This is exactly what Boston Bruins supporters were hoping to avoid, but it’s happening anyway. The Bruins have given the Toronto Maple Leafs life, and now we’re just one Toronto victory away from a Game 7 at TD Garden.
And while a Game 7 would be a tremendous joy to watch (or a tremendous heart attack, one or the other), the Bruins definitely would like to avoid that situation. They can still do that; they just have to come out in Toronto tonight and play a solid Game 6.
Given how this Bruins team has performed throughout the season, as well as in this series, I expect them to do just that. They played well enough to win Game 5, but it just wasn’t meant to be their night, as they lost 4-3 after almost coming back from a three-goal deficit to tie the game. They attacked the net with aggression, heavily outshooting the Leafs 45-21. They just weren’t getting the bounces they needed. The puck was seemingly drawn magnetically to the goalposts; I lost count of how many times I heard it clang off the metal.
Additionally, Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen had their number on Saturday night. He was completely zoned in, stopping 42 shots. It didn’t help that Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, who had been having a sensational series in the net to that point, was caught in the middle of an off night. The effort by the Bruins was there, but the luck just didn’t fall their way.
In Game 6, they need to come out just as aggressively and hope that Rask regains his footing. If they can do that, they can put the Leafs to bed for good, and start planning a trip to Tampa Bay for the second round.
First and Foremost – Rask Gets His Rhythm Back
This is plain and simple. If Tuukka Rask had even been somewhat on his game on Saturday, this series would be over already. The three Boston goals would have been enough to seal the game, as Toronto wouldn’t have scored more than one or two goals against a zoned in Rask.
If anybody on the Bruins roster is in need of a strong bounce-back performance, it’s their former Vezina-winning netminder. Facing elimination in Game 5, the Maple Leafs came out with an urgency that they had been lacking all series, and I think it caught Rask a little off guard. That was why Toronto quickly raced out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to goals by Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson.
Many observers, including myself, expected Rask to settle down in the second period, but unfortunately, the damage had already been done to him for that night. He was already off his game, and the Leafs struck for two more goals in the second period. After allowing the puck into the net four times, Rask was removed from the game and replaced by Anton Khudobin.
Now, even the greatest goalies have an off game once in a while. But getting chased from the game in the second period of a playoff game, when the Bruins had a chance to wrap up the series against the Maples Leafs, couldn’t have been good for Rask’s confidence.
This will be the biggest factor in Game 6. Rask has to shake off any lingering feelings from Saturday and remember that he is still one of the best goalies in the NHL. If his game is back on, the Bruins will end the series at the Air Canada Centre.
Don’t Ease up on the Net
Nobody can deny that the Bruins did their fair share of attacking the net in Game 5. Although it didn’t initially appear this way in the early stages of the first period, Boston turned out to be far more aggressive in the offensive zone than Toronto, finishing with 45 shots on goal as opposed to the Leafs’ 21.
They need more of this in Game 6. Andersen clearly had their number on Saturday, and the Bruins still managed to slip three goals past him. The Bruins have been one of the fiercest goal-scoring teams in the NHL this season, which was what helped them climb nearly to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. It’s also why they outscored the Leafs 12-4 in the first two games of this series, winning both of those games handily.
This is how they are going to win Game 6 and clinch this series. They have to replicate the offensive aggression that they showed in Game 5, find a way to beat Andersen for two or three goals (a few more than that wouldn’t hurt either) and trust that Rask will get his own net back under control.
If they can’t pull this off, then they’ll be looking at a dreaded Game 7, and even though the casual hockey fans would love to see it, the Bruins and their fans definitely don’t want that.