Maple Leafs Should Hold Their Heads Up High
The Toronto Maple Leafs are fresh off one of the most epic single period collapse in playoff history. With less than 11 minutes left and Toronto holding a 4-1 lead it all unravelled thanks mostly to Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron, with 2 goals in the final two minutes the Bruins tied the game and eventually won it in overtime. Despite the heartbreaking loss the Toronto Maple Leafs and the city of Toronto should hold their heads up high.
After an off season of speculation to whether the Leafs would land disgruntled Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo and not doing so, many analysts picked Toronto to finish between 12-15th in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs defied expectations and in a city where every sports franchise constantly preaching things will be different “next season”, The Maple Leafs gave the city something to cheer about and had the entire city diagnosed with a severe case of playoff fever.
Even when the playoffs were a reality and the Bruins were the known opponent, no one gave Toronto the benefit of the doubt many picking them to be out in 4 or 5 games.
The Maple Leafs were down 3-1 in the series and that’s when James Reimer took over. Facing elimination in his first playoff experience James Reimer turned aside 72 of 74 shots in Game 5 and 6 almost singlehandedly carrying the Leafs to the seventh and final game.
The team-wide breakdown in Game 7 demonstrated the Leafs inexperience in the post season when compared to the Bruins. The Bruins were down to just 5 defenceman right off the bat, and in the third when Chara was already over the 30 minute mark, the Bruins forwards took over the final ten minutes relieving the pressure from the exhausted Boston defence core.
Jake Gardiner showcased his talents in the second half of this series averaging over 23 minutes a night and giving the Leafs some much needed puck moving skills from the blueline. Despite his mental lapse in Game 4, Captain Dion Phaneuf had a great bounce back in Game 5 and 6 before finally being overworked and worn down in Game 7. Phaneuf was clearly injured by the second period of Game 7 but he kept at it giving a valiant effort and played a team high 28:17
The need for another defenceman that Carlyle trusts with playing a regular shift in the post season was apparent in Game 7 with John-Micheal Liles and Ryan O’Byrne both playing less than 14 minutes putting too much of the burden on the Phaneuf-Gunnarsson and Franson-Gardiner pairings. Losing Fraser, who averaged 20+ minutes near the end of the season really hurt Toronto in the final few games.
The Leafs answered a lot of question marks this post season as Jake Gardiner, James Reimer and Phil Kessel all had surprisingly strong series. Reimer has proven himself as a capable starting goalie and has earned the starting job in the Toronto crease.
With Tyler Bozak headed to free agency it remains to be seen if Toronto re-signs him or looks for the big centre they have coveted ever since Sundin’s departure. This season’s free agent class is looking to be a weak one so it may be in Toronto’s best interest to resign their #1 centre and best faceoff man. Toronto sorely missed Bozak in the dot for Game 7 winning just 18 faceoffs compared to the Bruins 43.
Though they lost in a heartbreaking fashion this group should be better off for the experience no matter how bitter the taste it left in their mouths. Unlike past seasons the Maple Leafs have a lot of positives to build upon for next season, and that’s something to be proud of.