Here are five keys to victory for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they head into Monday’s Game 7 against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden:
1. Another big game from James Reimer. The Leafs young netminder could well be the first three answers here, but for variety, we’ll simply give him just top billing. After allowing only two goals in the last two games, Reimer’s save percentage has rocketed up to match Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask at an impressive .932, a mark good enough to win a series more often than not. The team with the better goaltending performance has generally won the game through the first six, and Game 7 isn’t likely to be any different.
2. Puck possession. This is an area where the Leafs struggled all season and which threatened to be a big problem against the strong-on-the-puck Bruins coming into the playoffs. While Boston dominated in this department in Game 1, Toronto has been up to the challenge ever since, even outshooting the Bruins in a Game 4 loss and keeping the shot count close in No. 5 and 6. Breaking out of the zone quickly and not making many neutral zone turnovers will, as always, be integral to winning.
3. More solid minutes from Jake Gardiner. It sounds odd to list a young defenceman who started the series as a healthy scratch and played mainly in the minors this season as a key to Game 7, but Gardiner has become one of coach Randy Carlyle’s most trusted blueliners and will again log big minutes Monday night. He has averaged 22:26 a game in these playoffs – more than all but captain Dion Phaneuf – and been a huge catalyst for breaking out of the defensive zone and generating offence. He has been one of the keys to righting the Leafs’ possession game in this series.
4. Production from Mikhail Grabovski. The quirky Belarusian centre will be dealt more duties than ever with Tyler Bozak out with an upper body injury and, despite having a solid series defensively, he needs to finally check in with some offence. Still very snake bitten, Grabovski has just one assist in his first taste of the NHL playoffs despite playing 19 minutes a night, and Game 7 would be the perfect time to finally make an impact and put what was a difficult regular season behind him.
5. Good health. Already missing three players (Bozak, Mark Fraser and Mike Kostka) to injury, the Leafs can hardly afford to lose any other bodies. The fact Toronto recalled defenceman Korbinian Holzer on Monday morning, however, is a red flag, as the Leafs back end could be in big trouble if a key cog like Phaneuf or Carl Gunnarsson can’t play.