As silly as it may seem, I still feel that the Toronto Maple Leafs do not possess the physicality and grit to beat the big and strong Boston Bruins team. Label me as a hater or a doubter if you will, but the playoffs hath no mercy for a weak man.
Why yes, Toronto is skilled and they are speedy and boast one of the best top-nine forward groups in the league, but that does not take away from the fact that they have no true checking line. Their defence is slim on the right side, to say the least. Not to say that it is terrible. However, it’s definitely a point of weakness that opponents always look to expose. Toronto’s solid forward group also does not take away from the fact that Toronto truly has no one to stick up for their stars.
Media pundits and fans alike say that the stars should stick up for themselves, but my question to you is, “Is that really their job?”. No, it is not. They get paid to score, to make plays, and get the offence going. They should not have to stick up for themselves, it is not their job. This is where gritty, “I am going to get in your face” players like Wayne Simmonds or Adam McQuaid come into play. As one can see when looking at the Leafs depth chart, they do not have such a player. Come playoff time, the Leafs will wish they had a player such as this. The Bruins will exploit that, use their size to their advantage and forecheck the Leafs to death. That is why I feel this team should avoid Boston at all costs.
In my opinion, the Maple Leafs should tank and aim to play the Tampa Bay Lighting since the current system is, they might be taking too big of a chance if they go any lower per se.
Maple Leafs Should Tank To Avoid Boston Bruins In The Playoffs
Now I know what people must be thinking, “Is he from Hamilton?” Good news for you, I am not. That is not to say that I have not lost my flippin’ marbles before. I know the Leafs are only two points behind Boston as of now. If Boston finds a way to win tonight, the Leafs could potentially be four points behind. Point is: the Maple Leafs are right there with Bruins with a furlong left to go.
Yes, in theory, it would be easier for the Leafs to overtake Boston for second in the Atlantic Division than it would be for Montreal to overtake Toronto’s third place spot. For argument’s sake, let us imagine that this is not the reality.
It is not like the Leafs have not had late-season collapses before, so, therefore, it can happen. If Carey Price can flip on the “God mode” switch, it is not unthinkable to say the Montreal Canadiens can go on a run. It is highly unlikely, but not impossible.
Why would the Leafs want to tank?
Honestly, that is a really good question, that I will admit, is hard to answer. No team wants to lose, especially intentionally. That said like Kawhi Leonard views NBA regular season games, I view NHL regular season games… they are just practicing for the playoffs. The Leafs, so far, have done pretty good at it. Of course, Tampa Bay is running away with the whole she-bang. Kudos to them though, because they are really good. Will they be good when it comes to the playoffs? That is a whole different story.
From denial and error, Tampa has never been able to reach the pinnacle of the sport with their current roster. They have come close but still failed. Who is to say that it will not happen again? Nothing really changes ’cause it is all the same. Sometimes things repeat themselves way down the line. It is like a chain that never breaks.
Success Against the Lightning
Toronto has had success against the Lighting. The Maple Leafs used their strengths, which is speed, agility and play-making abilities, to outplay the Bolts and win their matchups. Even in the matchups the Leafs have lost against the Lighting in recent times, they were still right there with them. The games were highly entertaining and each team was pushed to their limits. As a hockey fan, who would not want to see that as a first-round series?
I think if you are a Leaf fan, you have to like Toronto’s chances against the Lighting. Yes, the argument could be made that the Leafs would still face Boston if they beat Tampa Bay, but at least the Leafs would win a highly-contested playoff series and finally get out of the first round. The momentum Toronto would take into that second or maybe even third round matchup would be a major help in their mental toughness. They would be able to say to themselves that they just beat out the best team in the league, why can they takeout Boston?
How can the Leafs beat Tampa?
Alright, this is the million dollar question and what I will say is this; Wear ’em down with speed, frustrate them with skill and kill ’em with depth.
Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas may not have made any big moves at the deadline, but that was by design. Toronto is a pretty deep team when it comes to their forward group. Their defence is another story, but it is serviceable.
Toronto may be slightly deeper than Tampa Bay. I think Toronto’s skill overrides Tampa’s. Tampa Bay does have the better goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, but Frederik Andersen is not that far behind. Toronto’s core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly is hard to beat. Yes, Tampa has Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, and Victor Hedman, but beyond that their roster drops off in terms of skill where Toronto keeps adding on.
For example, Nazem Kadri, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Jake Muzzin, Jake Gardiner, and Zach Hyman have yet to have been mentioned. They are not superstars but they are great at their jobs. Yes, Gardiner might make the odd mistake, but when he is on his game, he is carrying the puck in the zone and creating chances on the powerplay. Kadri is always finding a way to get under his opponent’s skin. Johnsson and Kapanen are always finding ways to use their skill and speed to their advantage, and Hyman is the main reason why the Tavares line always seems to have the puck.
The Lighting has players like Anthony Cirelli, Ryan Callahan, J.T. Miller, Ondrej Palat, and Mikhail Sergachev who do their team a great service. The reason Tampa is the best team in the league is ’cause these players come prepared for war and to play a 200-foot game. Most nights they shut down their opponents, but most foes are not as deep as the Maple Leafs, which is why I believe the Leafs can give the potential President’s Trophy winners a run for their money. In actuality, it is a pretty even matchup, which adds to the intrigue of the potential showdown.
Pump the brakes
Does it make sense to tank? Maybe not. I have heard a thing or two about going into the playoffs on a losing streak. You gotta bet big to win big, as they say.
Of course, right now you are probably thinkin’ that someone has enough of the electric lettuce for their own good. That is not to say every day is a good day for hay when it comes to outlandish ideas and alternative suggestions.
Besides, let us be real, unless Toronto or Boston has a disastrous end to their respective seasons, they are going to be playing each other in the first round. The only question that is left to be answered is who will have the home ice advantage? The rest of it is just food for the thought. For real, it is tarps off for everyone from now until Lord Stanley finds a new home.