Toronto Maple Leafs: Lessons Learned from Game 3 Against the Boston Bruins
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Another historic night for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and another disappointing loss. First it was the team's first playoff game in nearly a decade, and now it was the team's first playoff game in front of their home crowd in nearly a decade. Neither went as planned.
After prying home-ice advantage from the hands of the Boston Bruins with a Game 2 victory, the Leafs relinquished home ice to the Bs, dropping Game 3 by a score of 5-2.
Plagued by nonsensical mistakes, as well as a red-hot Tuukka Rask, Toronto fell behind early and just couldn't climb its way back into the game.
There were some important takeaways from the third contest of this series, however.
For starters, the Leafs learned, once again, that giveaways do come back to haunt you.
Though the Buds got away with some iffy turnovers in Game 2, Monday night showed them just how costly giveaways can be.
The much more experienced Bruins were able to capitalize on Leafs mistakes multiple times, netting easy goals. One glaring example that comes to mind is Ryan O'Byrne's senseless giveaway behind his own net to Jaromir Jagr, who was able to connect with a wide open Rich Peverley in the slot to extend Boston's lead to 2-0:
Then there was the giveaway that allowed Danile Paille to streak in shorthanded to tally his first postseason goal, giving the Bruins a 4-1 lead:
Without those two simple and avoidable mistakes, Phil Kessel's goal in the third would've knotted the game up at two. Lesson learned boys, mistakes will cost you crucial playoff games.
This segues well into my next point.
Communication between the players on the ice must improve.
If you watch both of those videos more closely, there were plenty of breakdowns in communication between them.
First, Ryan O'Byrne, who does shoulder most of the blame for Boston's second goal, does not see Jaromir Jagr coming until it's too late. Having a teammate let him know that a Bruins forechecker is in hot pursuit is an essential part of him being able to get rid of the puck before it's taken from him. While the giveaway shouldn't have happened, a lack of communication there didn't help matters.
In the second video, we can see that Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel decide to play a game of give-and-go in order to gain entry to the Bruins zone. Before they manage to reach center ice though, the puck is taken away by Daniel Paille and subsequently ends up in the back of Toronto's net.
In this case, some will look to Phil Kessel, whose pass back to Phaneuf can only be categorized as a "lazy" one. Yet if you watch closely, you'll notice Kessel is actually looking at Phaneuf and not up ice as he receives the pass. Paille, meanwhile is right in Dion's line of vision. Here, Phaneuf—the team's captain—has to let Kessel know that it's no longer safe to pass the puck back through the middle of the ice.
Once again, a breakdown in communication leads to a costly Maple Leafs giveaway and goal against.
The third lesson from last night's game was an affirmation that this defensive corps just isn't good enough to win in the postseason.
It was something that Leafs fans had suspected all season.
Guys like Mark Fraser, Mike Kostka and Ryan O'Byrne may be well-suited to play against third and fourth line forwards against bottom-tier teams. But when confronted with a playoff-caliber team, possessing depth up front, these kinds of defensemen just don't cut it.
Then there's John Michael Liles, who hasn't been the same player since returning from a head injury in 2012.
If there had been any doubt in people's minds that this team must upgrade its defense in the offseason, this series should have wiped those doubts away.
While the latter may seem like a stretch after he was locked up by the Preds last offseason, keep in mind that he was willing to part with the team when he signed an offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers. Furthermore, one has to wonder if Nashville will be able to afford Weber's hefty salary as a small market team who missed the playoffs this year.
Regardless of who's available, Toronto must be aggressive in pursuing a second or third defenseman.
The final lesson from Monday night's game is a positive one.
This series is not over.
The Leafs still have a chance to even this series up on home ice on Wednesday.
Keep in mind, last night's game looked terrible on the scoreboard, but anyone who watched the game knows Toronto was much better possession-wise, James Reimer was phenomenal (when he wasn't left in an impossible situation) and this team put up 47 shots on Tuukka Rask, many of them being quality chances.
Other than a few costly mistakes, the Leafs controlled much of the game.
According to Chris Johnston of Sportnet, focusing on these positives is head coach Randy Carlyle's priority heading into Game 4:
Randy Carlyle says his focus today was on trying to rebuild #leafs confidence and focus on positives from Game 3.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 7, 2013
Hope is not lost, Leafs Nation. The second round is still attainable.
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