playing Mike Babcocks system, 5vs5 or shorthanded and on their own terms.
Its just one win and Boston will definitely come back stronger next game but the leafs showed another gear tonight and combined their usual skill with a seemingly new level of tenacity, something fans hadnt seen much of in the regular season, at all. It wasnt their best game, they didnt look perfect but it was good hockey and they looked more like the team they were projected to be, than the team they’ve been.
Dont write Boston off yet, they won’t go down without a fight but their lack of ability to skate last night and keep up with the high flying leafs, was of grave detriment to their game. Chances are, the leafs caught them off guard but theres also the possibility that the big bad Bruins are just plain out of breath.
Its something Boston will have to address for game two; they cant get faster or younger over night, but they can most certainly play smarter and work harder. They will need to find an answer for Torontos speed, have better success with matchups or different ones altogether and most importantly, they will need to shut down the leafs extremely talented offense who has proven in the past, that when they are firing on all cylinders, they can be one of the toughest weapons to shut down in the entire league.
Toronto will need to play the same way in game two, if they want to win. But even harder if possible. They showed another gear last night, which was fantastic for the fans of the city but they caught the bruins sleeping and wont be so fortunate next time. If they want a chance to drink from lord Stanleys chalice and dine in the hall of destiny, they will need to dig deep down and turn that next gear into overdrive.
One thing is certain, after two years of playoff experience and a few roster additions, the boys are looking more like men who are organized, dialed in and better prepared to play playoff hockey.
By Paul Kornatz
(Mitch Marner Post Game Interview)