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NHL Playoffs 2013: Toronto Maple Leafs Who Must Step Up to Win Game 2

Carl Gunnarsson is one of a handful of Leafs defenders that must improve on his Game 1 performance.
Carl Gunnarsson is one of a handful of Leafs defenders that must improve on his Game 1 performance.Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images
Jon ReidCorrespondent IIMay 4, 2013

With the Toronto Maple Leafs set to play their second game of the 2013 NHL Playoffs on Saturday night, the organization as well as its fans are sure to be on pins and needles after the team's lackluster opener.

After scoring the initial goal just a few minutes into the contest, the Leafs self-destructed, as head coach Randy Carlyle put it (via Sportsnet's Chris Johnston).

Saturday night, however, presents an opportunity for Toronto to get back in the series and steal home-ice advantage from the Boston Bruins. A win would be huge for the Leafs, as the Air Canada Centre is sure to be electric for Games 3 and 4 next week.

Which players should the Leafs faithful be watching for to step up on Saturday night?

 

Nazem Kadri

After Kadri emerged in 2013 as the bright young star the organization had hoped he would become, the expectations for him were high entering the postseason.

In fact, Kadri drew even more attention to himself ahead of Game 1 when he gave the Bruins some bulletin-board material by telling the media that this series is a "very, very, winnable" one (via CBC Sports):

Leafs' Nazem Kadri says Bruins series is 'very, very winnable' cbc.sh/WT0DD8D

CBCSports (@cbcsports) May 1, 2013

Kadri, however, was just one of many Leafs who had a very disappointing first game.

The youngster's lack of playoff experience showed and the Bruins were able to successfully push him off his game, forcing him to turn the puck over and never letting him carry the puck for too long. They continually took away any momentum he was gathering.

The result? Kadri was not able to generate any offensive zone opportunities for his club.

This was also a double whammy because Kadri is one of the better puck-handlers for Toronto, and when he is shut down, the Leafs' already-struggling puck possession game takes a further hit.

Even Kadri knows he has a lot of room for improvement, saying as much on Friday (via the Toronto Star's Damien Cox):

It wasn’t very good,...I wasn’t very happy with myself. I know I can play a lot better than that.

I just had a couple of turnovers, down low I wasn’t moving my feet as well as I can, wasn’t able to find guys on the move...

As for his thoughts on whether he still thought this was a winnable series (via Sportsnet's Chris Johnston):

Asked if he still considers this a "very very winnable series," Nazem Kadri said: "Nothing's changed."

— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 3, 2013

 

Joffrey Lupul

Another one of the Leafs' premier forwards who seemed to be invisible in Game 1 was Joffrey Lupul.

Another one of the better players with the puck, Lupul's struggles certainly had an impact on Game 1's result.

Lupul is also one of Toronto's best energy guys and forecheckers, two aspects of the game that left much to be desired in Wednesday night's thumping.

From energizing his team to helping clear the puck effectively, Lupul does more than just score.

Unfortunately on Wednesday, the scoring wasn't there, nor were the usual physicality and forechecking that Leafs fans have become accustomed to from the 29-year-old winger.

As one of the team's leaders up front, Lupul will be relied upon in Game 2 to not only step his own game up, but motivate the rest of Toronto's forwards to follow his lead.

Perhaps being paired with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel again will help get them going. As The Canadian Press reports (h/t TSN.ca), the three were back together during Friday's practice.

 

Anyone Playing Defense

This is no joke.

While there are a few forwards who will be particularly important on Saturday night for Toronto, the defensive core as a whole will have to be much better.

From committing to blocking shots (screening James Reimer was a big problem in Game 1) to finding a way to clear the puck more effectively, each and every defenseman can improve in Game 2.

Settling down in their own end and not just clearing the puck by icing it or flipping it out right back to the Bruins is the single most important change the Leafs can make ahead of Game 2.

Jake Gardiner, who is expected to enter the lineup for the Leafs' second tilt with the B's, should be able to help in that regard (via TSN1050 Radio):

Randy Carlyle expects Cody Franson to play in Game 2 Vs Boston Sat. HIntsJake Gardiner could play as well.

TSN Radio (@TSN1050Radio) May 3, 2013

It will be on everyone who plays on Toronto's back end to pressure the Bruins as they enter the Leafs' zone and win some more battles along the boards. Upon gaining control of the puck, they must be able to pass the puck to players who are open and clear the zone without giving the puck back to Boston.

 

Conclusion

Some may be wondering why I didn't include Phil Kessel or James Reimer in this piece.

The answer is fairly simple.

First, Kessel didn't have a terrible game on Wednesday. It was his shot on Wednesday that led to the goal in front of Boston's net and his line was one of the decent parts of Toronto's game.

Could he be better? Of course. Just about everyone can improve on Game 1's performance. But Kessel's game wasn't as worrisome as those mentioned above.

As for Reimer, he stopped 36 of 40 shots on Wednesday.

Those who think he let in too many soft goals also need to remember he was badly screened on the first, yet still managed to get a piece of the Wade Redden shot. The second goal was a tip that he really had no chance at stopping, while the third tally came in the high slot after not one, but two giveaways by his teammates.

If Reimer's defensemen can be better in front of him, the way he played in Game 1 should be sufficient to win Game 2.

 

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