‘Desperate’ Maple Leafs shuffle lines for must-win Game 6

Shawn McKenzie and Chris Johnston get us set for Maple Leafs-Bruins Game 6, where Coach Babcock is again juggling lines, to re-unite Nazem Kadri with Marleau and Marner, and go head-to-head with Bergeron.

TORONTO – The Maple Leafs should have no need for an extra dose of #MondayMotivation on this fine spring morning, sunny enough to make a Torontonian forget the ice storms, Mike Babcock’s stalled Ski-Doo analogies, and a stubborn winter that dragged on longer than Ron Hainsey killing a 5-on-3.

But just in case they want some, it’s worth noting that the greatest Game 6 in 101 years of Leafs lore occurred on this same date, April 23, 54 years ago: when Bob Baun broke his ankle during the Stanley Cup final, was stretchered off the ice, and returned to score the overtime winner in Detroit, knotting the series at 3-3. The Leafs would win Game 7, too.

These Leafs, who practised hard and in full for a brisk 17 minutes Monday morning, won’t need a heroic feat (foot?) to push their first-round series versus Patrice Bergeron & Co. back to Boston, but they will need discipline, goaltending, and Babcock’s head-to-head matchup against the best line in hockey to pay off. The good kinda break wouldn’t hurt either.

When Toronto was rolling at the top of its powers this season, Babcock deployed the trio of Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner at home in hopes for at least a saw-off against the opponents’ top trio.

In the three games Boston has won this series, Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak has combined for 23 points. In the Leafs’ two wins: zero.

“I don’t think they’ve been held out of the game,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy qualified. “I think they’ve been held in check.”

Babcock agrees.

So, at the risk of tinkering with a combination that won Game 5 at Boston in white-knuckle fashion, the Leafs boss is going back to a second line that helped set a new franchise record for home victories.

On the right side, Connor Brown sticks with Auston Matthews; William Nylander slides down, giving Tomas Plekanec two finishers; and Kasperi Kapanen adds a jolt of speed to what Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk hope is not their last game in blue and white.

“Pace increased, as hard as that is to believe, from Game 1 to Game 5. It got more intense,” says Kadri, who served a suspension for the middle three. “We don’t want such a great season to come to an end, so we’re going to be a desperate hockey team.

“It’s going to be a hostile environment tonight. That’s what we want.”

Projected Game 6 lines:

Hyman-Matthews-Brown
Marleau-Kadri-Marner
van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kapanen
Johnsson-Plekanec-Nylander

Babcock liked his group’s effort Saturday, if not the officiating, which he has mentioned several times since, likely to plant a seed in the refs’ minds — some gamesmanship that has trickled into the room.

“We want to play to win. We want to attack first,” Matthews said Monday. “It helps if you have all five guys out there too, so we’ll do a better job of that tonight.”

Nudge? Wink?

The Leafs have averaged 10:35 in penalty minutes this series. The Bruins have averaged 5:35, least among all 16 playoff teams, a nice complement to the postseason’s most effective power play.

Babcock has already deferred direct comment on the stripes until summer.

“We had a real good game going [Saturday]. We took six penalties, and the game disintegrated on us,” the coach said Monday. “If you all do your own job, you can be great together.”

This city, however, would be best served to not dwell on the past, the penalties, or Kadri’s taking himself out of half the series.

Instead, take a cue from young Travis Dermott’s mind-set heading into another do-or-die.

“Best time of my life. This is the stuff you look forward to your whole childhood, the stuff you dream of playing. It’s right here. We’re kinda the underdogs right now,” says Dermott. By the rookie’s smile, you’d never know he’s minus-3 and pointless in this series.

“We got a big win in their barn, the boys are feeling good, so it’s a real happy time to be here.”

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During that stretch not so long ago, when the Leafs couldn’t lose in their own barn, Babcock said it was important for visitors out for dinner in Toronto the night before to be thinking how tough it’ll be to squeeze out points. Cassidy is still “deliberating” his own lineup and may make changes.

“When you’re home and you don’t win, it’s hard for you. The crowd is tense,” Babcock said. “When you win, they’re the wind in your sails.”

They’ll be out at full mast to the west of Air Canada Centre tonight. Sweater weather, finally.

“It gives you goosebumps when you see all the fans out there in Maple Leaf Square, when you score and see the video footage of them out there cheering. We love that,” Matthews says.

“We’ve got the best fans in the league.”

Game 6 in The Six. Time to reward them.

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