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Leafs embrace chance to finish the job in Boston

Joseph Woll William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs Joseph Woll William Nylander - Getty Images

The Maple Leafs held a meeting at Ford Performance Centre before flying to Boston on Friday. 


The Leafs are 0-5 in winner-take-all games since the 2018 playoffs. Morgan Rielly is one of four players to dress in each of those heartbreaking elimination games. It hasn't changed the way he feels about Game 7.  

"It's what you think about when you're younger," the 30-year-old defenceman said. "It's got all the pressure of your season riding on it. You come together as a group and you just want to perform for one another. It's challenging to deal with the mental approach, but I think that there's beauty in that."

It's not just the season hanging in the balance but potentially jobs and legacies as Toronto and Boston settle their series on Saturday night.

"You think about the opportunity to play in a Game 7 and be a difference maker, like, I'm getting goosebumps right now talking about it," Bruins coach Jim Montgomery told reporters in Boston. "And that's the attitude we have to have."  

Beside Rielly, the other Leafs to experience all the recent deciding-game losses are Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. The first two Game 7 losses in this era came at TD Garden. Toronto led Game 7 in 2018 in the third period before allowing four unanswered goals and losing 7-4. The Leafs lost Game 7 in 2019 after squandering a close-out opportunity at home in Game 6. 

"We're happy with what we've been able to do the last couple days, our games, so the belief is high and we're not thinking about previous Game 7s," Rielly assured. 

The Leafs are riding a wave of momentum while the Bruins are confronting the possibility of becoming the first team in men’s major North American sports (NHL, NBA, MLB) to blow a 3-1 series lead in consecutive playoffs. 

So, has the pressure shifted? 

"All bets are off in that regard," Rielly said. "We're two teams that are in a position where it's a must-win game. I don't think there's any types of odds or favourites or whatever. Both teams are going to be competing hard. Both teams have high expectations. I don't think that there's one team that's dealing with more pressure than the other."

This series has played out in an eerily familiar way for the Bruins, who also lost Game 5 in overtime last season before falling to the Florida Panthers at home in Game 7. 

"You come into the season, if you asked any of us, 'You want to play in a Game 7 first round to move on?' We would all jump at that opportunity," Bruins centre Charlie Coyle told reporters. "It doesn't matter how we got to this Game 7 … You wash that away. It's a one-game series."

After his team fell behind 3-1 in the series, coach Sheldon Keefe challenged the players. He told them they would be remembered most by how they responded to the situation. 

"We came in with a mentality that we have nothing to lose and that we're gonna fight back," rookie winger Matthew Knies said. "I think there's a lot of momentum and a lot of energy in this room. We're just excited to go back there and finish the deal."

"All we've done is dig ourself out of a hole that we created for ourself," Keefe said. "Now, the real test comes in Game 7 and real opportunity."


ContentId(1.2114998): Longest-serving Leaf Rielly on pressure of Game 7: 'There's beauty in that'


The Leafs have won two straight despite missing Matthews, who is out with an undisclosed injury. 

"They have played a simpler game," Montgomery credited. "But I also think they've been more physical than we have been. It's an area of our game that needs to improve."

The Leafs did not practice on Friday, but Matthews was on the ice for a fourth straight day. 

"There's been progress," said Keefe. "He skated again here today, but no determination on his availability."

The shades were down over the windows at the practice facility on Friday. There are some small openings in the windows, which reporters and fans have peered through in the past, but the Leafs took additional measures to ensure Matthews got his work in away from prying eyes. The area around the window was roped off and security stood guard. 


With Matthews out, Nylander came through for the Leafs with two goals in Thursday's 2-1 win. Did teammates sense it coming? 

"I think with Willy you sense that every game," said defenceman Timothy Liljegren with a smile. "He's just himself."

But Nylander had not been himself since missing the first three games of the series due to an undisclosed health issue. 

"In the first game that he played, you could kind of feel that it wasn't even close to what Willy is capable of," noted Keefe. "You could see him working his way back to not just playing but playing in a series of this calibre. This is tough. There is not a lot of free ice out there. You could feel the momentum building. We all know Willy as a guy who has come through for us in the playoffs. He finds a way."

Nylander leads the Leafs with 16 playoff goals in 33 games since 2020. 

"He's a heck of a game breaker," said linemate John Tavares. "When he's got the puck on his stick, he can make something happen at any time."

Nylander influenced the game beyond the goals as well. 

"Remarkable," Knies said of the performance. "Battled all night, threw a big hit, scored two goals. Can't ask much more from him."

Nylander has been the most productive core player in the games in which his team has been eliminated in this era with two goals and two assists in the seven losses. He's eager to get on the right side of a deciding game. 

"I don't know if we've won one yet," Nylander said with a smile. "So we're up to the test."


ContentId(1.2115021): 'Game breaker' Nylander arrives just in time for Leafs


Matthews dominated Game 2 with three points and the game-winning goal. Tavares made a nice move to set up the overtime winner by Knies in Game 5. Nylander delivered in Game 6. What about Marner? Is the star winger due for an offensive breakout on Saturday night? 

"Moments will come," said Keefe. "Mitch will have his as well but, at the same time, our team's played really good defensive, structured hockey and Mitch, to me, hasn't cheated the structure for one second, which that in itself is a great thing and shows leadership."

Marner hasn't spoken to the media since after Game 4. He scored a beautiful goal in that game, but the Leafs lost and he was spotted on the bench slamming his gloves on the ground in frustration. 

