TORONTO – “Unstoppable.”
So went the tagline on the handout towels the Toronto Maple Leafs gave out before a must-win Game 6 against the Boston Bruins at Air Canada Centre on Sunday night.
It seems everyone around here is trying to embrace this whole Be-Leaf thing. As Clarke MacArthur put it after boldly calling his game-winning goal in Game 5: “It’s just about believing.”
However, the Leafs still have to prove that they can get the job done on home ice.
The visiting team has taken four of five games in this series and Toronto dropped both previous outings at the ACC. As a result, the organization is still seeking its first playoff victory here since April 30, 2004 – although the players continued to assert that home ice comes with an advantage.
“We’re feeding off the energy of the building and the city in general,” forward Joffrey Lupul said. “We’ve had video up here of Maple Leaf Square in our locker-room, seeing the celebrations of some of the goals, and it’s a special feeling for us.
“Despite the fact that we lost Games 3 and 4 here, we thought we did a lot of good things in both games.”
The Leafs directed a combined 95 shots at Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask in those games and want to ensure they create a little more traffic to go along with a similar barrage on Sunday.
The Boston goalie has been solid throughout this series and boasts a .933 save percentage.
“He’s made some huge saves and some momentum-shifting saves,” Leafs forward Nazem Kadri said.
In the hours before Game 6, the Leafs faced a number of questions about their play at home this season. The team has actually fared slightly better away from Toronto in 2013 – going 15-9-3 compared with 13-11-2 at home.
The struggles at the ACC were something coach Randy Carlyle identified as an area needing to be addressed when he was hired in March 2012. Back then, he felt the team was “paralyzed” in those games but believes that improvement has been made.
However, Carlyle acknowledged that Game 6 would still be a challenge for his players.
“We’re not going to expect anything other than Boston’s best,” he said. “And I’m sure it will come early and it will come often. We have to be able to at least put ourselves in a situation where we can control the puck and do a lot of attacking ourselves.
“We have to establish that forechecking game as quickly as possible.”
The banged-up Bruins were facing more changes on their blue-line, although coach Claude Julien wouldn’t confirm any moves. Andrew Ference didn’t make the trip to Toronto and is listed as day-to-day while veteran Wade Redden – who sat out Game 5 with an undisclosed ailment – was on the ice.
If Boston was feeling a little beaten down, it would be understandable.
Sunday’s game was their 12th in the last 23 days because of two makeup dates late in the regular season and the series with the Leafs has been a fairly physical affair.
“We’ve had to face a real tough year-end scheduled and there’s no doubt you still feel that stuff,” Julien said. “We’ve made sure not to even talk about that because you don’t want excuses at this time of year. You want to have the solutions and you want to have the success.”
The mood around the Leafs was surprisingly upbeat.
James van Riemsdyk took some ribbing from superstitious teammates after getting a haircut on Sunday – “Right when I walked in the door I had a couple people giving it to me” – but he doesn’t buy in to that sort of thinking.
He was part of the Philadelphia Flyers team that erased a 3-0 series deficit against Boston in 2010 and recalled that some of his teammates back then were shaving during the playoffs.
One lesson that he learned from that big comeback that can be applied to this series?
“We never really lost that belief in each other,” van Riemsdyk said. “I think that was big.”
The current day Leafs seem to believe that they can become just the second team in franchise history to erase a 3-1 series deficit (following the 1942 Stanley Cup winners).
Part of that belief comes from the emotion they’ve harnessed from the fanbase.
“It’s amazing,” Kadri said. “It gives me goosebumps every time I see the videos of them going crazy after we score. That’s the dedication, the passion that this organization has.
“We appreciate the support and we want to give them something to cheer about tonight.”
If they can find a way to win in Game 6, they’ll get right back at it on Monday night. That’s when a Game 7 would be held at TD Garden.