The little Ball of Hate has turned into the little ball of Invisible.
At least that’s what’s scribbled in my notebook between the smear of spicy mustard from my Nathan’s red hot dog and a notation of how the speed of the Toronto Maple leafs was giving the Boston Bruins fits.
Game five of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals between the two Northeast Division rivals was a lesson in why speed kills – or, more specifically, why speed kills the Bruins…and Game 6 was a confirmation.
While the physicality of the Bruins works well along the boards, where they consistently win the battles, the rest of the ice has belonged to the Leafs’ whose suddenness and aggression in the neutral zone and speed on the wings are too much for the plodding Bruins….and Marchand, the Bruins’ quickest skater, is being swallowed up in double and triple teams, never seeming to be able to get free.
The result on Sunday night was a 2-1 Maple Leafs victory that had the nearly 20,000 fans inside the Air Canada Centre in a hockey induced frenzy, the speed in which their Leafs took control of the match in the third period, breathtaking.
It’s not a lack of effort from the Bruins, merely a breakdown in fundamentals – which is highly correctable, unless you are skating back on your heels, which the Bruins are.
Marchand has disappeared in this series, but every line is having the same issues. The Maple Leafs are playing a bit of “Rope-a-dope”, forcing the Bruins to the wings entering the offensive zone, then sealing off that half of the ice and engaging in battle along the boards…
…which the Bruins win more times than not, but it doesn’t do them a lot of good to win the battle if there’s no one in the slot to pass to. How many times have we seen centering passes off the boards that travel right through the crease without a spoked B around to make a play on it?
Boston’s offense has been reduced to firing long range sniper jobs, then everyone crash the net. The ensuing pile up resulting in nothing more than pushing and shoving, a few stray elbows and very few solid scoring chances.
So the series is now tied 3-3, as the Maple Leafs have shut down Boston’s offense , their speed and discipline effectively cutting the Bruins’ offensive zone in half – and either the Bruins take back what the Leafs have taken from them or they’ll be doing the Happy Gilmore gig once again…
…which is easier said than done, but the Bruins are going to have to return to fundamentals to take back the center of the ice – using their size and bully mentality to seal the Toronto defenders to the wings.
Boston is getting sensational goaltending from Tuukka Rask even though he’s being left out on an island several times a game, and any offense at all in the past two games would have eliminated the Maple Leafs – so if the Bruins are to advance to the Conference semifinals, they are going to have to take back their offensive zone that Toronto has taken from them.