The Toronto Maple Leafs will go into the lion’s den known as TD Garden for Game 5 of their best-of-seven series against the Boston Bruins on Friday, coming off a missed opportunity on home ice in Game 4. After putting for a superb effort to take a 2-1 lead on Monday, the Leafs fell into the all-too-familiar pattern of starting the game slow and turning over the puck which allowed the Bruins to take control early and had Toronto playing catch up for the rest of the night.
As the two clubs enter the game that will have one of them facing elimination on Sunday, each will have items on their checklist that will be imperative to be victorious in Game 5. Here are five things the Leafs have to do to take the lead in the series:
1. Weather the Bruins early surge - Boston will likely try to emulate their game plan from Game 2 last Saturday, starting the game hitting everything that moves and force the Leafs defense into making quick decisions that usually result in turnovers.
The Bruins scored less than five minutes into the first and had Toronto on their heels for most of Game 2. If they can survive the first ten minutes unscathed, then the game should settle into a style more conducive to success for the Leafs.
2. Penalty kill - Toronto’s penalty killing has been abysmal in the first four games, allowing five Bruins power play goals in 11 opportunities (54.5%), which is 15th in the league. Mike Babcock continues to use primarily Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev as his top PK pairing, and after using Mitch Marner in the rotation of forwards in Boston, barely used him at home and gave up three goals with the man advantage in Games 3 and 4.
3. Make the Bergeron line play two-way - The dramatic difference in the series is when Toronto is able to keep Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in check they win, and when they cannot they lose. The key to that in their matchup with the Zach Hyman, John Tavares, Marner line is that they force the Bruins top line to expend a lot of their energy in the defensive zone.
Boston won the head-to-head matchup in Game 4, with Pastrnak and Marchand scoring three of their six goals.
4. Speed kills - Babcock has been hesitant to mess with his line combos unless forced to by circumstance (like Nazem Kadri’s suspension), but some line juggling may be necessary if the third line of Patrick Marleau, William Nylander and Connor Brown struggles as it did in Game 4.
The Leafs fourth line has been more effective after the insertion of Tyler Ennis in Game 3 and if Marleau lags behind the play as he appeared to be on Wednesday, promoting Ennis or Trevor Moore may be necessary.
5. Ready Freddy? - After being the better of the two goalies in the first three games, Frederik Andersen was not his usual stellar self in Game 4, allowing five goals on 31 shots. The Leafs are unlikely to win Game 5 unless he is one of the three stars.
In Game 5 of last year’s first-round series, Andersen came up big with a 42-save performance in a 4-3 win at TD Garden and kept the Leafs alive. He will need to be the difference for Toronto to win and have a chance to eliminate Boston on Easter Sunday.
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