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Maple Leafs can change narrative with win in Game 7 against Bruins

Maple Leafs can change narrative with win in Game 7 against Bruins

Boston has defeated Toronto in 3 straight win-or-go-home scenarios

©
Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

By
Mike Zeisberger

@Zeisberger
NHL.com Staff Writer

May 03, 2024

TORONTO — There will be no shortage of ghosts looming over the two teams at the raucous TD Garden when the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins face off in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference First Round series Saturday.

In the end, whichever team can best exorcise those lingering demons of postseasons past will be the one advancing to face the Florida Panthers in the second round.

Will it be the Maple Leafs, who for the fourth time in 11 years will play a Game 7 in Boston, all the while haunted by the knowledge that they’ve lost the previous three?

Or will it be the Bruins, who must erase the nightmare of a year ago when they blew a 3-1 series lead against the Panthers, who won three straight, including Game 7 in Boston, to eliminate the hosts?

One team will buck history, the other will be history.

Again.

Either way, the stage is set for a dramatic win-or-go home showdown thanks to Toronto’s nail-biting 2-1 victory in Game 6 of the best-of-7 series at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.

Much like the Panthers 12 months ago, Toronto was down 3-1 to Boston in this series only to win the past two games. Now comes the real litmus test: finishing the deal.

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Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe wouldn’t predict if that will happen, but he does feel his team will play with desperation. After all, it has had plenty of practice doing exactly that.

“In my mind, we just played two Game 7s,” Keefe said, referring to Toronto’s do-or-die victories in Games 5 and 6.

Of note: They won those games without center Auston Matthews and his 69 regular-season goals in the lineup. And, if his undisclosed ailment continues to linger, they might have to do it again.

Matthews lasted about four minutes in Toronto’s morning skate prior to Game 5 on Tuesday before leaving the ice and deciding he was a no-go. He skated on his own on the Maple Leafs’ practice pad at their facility Wednesday and was out working at Scotiabank Arena Thursday monring but did not play. 

Cue William Nylander.

If the Maple Leafs are to have success, especially if Matthews can’t go again, they need their top players to step up.

Like captain John Tavares did in Game 5, when his hard cut to the Bruins net resulted in a Matthew Knies overtime goal in Toronto’s 2-1 win.

And like Nylander did in Game 6.

The speedy wing, who missed the first three games of the series with an undisclosed ailment, scored both Toronto goals and was dynamic throughout, shedding the rust that seemed to be lingering in the previous two outings.

Though Nylander had not scored since March 26, he has a penchant of coming through in big moments during the postseason, having now accrued seven goals in elimination games in his career.

“It was nice to get on the board scoring two goals for sure,” Nylander said. “But I think the team effort, the way we battled and competed for the entire 60 minutes, well, that was incredible for us as well.”

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For the Maple Leafs to change the narrative in a Game 7 at TD Garden, which has been the franchise’s personal House of Horrors in those particular scenarios, they’ll have to do the same.

Keep in mind that Toronto has lost the previous three do-or-die games to the Bruins, those coming in 2013, 2018 and 2019, by a cumulative score of 17-9.

And in order for the Maple Leafs to come out on the positive side of the handshake line for a change, there are several keys that make up the blueprint for success.

They’ll need to dictate the momentum of the game from the opening puck drop with good starts like they have in the past two, when they’ve outshot the Bruins in the first period by a combined 23-3.

They’ll need to somehow fix a sputtering power play that is 1-for-20 in the series. Compare that to that of the Edmonton Oilers, whose power play went 9-for-20 in their five-game elimination of the Los Angeles Kings.

And, perhaps most importantly, they’ll need to get more outstanding goaltending from Joseph Woll, who has limited the Bruins to just a goal in each of the past two games.

The 25-year-old seems eager to welcome his chance to shine on the big stage, especially since it will be in Boston. It’s a place he’s familiar with, having played for Boston College from 2016-19. As such, he covets the rowdy crowds, the passion, the energy that fills TD Garden, so much so that he called his 27-save performance in Game 5 there “the time of my life.”

“I’m very excited,” he said after the win Thursday, referring to Game 7. “It’s a great building to play in.”

Especially if he helps the Maple Leafs snap their Game 7 jinx there.

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