The Leafs return home for Monday’s contest against the Bruins having tied everything up 1-1 in Boston. They should expect a huge greeting from Leafs Nation. You can catch the game at 7:00 pm EST on Hockey Night in Canada.
Here are four factors that could stand in the Leafs’ path to victory:
1) The Air Canada Centre will see its first playoff game in nine years tomorrow night. Toronto fans have already shown their thanks by flocking to Maple Leafs Square just outside the ACC for the two games in Boston, but now the show will be seen live on home ice. How do the Leafs faithful react?
2) There was a definite improvement in Toronto’s game last night. The difference in shots was less significant than last Wednesday and they outhit the Bruins by a respectable margin. Colton Orr laid a particularly hard hit against Boston captain Zdeno Chara, which I’m sure is one of the few hits Chara has actually felt in his long NHL career. Can Toronto continue to improve its game or will we see a slide backwards?
3) The Leafs finally got top line performances out of their top line players. Joffrey Lupul netted two goals, including one on the power play; Phil Kessel may have overcome his Boston demons by scoring the game winner at even strength; and James van Riemsdyk added a beautiful insurance goal when the Leafs found themselves under attack late in the game. The team also got solid performances from Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner, who looked out of place at times but ultimately made a difference in stopping Tyler Seguin from breaking away on the Leafs’ net. Will they we similar performances from these key players tomorrow?
4) For the first time in two years, the Leafs have an opportunity to place pressure on Boston and play with their heads. A second straight Leafs victory would put the mighty Bruins on the defensive and put the Leafs in position to win the series on the road or at home in Games 5, 6 or 7. We know they’re ready to challenge Boston, but are they finally able to pull the challenge off?
Bonus Question: Credit must be given to head coach Randy Carlyle for Saturday’s win over the Bruins. He kept juggling the lines, confusing the Bruins and creating scoring chances for players like Kessel in the process. He’ll now enjoy the final line change on home ice. Will he keep up to his old tricks?
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