What a time for a return and what a time to be alive. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs have commenced and for the 3rd time in their last 4 appearances the Toronto Maple Leafs will face off against the Boston Bruins. Me, myself, I am not the type of person to live in the past and I assume most Leaf fans would agree with me. Who cares what happened last year or in 2013, none of that matters now. This is a new year, new team but unfortunately the same old Jake Gardiner. No need to dwell on him just yet, lets focus on what the Leafs can and should do to win this series and achieve what most ‘Beleafers’ think is the impossible, making it out of the first round. I do not want to be the one to make excuses either but it is kind of messed up how the 3rd and 7th best teams in the entire league face off against one another in the FIRST round. Someone definitely has to take a look at this controversial playoff format, no doubt. Moving on. Keys to success:
Big Games, Need Bigger Players
To tell you the truth, getting 46 wins and 100 points in the regular season is great and all but literally none of that matters now. Playoffs is an entirely different animal and also where the game’s biggest players are expected to excel. My main concern when it comes to the playoffs is: Will the player that I expect to show up, actually show up this time? No I don’t mean Mitch Marner or John Tavares, those guys are studs. Obviously I am not talking about Kadri or Reilly, those guys are absolute machines. I know what those players can do, but what can a guy like Auston Matthews do, that is the question I need answered these playoffs. I am done with all the nonsense about not being experienced enough and needing more playoff reps; this guy has played 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games, it’s time to show up. In a 7 game series last year against Boston, Matthews notched a total of 1 goal and 1 assist for a measly 2 points. Pastrnak had more points in game 1 than he had all series. That is not a great look for our 2016 1st overall draft pick that is supposed to be the one leading us to success. I have been skeptical over Matthews for quite sometime and although I recognize his outstanding talent, I also understand that it takes more than talent to win a Stanley Cup or even a series for that matter. I think this series will be the Auston Matthews coming out party and for the sake of all Leaf’s fans I hope he proves me right.
Grit is what sets aside the good playoff teams from the great ones and outside of Kadri, Hyman, Dermott and Muzzin, the Leafs have very little grit. Watching a number of games this year I found that the more the Leafs got hit the worse they played. Instead of bringing their game to the opponent, they let the opponent bring the game to them causing for sloppy play and scared players. I understand there are not many players on this roster that are known for their brute strength or ferocious hitting but unfortunately, escaping one’s comfort zone may be the difference between winning and losing the series. Not everyone can be the talented phenom with endless skill that never gets touched, so it is integral that as a group this team realizes that and sets individual goals. The Leafs fourth line was a perfect example of how a strong forecheck can lead to great scoring chances and even produce goals. We NEED to match Boston’s speed but we also need to match their intensity. We are just as deep as them, if not deeper in terms of offense and and we are going to need a full roster to take down this powerhouse. The Leafs have to find a way to win that doesn’t just revolve around pure skill and skill alone. That has proven to be a recipe for disaster when it comes to the playoffs.
Yea, the Leafs may have lost to Boston just last year and maybe even in 2013 too, but what was the one thing they didn’t have in both of those series, John Tavares. The hometown boy has finally reached arguably the biggest stage and biggest moment of his career facing off in one of the best rivalries of recent memory. If you don’t think this guy is fired up, think again. He has been waiting all season for this and I cannot wait to see the impact he has on not only the team but the entire game. There is no doubt in my mind that Tavares will be the guy to set the tone for this series and with any luck he will be scoring the first tuck this evening (knock on wood). Since he was laying in the Maple Leaf bed covers he was dreaming about this moment and I am sure he knows that taking one of these games in Boston will be crucial in bringing the series back home for Game 3. After facing ridicule from Islanders fans by signing with the Leafs this past offseason he has something to prove and there is no doubt he is ready to do so from his first shift to his last in this highly anticipated series. I, along with the rest of Leafs Nation has a mix of every emotion going into this one tonight so let’s pray the boys can finally pull it off. Go Leafs Go!