Sometimes, as you watch the Toronto Maple Leafs, you just can’t help but feel sorry for them.
That doesn’t mean we cheer for them, necessarily, although we do have a great deal of respect for Randy Carlyle; his two tough-ass Winnipeggers, Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr; and his small-town goalie, James Reimer. Sure, as a Manitoban, it wouldn’t hurt to see the Leafs win from time-to-time.
But you know they aren’t going to beat Boston, as evidence by Wednesday night’s 4-3 overtime loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal. You know they aren’t big enough or fast enough or skilled enough. This is a series that has little to with strategy or preparation or even getting killed by mistakes. No, this is a series that was pre-ordained. The Bruins have players who are better than Toronto’s players and while that doesn’t always make the difference, the fact the Bruins players have big hearts and are just as tough as the Leafs means that the Bruins are going to win.
On Wednesday night, Toronto goes out, gets first period goals from Joffrey Lupul and Cody Franson (who was an incredible plus-three in the game), takes a 2-0 lead into the second period and for a brief, shining moment, Leaf Nation figured “this is the night!”
And then the inevitable happens. First it’s Patrice Bergeron. Then it’s David Krecji. Then it’s Krecji again and even though Clarke MacArthur scores a huge goal at 17:23 of the third, there is this feeling, this sense, all over the ACC, that Boston just has too many horses, too many hard-nosed goal-scorers and that even though the Leafs have survived into overtime, it’s just that — survival, for a few more gut-wrenching minutes.
And, as every pessimistic Leafs fan knew would happen, Krecji put the hat on his evening with goal No. 3 at 13:06 of overtime. Right after Reimer had made two huge saves, Krejci came down his off wing on a two-on-one and ripped a screamer through the five hole to win it.
The poor Leafs. They have no idea how to stop the trio of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. In this series, the Bruins have kind of proven that it doesn’t always take that much offensively. In fact, when it comes to the Boston-Toronto argument, most nights the Bruins don’t even need a whole team to get the job done.
In Game 3 of the series, the Leafs, playing in front of one of the loudest crowds in the history of Toronto sports (that’s usually the dullest place on earth) were beaten 5-2 by the Bruins. In essence, the Leafs lost to a single line — Lucic, Krejci and Horton. In Game 3, they finished with two goals and six assists.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, behind the bench for the first playoff game in Toronto since 2004, said after Game 3 that his team made more mistakes than the Bruins and that was the difference in the game. I won’t disagree with Carlyle, but I will say this, “if Randy could find a way to shut down the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line, mistakes wouldn’t be an issue.”
When you throw in the numbers from Game 4, The L-K-H line has now combined for 22 points in the first four playoff games this spring. They have eight goals and 14 assists against the Leafs already. Somebody in the Leafs organization needs to steal their sticks.
As a result of this offensive onslaught by three players, the Leafs have to go back to Boston down 3-1. In the movies Toronto would probably win (in a Canadian movie, anyway), but it isn’t going to happen. In front of that Boston Strong crowd inside the Canadian Bank Garden, the Bruins, who were outshot 48-45 and outhit 71-49 on Wednesday, will find a way to shut it down tonight.
It’s hard to knock the Leafs for anything that’s happened in this series. They haven’t necessarily been outplayed, but they have been out-goaltended and out-lucked. And, yes, you have to be good to be lucky.
They’ve also been beaten by the hottest single line in the post-season.
Boston is better. Simple as that. It’s just the way it is. And if you don’t believe in gut-feel, believe in these numbers: The Bruins are 15-2 when leading a best-of-seven series 3-1. And Toronto is 2-12-1 in its last 15 games in Boston.
Thanks for showing up, Toronto. It was fun while it lasted.