Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday Storylines: Kadri returns

Welcome to the second Saturday of the NHL post-season. We’ve got three games on tap today, down from the originally scheduled four – thanks, Golden Knights – and we’ll start with the lone evening game.

HNIC Game of the Night: Maple Leafs at Bruins

“If you win, you get to play again. If you don’t win, you don’t get to play again.”

That was Mike Babcock’s post-game message on Thursday night. It’s not fancy, and probably won’t make it into too many books of inspiring sports quotes. But the Maple Leafs can’t afford fancy right now, so simple will have to do.

Before the puck dropped, Game 4 in Toronto felt like a potential series turning point. With Patrice Bergeron out of the lineup, the Maple Leafs’ task was straightforward: win the game, tie the series, and head back to Boston with the momentum. At the very least, you’d expect them to come out flying in a leave-it-all-on-the-ice effort to take advantage of a golden opportunity. Instead they surrendered a goal on the game’s first shift, and failed to find much offence on the way to a 3-1 loss. They played well at times, but couldn’t figure out a way to beat Tuukka Rask while the Bruins buried their chances.

Now the series heads back to Boston, where the Bruins dominated the first two games, and you could be forgiven for assuming it’s all but over. We don’t know yet if Bergeron will be back, although the early indication was that his injury wasn’t a long-term situation. But even if the Bruins’ star sits out again, the advantages all seem to be leaning Boston’s way. They’re getting offence from their other best players, such as Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, while key Maple Leafs, such as Auston Matthews and William Nylander, have been largely quiet. Rask is outplaying Frederik Andersen. And home ice means the Bruins will once again control the matchup battle, one they won handily in the first two games.

It all adds up to a bleak outlook for a Maple Leafs team that went into the season with plenty of optimism, and largely lived up to the hype with a franchise-record 105 points. But an early exit against the Bruins would represent a step back from last season, as well as a tough message about how far this team still has to go. And it will make the team’s stay-the-course rebuild philosophy just a little bit tougher to sell in a town that’s been uncharacteristically patient up until now.

That’s all getting ahead of ourselves – the Maple Leafs could win tonight to extend the series, then head home to try to force a seventh game. But they’ll need to be better across the board to make it happen. Because if it doesn’t, as a wise man once said, they don’t get to play again.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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