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I Can Breathe Again – Game 7 Here We Come! (Knights & Leafs)

May 13, 2013

Is there anything better than a Game 7 in the playoffs? I didn’t think so.

Centre Ice 2They weren’t supposed to get this far. They weren’t even supposed to be in the playoffs this year, really. But the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs are making Be-Leafers from more than just their longtime fans.

After a heartbreaking O/T loss in Game 4, the Leafs came back with a strong road game in Boston to force Game 6 back at home.  Fans were happy to be treated to a third home playoff game.  Maple Leaf Square was packed and the ACC again was raucous.

Even before the game started a little adversity arrived, courtesy of the late scratch of Tyler Bozak from the lineup.  Hmm. Despite all his faults (he isn’t a #1C) he is depended upon to take all the important face-offs in both offensive and defensive zones. More pressure for the other centres, including his replacement, young prospect Joe Colborne. Welcome to the NHL playoffs, Joe – go out there and win us a face-off! (Anyone else wish we still had David Steckel?)

The first and second periods were both steady and surprisingly even and scoreless. As time passed, each half-decent shot on goal and every odd-man rush for either team, caused Leafs Nation to collectively hold their breath. Under two minutes into the third period, a roar echoed inside and outside the ACC when a shot by Nazem Kadri was tipped home by none other than Game 4 goat, Captain Dion Phaneuf. No Leaf could ever have felt better about his first goal of the series.

After the predictable Bruins pushback, newly minted Bruins-killer Phil Kessel chipped in the garbage from a rebound from a Cody Franson shot and Toronto went up 2-0.  Boston increased the pressure, but the Leafs played a steady game, continuing to block shots, support passes and still manage to create a little pressure in the Bruins zone. As time ticked down, nails were bitten and it became hard to breathe again. Everyone in the building was aware of how they were to a win. And of course the clock seemed to take forever to count down.

Dodging bullets and chipping pucks out, the Leafs managed to get it down under 2 minutes and forced the Bruins to lift Tuukka Rask for the extra attacker.  Unlike their last two wins, however, Toronto appeared to be a little more in control of themselves despite being out-manned.  Until Mikhail Grabovski made an attempt on the open net from just over his own blueline. The miss resulted in an icing and stapled his line on the ice.

Predictably, the Leafs lost the resulting face-off and never did regain possession. With 24 s left Milan Lucic scored his first goal on a nice pace from the boards via Jaromir Jagr, giving the Bruins life and ruining James Reimer’s shutout bid.  That was really all on Grabbo – I hate to blame him, but that was a bad play – he needed to skate it out further or bounce it off the boards instead of trying for the net. Fortunately, while the Bruins would score the one goal, the Leafs would force the puck away and a blocked shot by Nikolai Kulemin that he skated down the ice (no attempt on the open net) would run the clock out.

Toronto’s best players were their best players and they played a full 60 minutes. On to Game 7 back in Boston!

Keys for Boston:

A 60 minute effort similar to the 2nd periods of almost every game.  They can’t depend on playing only 1 period. Rask is not the problem – he’s making the saves. Lucic now has one goal – he has to be better. In fact someone other than Krecji has to score. Hello Tyler? Chara is playing a ton of minutes and their younger D could help lift some of the weight off the big guy.

Keys for Toronto:

Tonight was their best game – full 60 minute pressure and limited mistakes without backup.  Big players are playing big and will have to continue. The secondary players are providing good minutes (Colborne, MacArthur, Grabovski, Kulemin) but need to provide some goals.  In goal – in Reims We Trust. When everyone plays their role properly, you get the game you saw tonight. If we see that again on Monday night, there is a good chance the Leafs will be on to the 2nd round.

Go Leafs Go!

LondonKnightsYesterday, it was all about the London Knights. They were playing game 6 after twogames in which they managed to dominate the Barrie Colts for large parts of each game but also collapse for a period in each game, enough to make each win a struggle.  With the series and OHL title on the line, the Knights were in hostile territory.  An arena  made ever more hostile due to the suspension given to Colt star Anthony Camara (remainder of the OHL playoffs) earlier in the day.

After two solid periods by London and a 4-0 lead, the Barrie Colts replaced star goalie Mathias Neiderberger with backup Alex Fotinos. This appeared to be the signal that Barrie was looking forwards to an inevitable game 7 on Monday. But, in an eerily similar fashion to the past few games, the Knights tried to protect their lead and collapsed in terrifying fashion.  The Colts scored 4 straight goals to drive the game to overtime.

From an almost sure win to a winner-takes-all situation with all the momentum for the home side, it was a toss-up as to how London would approach the extra time.  Fortunately for London fans, it took just 1:30 for Mr. Clutch, Ryan Rupert, to chip a pass from Max Domi past Fotinos to quiet the crowd and send the series back to London for Game 7.

Keys for Barrie:

Andreas Athanasiou has been a Knight-killer against his former team, but league-leading point-getter Mark Schiefele was hurt late in the third period and London has shown that they can get to Neiderberger. The Colts need to show up for the whole game, quiet the home crowd and take the lead early.

Keys for London:

Play the way they’ve played for each of the last three games’ first and second periods and continue the pressure through the third period. This series could have been done earlier if not for the third period collapses.  Goaltending is now a bit of a issue. They’ve won with Jake Patterson in net the last two games, but his GAA is atrocious, last game giving up 4 goals on just 9 shots.  Do they go back to Stolarz or stick with Patterson? I’m leaning Patterson. The Colts know they can come back from just about any deficit – its up to the Knights to put them out of the game early and keep it that way.

Ok, boys, show ’em “Its Our Time!”

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