With a few minor lineup adjustments and the advantage of home ice, Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was able to get more favourable matchups for his team against Boston in Game 3. The Leafs finally broke open the Bruins’ defensive scheme a bit at even strength and were able to finish the chances they created.
Toronto was especially lethal off the rush, led by two goals from Patrick Marleau. His first came on a gorgeous Mitch Marner setup and his second by fooling Tuukka Rask on a two-on-one by shooting far side to get the insurance marker with less than four minutes left in the game.
The question for the Leafs now, though, is whether this burst of scoring is something they can sustain against a team that’s so dominant at even strength. How reflective was the score of the actual gameplay?
Breaking the series down as it’s gone along, we can see which team is controlling shot quality when the game is at evens.
Despite all the scoring in this series so far, both teams have boxed out the inner slot relatively well, with only 4.67 high danger chances per team, per game at 5-on-5, which is lower than league average in the regular season. Boston has definitely had the advantage in high danger chances when the score is within reach, but it’s by a slim margin.
In scoring chances and scoring chances on net, the Leafs have gradually increased their production each game, and actually outplayed the Bruins at 5-on-5 in Game 3 despite leading most of the game.
While the Leafs have seen some pretty impressive improvement in their offensive play, their defence is taking a bit of a hit. They’ve allowed more scoring chances each game and the Bruins have had more successful passes to the slot as the series has gone on.
But this is probably a trade off the Leafs don’t mind. If Toronto can get Boston to open up a bit and play a run and gun style, it benefits them more than the Bruins, with the one drawback being the Bruins’ top line is still good enough to win games on its own playing that style.
Of note is that the Leafs did make some adjustments against the Bergeron line in Game 3, so let’s see how things are trending there.
On the surface, it doesn’t look like the Leafs have been able to make much headway in shutting down the Bergeron line at 5-on-5, and frankly they’ve been most dangerous on the power play so far. But it’s worthwhile to note the Maple Leafs have managed to get a few more licks in offensively against that line.
It took the Leafs three games to get a single high danger chance at 5-on-5 with Bergeron on the ice, but the shots against Rask are going up, and so are the passes into the slot.
This is a matchup the Leafs are going to lose no matter what they do, because Boston’s top line is simply too strong. But it is a positive development to see them beginning to generate a couple of chances on the counter-attack.
If the Leafs can’t stop the bleeding against the Bruins’ top line, at least they can get a couple chances in themselves. If they can keep doing that and also take advantage of Boston’s depth players, it might be Toronto’s only route to winning this series.