Toronto Maple Leafs: Defence fails in another first round playoff exit

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 25: Jake Gardiner
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 25: Jake Gardiner /

The Toronto Maple Leafs failed to move past the first round of the NHL playoffs for the second straight season, as the Boston Bruins took care of business in Game 7.

It was not the ending the Toronto Maple Leafs were looking for, as they pushed the Boston Bruins as much as they could in Game 7 on Wednesday night.

Like last season’s series against the Washington Capitals, many lessons were taught to this young group of Leafs’ players. Now the organization has to address the one area which clearly needs more attention than it has gotten the past couple of offseasons, the blueline.

It is safe to say that much of the blame (especially on Twitter) following the 7-4 loss is being placed on one player, Jake Gardiner. He may not have been the only reason why Toronto lost in Game 7, but he certainly didn’t help their chances.

When a top-four defenceman is on the ice for five goals against, it is hard for a team to overcome a performance like that ,unless their goaltender plays out of his mind. While Tuukka Rask was anything but extraordinary for the Bruins, their defence made the adjustments and limited the damage.

Even though the Leafs made great plays on all four of their goals, they made some brutal decisions that allowed the Bruins to come right back.

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Frederik Andersen just didn’t have another miracle performance in him and while that eventually sunk the Leafs, the leaks were too hard to repair.

Imagine for a second if the Leafs were able to hold on to their 4-3 lead and beat the Bruins. Boston were the favourites going into the series, blew a 3-1 lead after making a serious push at the trade deadline in order to prepare for a long playoff run.

Unlike the Bruins, the Leafs don’t have a defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy that they can deploy for 25 minutes or more to shut down the opposing team’s top line. The Leafs needed that in the third period, but Mike Babcock did not have that option and he never did.

Sure Gardiner played 24:01 in Game 7, but he’s not asked to do what Chara does, because he’s not capable of playing that style and probably never will be. It’s not a criticism of the 27-year-old because, at this point in his career, it is tough to expect him to change.

Now he did take accountability for his performance but what people should wonder is if this finally leads to change, whether it’s by Gardiner or the team.

The fans calling for Gardiner to be traded were given another reason to justify their feelings toward him, while some that were on the fence were pushed to their breaking point.

Another point to consider is how the team came into the third period as if they were not prepared for what was coming their way. Babcock says there was no reason for them to play like they did in the third and yet it happened.

Now he has the ultimate teaching method but it is up to him to drill it into his team, while also showing management that while they want internal improvement, sometimes the solutions need to be found elsewhere.

It is too early to speculate where the team should go from here, but next season is the one where the Leafs need to finally take that step forward.

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They showed they can push a contending team to the limit, but now they need to add the pieces to be the ones to come out on top rather than being on the wrong end of the handshake line.