Yeah, me neither.
After a very poor showing in Boston, the Leafs went home with a chip on their shoulder, and had a much better performance in the six. Let’s look over what helped them out in their first victory of the series.
The Return of FredEx
It’s safe to say that Andersen was very not good in Boston. He went into Game 3 with a .822%, which is not the kind of goaltending you’d expect from a guy who has been consistent all year (although he showed signs of fatigue later on in the season). Now, he wasn’t getting a whole lot of help, as a lot of the goals were grade A scoring chances, but he let in a softy here and there, and he’s usually been pretty good for bailing the Leafs out when they need him.
If there was any concerns about him going into game 3, there probably weren’t any leaving game 3, as he put together one of his best performances of the year, stopping 40 of 42 shots, and looking like the steady Freddy that we all know and love. If there was any concern, both of the goals he did allow were a bit soft as well, but both shots were also given way too much time to take, so the defense wasn’t exactly helping their case.
BUT FREDDY ALSO DID THIS!
Plekanec’s New Role
Another big story going into Game 3 was Plekanec’s increased role, which was puzzling to some. Since joining the Leafs, Plekanec hasn’t exactly been amazing by any means, so some people weren’t happy with Babcock promoting him to the second line. But, this is also Tomas Plekanec, whose been a defensively responsible center throughout his career, and maybe just was feeling demoralized in his lesser role. I wasn’t huge on it, but it was probably a smarter decision than matching Komarov against the Bergeron line.
Well, Plekanec did a damn good job at what he was supposed to do. While he still got his teeth kicked in possession wise, as he had 38.46% 5v5 CF% in the game, the line shut down the Bergeron line for the first time this series, and even got a couple goals of their own to boot.
Not only does this bode well for Game 4, it also gives the Leafs some more options when Kadri gets back. Do they put Kadri back in his 2C shutdown role? Or do they keep Plekanec in that role, play Kadri with Johnsson and Kapanen, and just run four incredibly deep lines, and try and beat the Bruins with the Leafs game. Obviously, Plekanec’s performance in Game 4 will play a huge role in that, but this could be a new weapon that the Leafs have discovered.
Matthews Steps Up
Of course, the big story going into Game 3 was Auston Matthews. As the teams inevitable heir to the captaincy, many have been using this season, and particularly this series, as a preview as to what Matthews will be like when he eventually becomes the team captain. Well, it wasn’t off to a good start, according to some of the media, as Matthews had no points in the first two games, while the Bruins top line had a combined 20 points, and it didn’t get much better after his comments after the game.
But then, our prodigal son did this:
The Leafs Played Their Own Game
Finally, the most important part: the Leafs stopped trying to beat the Bruins at the Bruins game, and instead decided to beat the Bruins at the Leafs game. They spent game 1 and 2 trying to be more physical than the Bruins, and while they were distracted with that, the Bruins would score goals on them.
It was strategy that worked well for the Bruins, and terribly for the Leafs.
So, the Leaf stopped doing that.
They decided to go back to what worked for the regular season. You know, what allowed them to break their franchise record for points in a season, that team. They went back to being that fast skating team that everyone knows and loves, and because of that, everything clicked that night. The first goal was a JVR powerplay goal, scored in typical JVR powerplay fashion. The second and fourth were both off the rush. The third was the typical Matthews-Nylander offensive zone pressure.
The Leafs went back to being themselves, and that bodes well for the rest of the series. The only problem is the hole they dug early on when they weren’t themselves.