Marner has one goal, two assists and 11 shots on net in the six games so far in the series. Keefe pointed to Nylander's performance in Game 6 as a road map for Marner's offensive breakthrough. 

"You look at Willy last night, he's on the puck up high, shoots one, goes off a leg and in, you know, probably not how Willy dreams of scoring in the playoffs, but that's the way things happen," Keefe said. 

Marner has just two assists in the seven games in which the Leafs have been eliminated in this era. 


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The Leafs failed to score on three power-play chances in Game 6. Toronto is now 1-for-20 in the series. Will they stay the course in Game 7? 

Keefe sighed. 

"We're not going to decline the power play, no," the coach said. 

The power play's lack of production has been a constant talking point during media sessions. 

"We are right near the top of the league in terms of expected goals or scoring chances," Keefe had said prior to Game 6. "We deserve to have more than we have gotten."

The Leafs have produced 3.19 expected goals in 5-on-4 play in the series, per 

Keefe believes a failure to convert on clean looks early in the series has led the players to grip their sticks too tight. 

"It is a combination of giving the guys a really good recipe and a plan, making adjustments, and also showing confidence, faith, and belief," Keefe said. "As you have seen during our 5-on-5 game — and I would put our penalty kill in that over the last two games as it hasn’t been tested or called upon a lot, but it has come through for us — you can see the confidence and belief. The power play doesn't have that right now. No better time for it to happen than Game 7. When you talk about moments, if the power play can come through for us in a situation like this, we will very quickly forget about anything that has happened beforehand."


ContentId(1.2114999): 'We're not going to decline the power play': Keefe stays the course with top unit


Joseph Woll has turned around a goaltending battle that was tilting heavily towards Boston and Jeremy Swayman

Woll has a .964 save percentage in his three appearances, including the last two starts. 

"He has come in at a time when the team has played better in front of him," Keefe noted. "He has been a big part of both wins, but the team has played really well in front of him and given him great opportunities. It is cohesive right now with the way the goaltender is playing and the way the group has played."

Woll is 3-1 in his playoff career with all four starts coming with the Leafs facing elimination. 

"He's just a calm dude," said Liljegren. "Weird guy. I guess he plays piano, whatever, to calm his nerves down. He's been great."

Woll is hitting all the right notes for the Leafs. 

"I think we got a glimpse of it last year," Tavares said. "The talent is one thing but obviously the determination, the belief in himself, and just enjoying the moment, trying to thrive with it."

The Bruins are also feeding off Swayman, who has a .947 save percentage in five games. 

"We need everybody to be more like Jeremy Swayman," Montgomery told reporters. "Like, he's just owned the moment. He's in the moment. He's staying in the moment and he's relishing being a difference maker."


ContentId(1.2115010): 'Weird' Woll hitting all the right notes in helping Leafs stay alive


Bruins winger David Pastrnak is stuck on two goals in the series and has been held off the scoresheet in the last two games. 

"Pasta needs to step up," Montgomery said on Thursday night. 

How did Boston's 47-goal man respond to the coach's call out? 

"I talked to him right after the game about it," Montgomery told reporters on Friday. "I talked to him about it during the game. Pasta and I have a real healthy, communicative, relationship and he's ready to go."

Pastrnak has vowed to adopt more of a shooter's mentality in Game 7. He has landed just 10 shots on net in 5-on-5 play this series. 

"I don't think we're doing anything different for any one specific player," Rielly said. "It's just a group mentality. We're just trying to play good team defence and just try to limit chances."

Boston has mustered just two goals in the last two games and one of them, in Game 6, came in the final second. 

"Obviously I think everyone's frustrated over there," said winger Tyler Bertuzzi. "We've been very good defensively and kind of smothering them. We've got to bring that to Game 7."

"We're playing structured," Knies said. "And every time we had a chance to get it out, we get it out and past the blue line. We've been blocking shots and being keen in front of Woller, not letting anyone take his eyes, so I think that's been helping us."


Bertuzzi took a while to come out for his media session after Game 6. When he did emerge from the dressing room, his leg was heavily wrapped. How was he feeling? 

"Tired," the ex-Bruin said. "It was a grind of a game."

A grind the Leafs are embracing. Keefe believes his team is learning just how hard it is to win at this time of year. 

"We have seen tremendous growth in our team in these last couple of games," Keefe said. "It is hard to win in the playoffs. You have to commit to it every shift and every single game — not just how hard it is, but how you need to play, what is required, how you need to adjust to the game, and not always feel like you are going to have control and dictate the terms. The opposition is going to have a say. You have to be able to adapt and adjust to that. I think we have seen tremendous growth."

Keefe believes Toronto's improved depth has taken some weight off the shoulders of the stars. But he also believes there has been maturation from his core players. 

"To me, there has been slow progress for this team in the playoffs year over year over year," Keefe continued. "Even in this series, progress was slow, but progress is certainly there. We believe we are as prepared as we can be mentally for a Game 7. Now, we have to go out and execute against a very good team that, for the first time, is going to be as desperate as we are."


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The Bruins have been outshot 23-3 in the first period in the last two games. 

"We’re doing some things already to change what we hope will be a different start," Montgomery said. 

Unlike before Game 1, 2 and 5, the Bruins have decided to hold their morning skate at TD Garden. Earlier in the series they gathered at Warrior Ice Arena, which is the team's practice facility. 

The Bruins are scheduled to skate at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. 

The Leafs will be on at 11:30 a.m. 

Puck drop for Game 7 is 8 pm.