No doubt about it, the Maple Leafs find themselves facing a daunting task to stay alive in their best of seven quarter-finals against the Boston Bruins after a crushing 4-3 overtime defeat in Game 4.
Things would look so much brighter going into Boston tonight for Game 5 with the series knotted up 2-2.
But the unfortunate reality, as well as history strongly favours the Bruins who are 15-2 when leading a series 3-1. Toronto’s futility mirrors those numbers winning only once in 14 playoff series where they were down 3-1 — and that was in 1942. So no recent successes in that department.
The one shaft of statistical light beaming through the gloom is that the Leafs are actually better on the road than home this year, going 13-8-3. Lest we forget, they also beat the Bruins last Saturday to tie the series 1-1 after that shellacking they took in the opening. They can beat the Bruins at home and the players now know it.
To be frank, despite the stirring crowds and support the Leafs got during the playoff homestand, they might be happy to leave town. The incessant fault-finding and nit-picking chatter follows this franchise around like stink on a hockey bag.
The moment by moment breakdown of the OT goal scored by David Krejci which now, through expert sportswriter analysis, has ballooned to not one error by Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, but FOUR. Four disastrous mistakes! On one single shift. At that level of incompetence, it’s a wonder the Leafs can find their way to the rink, let alone give the Bruins a run for their money.
It’s the first playoffs for Toronto in nearly a decade and things can get a little overheated. But does it really serve much purpose to micro-analyse plays to such a degree in attempting to point out it was all the fault of Leafs players and Boston was superior in every regard on a single shift?
Decisions, or more accurately instincts from players, happen in the blink of an eye. What is more remarkable is that for all those so-called “mistakes” to happen in that sequence shows Boston just plain got lucky things unfolded as they did and often do in hockey.
To also blame it on James Reimer who stopped 41 of 45 shots, is cheap. To suggest further that management should have picked up a fading Mikka Kirpusoff who had no interest in coming here, nevermind his 3.44 GAA and .882 save percentage that placed him 44th among 45 starters. James Reimer? He was tied for fifth. How in heaven’s name would that have been an upgrade?
There also continues to be calls for Reimer to “steal” a game. To have his Tim Thomas-Patrick Roy-Ken Dryden moment and keep the Leafs in this thing. Maybe he’s not a goalie capable of that kind of legendary performance but with a .912 save percentage in these playoffs, he’s been solid — just not quite as solid as the guy at other end which is no crime.
However, for the Leafs to continue, Reimer does have to be at his best. That, plus get more scoring from players who’s names aren’t Lupul or Kessel. Hello, Nazem Kadri. Hint to shooters: Keep it away from Tuukka Rask’s glove. He’s gobbling up everything.
One thing’s for sure: At least the negative natterings from the Phaneuf-haters and others great at cataloguing the team’s deficiencies, will fortunately fade to the background as they head into hostile territory which, all things considered, could be a welcome reprieve.