TORONTO – Bruce Cassidy has stressed the speed, and the long stretch passes despite to take advantage of the aforementioned speed, of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the days leading up to the first-round playoff series. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the long stretch passes, the team speed and the quick game-breaking ability for Toronto came to the fore in a 4-2 win in Game 3 over the Bruins at Air Canada Centre.
Patrick Marleau's two goals both came on odd-man rushes where the B’s defense was caught flat-footed while trying to be the offensive aggressor. On the first score, the puck got through Kevan Miller in the neutral zone with Marleau sneaking in behind Torey Krug. That’s something that shouldn’t be repeated regardless of which B’s defensive duo is on the ice.
“Away from the puck, we have to correct a few things to keep it out of our net. But effort-wise I don’t fault anything. They’re a good hockey club and they’re going to generate some offense. We just need to counter it with better checking and some adjustments to counter their transition game that we have discussed,” said Cassidy. “We had pockets of the game where they were beating us [in Game 3]. We’ve gotten some good offensive zone time by being active when they’re trying to get going the other way and caught them – I don’t want to say cheating – leaning the other way.
“That [first Marleau goal] worked against us where the play, if you look at it by the detail, goes right through Kevan Miller. The puck travels right through him, so it’s a tough break for him. But the other guy is behind Torey, gets inside position and that’s where the breakdown for the second part of it comes. We have to balance our O-zone play risk/reward versus their stretch, blow the zone-type of mentality. That’s what it comes down to.”
It was also the same defensemen pairing beaten over and over again by it as Miller was on the ice for all three 5-on-5 goals against and Krug was out there for all three of them as well as his defensive partner. A day later, Krug knew that his pair needs to do a better job if they’re going to take a road victory in Game 4 and send the series back to Boston with a chance to close things out.
Certainly, Mike Babcock is going to continue to try and exploit the duo until they do a better job of shutting down the Leafs’ speed game, and that means the entire five-man unit on the ice doing a better job. Many thought prior to the series it would Zdeno Chara/Charlie McAvoy that might fall victim to the Leafs speed, but instead, it was again Krug and Miller after Krug posted a minus-7 rating against Toronto over the past two regular seasons.
“It’s just making sure our neutral zone is tight and our forwards are guarding that red line pretty well then our defensemen can have a nice, tight gap. It doesn’t allow them to make many plays,” said Krug. “At times last night, specifically with myself, you pinch and then all of a sudden you don’t have a guy reloading and they’re off and running with a 2-on-1 going the other way. Sometimes it makes you second guess yourself, but you need to make sure we’re all doing it together.
“Better awareness. Things like that are going to happen, but you need to be aware of who is behind you. It is part of their game that they’re going to spring guys and get them going with the young talented guys doing the work. So we just have to have better awareness.”
Clearly, the Maple Leafs were looking for matchups where their top two scoring lines could get out on the ice against Krug/Miller to do some damage. Now, it’s on the Bruins to again adjust, cut down on a little bit on their own cheating into the offensive end and certainly be much more aware of Leafs players sneaking around behind them. McAvoy called it “a little bit of a cheat” in terms of Leafs players blowing the zone quickly, but it’s something Toronto has done well all season in signature fashion against teams unaware enough to stop it.
“It’s tough. We’ve seen it a couple of times in this series where the ‘D’ will jump up offensively and they’re off to the races going the other way,” said McAvoy. “They play that style where they want to counter so fast with their speed, and want to use their speed at all times. You really need to make sure you’re counting five guys all the time and keeping them in front of you.
“They’ll go for those stretches or breakaways where they almost...cheat the game a little. But that’s their style and they do it very well. They have a lot of fast players that you’ve got to respect, and keep a good gap on them.”
It was a focus headed into the series and it will be refocused with two days off between Game 3 and Game 4, so one would expect to see a lot less success for the Toronto transition attempts in the pivotal game Thursday night.