Some storylines just never end. Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens and their playoff high jinks are one of those storylines. So are the Toronto Maple Leafs and increasingly improbable playoff failures.
With one of the weirdest seasons in NHL history mere weeks from closure, both these teams will have very different outlooks moving forward as they would have just two weeks ago. The Maple Leafs, battered and bruised, conceded a 3-1 series lead, culminating in a 3-1 Game 7 loss Monday night. Those Toronto injuries, the lack of production from their top line, and the play of both goaltenders dominated the press in this series.
Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens Upset the Toronto Maple Leafs
Almost a week before Game 7, this series felt over. This Maple Leafs team, down John Tavares after a horrific Game 1 injury, dominated Game 4 with a 4-0 win to take a 3-1 series lead. Toronto played tentatively and defensively the rest of the series, expecting Montreal’s best. Montreal gave their best, roaring out to 3-0 and 2-0 leads in Games 5 and 6. Toronto showed skill, ability, and resolve in both those games, forcing overtime and giving themselves a chance to close out the series and get healthy for the Winnipeg Jets. At crucial moments of overtime, mental lapses allowed Montreal to capitalize in both games, with Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi scoring overtime winners off turnovers.
Montreal scored at least three goals in a game three times in this series – Games 5, 6, and 7. After dominating the scoring chance counters in Games 2 through 4, the Leafs played a more complacent game the rest of the series in attempts to close out the series. It backfired. A newly formed line of Jake Evans, Phillip Danault, and Brendan Gallagher quelled Toronto’s top players offensively, not forcing Carey Price to be spectacular.
Jack Campbell and Carey Price
Goaltending was certainly one of the biggest stories here. Jack Campbell indisputably had the better regular season, but his inexperience would be scrutinized against Price’s history of playoff success. Inexperience wasn’t an issue – in fact, Campbell had maybe one of the best performances from a Leafs goalie in the playoffs in modern history. Campbell’s one shutout along with a .934 save percentage jumps off the page, along with a stellar 3.6 goals saved above expected (GSAx) through his seven games (MoneyPuck).
But again, distinct single lapses cost the Leafs each game they had to close out the series. Campbell’s lack of a save on Brendan Gallagher’s game-opening goal was Game 7’s lapse. You can’t pile on the guy – he did his job and then some throughout the series.
Carey Price was even more spectacular, despite not having to steal a Game 7 victory. He saved nearly a goal above expected per game, finishing with 6.8 GSAx throughout the series (MoneyPuck). But make no mistake, the Leafs didn’t get goalied. They were outshot, out-chanced, and outplayed throughout Game 7, save for the last 10 minutes of the third period. Yet Price still shined bright, saving 0.89 GSAx in that game. The Habs were just able to generate more chances against a Leafs team that failed to enforce much offensive pressure throughout the final game.
Toronto Silent Offensively in Final Three Games
Despite scoring two goals per game throughout Games 5, 6, and 7, it felt as though Toronto was just not generating chances as they had been during the entire season. That’s true, and the issues started at the very top. The rest of the lineup performed as well as one could’ve hoped. William Nylander was the only point-per-game Leaf, scoring five goals and eight points. Alexander Kerfoot had himself one heck of a playoff run in the absence of Tavares with six points. Jason Spezza finished tied for third in total scoring with three goals and five points.
Zach Hyman‘s effort can’t be criticized in this series, but he struggled immensely on the scoresheet with just one goal. With Matthews only scoring once and Marner only netting four assists in seven games, the buck stops there. Depth wasn’t to blame. Ilya Mikheyev was the only lineup regular to not register a point in the series, and his line with Pierre Engvall and Wayne Simmonds performed exceptionally well in a shutdown role.
Montreal played an opportunistic game to capitalize on Toronto’s mistakes that were few and far between. To not be able to level this series, on an analytical level, seems just like a stroke of bad luck for Toronto. Lost in all of this has been the impact of Jake Muzzin‘s absence in Game 7 due to a groin pull.
But every Cup run faces adversity. The Leafs’ Rocket Richard-winning goalscorer scored one goal. A tentative style of play forced irrevocable mistakes to impact the result of the series. For Montreal, the process of building the next Canadian champion continues. For Toronto, the same – with considerably more pressure and scrutiny.
And as always, thanks for reading.
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