TORONTO – Fifteen years.
That’s how long the city of Toronto has waited — mostly in agony — to watch its beloved Maple Leafs survive the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Canada’s team (wink) and last hope to end the country’s 26-year championship drought now has a chance do something it hasn’t done since it ousted the Ottawa Senators in a seven-game thriller back in 2004. See what Round 2 looks like.
Way back in April 2004, Golden Knights hypeman Lil Jon was still an Atlanta Thrashers fan, Hellboy was in theatres, and 14-year-old kids weren’t even born yet.
Calling for urgency and adjusting their forward lines, the on-the-brink Bruins have vowed to “attack, attack, attack.”
As for the Maple Leafs, 60 minutes from sending their fans on seven-hour road trips to Ohio?
“Well, you don’t sit back, that’s for sure. You go after it,” Jake Muzzin said.
“You go after it, and it’s the toughest game to win because they’re desperate all right. We have to be just as desperate and hungry. We can’t sit back and let them take the game to us. We have to go out and play our game and use the home ice tomorrow as our advantage.”
Here are six things to know about Game 6 in the Six.
In both Wednesday and Friday’s games, Zach Hyman skated gingerly to the Leafs’ bench and was bent over wincing in obvious pain.
The top-line left winger has played a critical shutdown role in this series, matching up against the Bruins’ top line and operating as a key cog on the penalty kill. No Leafs player has thrown more body-checks (20) or started a greater portion of his shifts in the defensive zone.
Coach Babcock’s poster boy for work ethic, Hyman rarely misses practice, so it was mildly alarming that he joined veteran Patrick Marleau as the only players to skip Toronto’s optional run-through Saturday.
Hyman is battling through something but will dress in Game 6, Babcock assured.
Babcock dials it up to 90
Friday’s Game 5 victory marked Mike Babcock 90th career post-season win, seventh among all NHL coaches. The bench boss will look to leapfrog Pat Quinn (94) and Mike Keenan (96) next.
On Saturday, Babcock mused on his growth when it comes to player-coach relationships over his 16-year NHL run.
“There’s lots of situations you’d like to think you handled well, and there’s lots of situations you didn’t handle very well, but I think there’s also a trust process in that you build a relationship over time based on trust,” Babcock said.
“Your job is to help them help themselves get to be the best they can possibly be.”
Anyone heading off to Easter Mass this morning, Please pray for no goalie interference challenges this afternoon!
My mentions can’t handle it…….
— Andrew Raycroft (@AndrewRaycroft) April 21, 2019
Bruins tweaking forward lines again
Boston may start and finish its post-season with a $6-million healthy scratch in the press box.
David Backes sat out Game 1’s home loss, but his aggressive forecheck helped set the tone in the Bruins’ Game 2 victory.
The slowing veteran has been less effective in the three contests since, however, which prompted coach Bruce Cassidy to make another switch.
Rookie Karson Kuhlman, 23, has one assist in three appearances this series, and he’ll sub in for Backes. Chris Wagner will sit in favour of Joakim Nordstrom.
This signals Cassidy’s emphasis on quickness.
“As the series has gone on, the pace has gone up,” Cassidy said ahead of Game 6. “Nordy is also a good penalty killer with Wagner coming out as well. Kuhlman added some speed to our lineup early and was a good player late for us in the season.
“We feel a little more pace in our lineup might be the recipe for tonight.”
The Bruins started the past two games with young Danton Heinen on the top line, but stud winger David Pastrnak resumed his usual post on Saturday and is expected to mix among the top six.
While the Leafs will stick with their winning Game 5 lineup, here are the Bruins’ expected lines Sunday, per warm-ups:
Matthews excelling in own zone
More vocal, aggressive and responsible in the work half of the rink this post-season, Auston Matthews is earning praise for his defensive effort in Game 5.
The superstar, who leads the series with four goals, was a minus-nine in the regular season and a minus-four in Round 1 last spring. He’s a plus-one through five games.
“It’s obviously really important to hone in that defensive aspect because you have the puck more. As an offensive guy, I want the puck as much as possible,” Matthews said.
“[Friday] night was one of our best games as far as just communicating with one another and breaking out the puck.”
Chara doesn’t watch hockey because it’s on too late
Don’t ask Zdeno Chara to break down the Blues-Jets series.
The Bruins captain might catch the occasional highlight, but he’s too busy with life to soak in the other series’ action.
“I don’t want to be glued to the TV,” he said. “It’s too time-consuming.”
Also, the big man says he values his sleep too much to stay up watching sports.
When is Chara’s bedtime?
“I’m not telling you what time I go to bed,” he said, coyly.
Is eight hours a must?
“I’m not talking about that, guys.”
Do you wait for the sunset?
Game 6, by the numbers
• The last time the Leafs beat the Bruins in a playoff series was 1959.
• Three of the first four teams to advance in the playoffs defeated a team that finished higher than them in the standings. Toronto looks to become the fourth. Since conferences were introduced in 1974-75, the most lower-seeded teams to advance in an opening round was six (1993).
• The Leafs hold an all-time record of 35-14 in potential series-clinching games on home ice.
• The Leafs are 19-5 in best-of-seven series when leading 3-2.
• This is the third time the Maple Leafs have held a 3-2 series lead over the Bruins in a best-of-seven; the two prior instances both requiring seven games.
• The Bruins are 45-65-1 all-time in elimination games (14-33 on the road).
• The Bruins have lost five consecutive Game 6s.