For the 2018-19 Toronto Maple Leafs, how you start IS how you finish and against the Boston Bruins, they should be looking to come out of the gate swinging.
The Toronto Maple Leafs open their 2019 playoff quest tonight against a familiar foe.
Yes, Leaf fans, the Bruins are back, and with them come terrible memories of blown leads and Game 7s past.
For many in the city, the 2013 Game 7 choke job is the most painful loss of their lives. It was a loss that put an entire Leafs core in a coffin, and kick started another downturn that led to the Leafs being a lottery team yet again.
The redemption shot fell short a year ago, when the new-look Leafs played just like the old-look Leafs in game seven.
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For 2019 to be different, the Leafs have to do something that they haven’t been able to do in either of the two series.
They need to get ahead.
In each of the previous two series, the Leafs found themselves down 3-1 after four games – heading to Boston on their last legs.
That can’t happen again.
The Leafs were a decent road team this year, earning points in 71 per cent of their road games.
It is vital for the Leafs to win one of the two opening games in Boston, and head back home with momentum. Anything less would put unneeded stress on a Leaf team which struggled with these Bruins all year.
Therein lies the difficulty, and why all eyes should fall on Mike Babcock if things go sour.
If the season series has any lessons, it’s that the Leafs must get the first goal. The Bruins won all three games in which they drew first blood this past season. In two of those three games, Boston netted three goals before the Leafs got on the board.
Not surprisingly, those three-goal deficits were in Boston. Whatever it is about the Boston Garden, the Leafs always seem to struggle out of the gate there.
It’s the coach’s responsibility to get his team ready to play each and every night, and if Babcock and Leafs management haven’t drilled into the entire team the importance of a fast start, they aren’t doing their jobs.
They need to silence the crowd early, because you aren’t winning a slug-fest with the Boston Bruins. Not that way. Not this team.
The stats back this up. The Leafs won 31 of 42 games where they scored first, and were a whopping 17-3-3 on the road in those games. Taking it even further, they were 14-0-2 on the road when leading after one – a shocking stat when you consider that over half of their games had them scoring first.
It didn’t feel like it while watching them, but the boys in blue were a lock by the time viewers saw Coaches corner – AS LONG AS THEY WERE UP.
That is this team’s identity, and there is nothing wrong with it! There’s nothing wrong with knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a team. And for this hockey club, playing from behind is their one major weakness. They don’t play well from behind. They need to be up.
Toronto was 36-0-1 when leading after two periods, and 3-24-4 when trailing going into the third. You can say that the game is 60 minutes, but those numbers seem to suggest it’s actually a bit shorter.
If you placed a live-bet on the winning team during the second intermission of a Leaf game, you won 94 per cent of the time.
It. Was. A. LOCK.
Mike Babcock needs to press this team to jump ahead. Get ahead in the game, and get ahead in the series.
It’s the only way the Leafs can win.
All stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com