How the Maple Leafs won again to tie the game 7:3

In Game 5, the Toronto Maple Leafs planted the seed of doubt in the Boston Bruins, whose 3-1 series lead fell to 3-2.

In Game 6 in Toronto, the Leafs planted, fertilized and watered that seed for growing doubt.

And now, after a convincing but tense 2-1 win, the Leafs are forced to return to Game 7 in Boston with another chance to exorcise their playoff demons. In the process, they brought back some of their own Bruins demons, having beaten the Florida Panthers 3-1 in the first round of last year's playoffs. Game 6 showed more of the way the Leafs played in Game 5: focus instead of tension, determination instead of deterrence.

“Just following the wave,” Leafs shortstop Simon Benoit said. “When the wave is next to you, you just have to ride it.”

That wave gained momentum as the Leafs fed off Scotiabank Arena's best crowd of the season.

“It was so loud out there, my voice started bothering me, just to change the line,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.

What Keefe stressed – assuming his team heard him – was the need to keep things tight defensively. While the Bruins made a push in the second half, the Leafs held firm with their best defensive hockey of the series.

“(The Bruins) had some looks, but the way we defended to prevent anything clean from getting to our net was tremendous,” Keefe said. “I challenged the group and talked to them about how when your back is against the wall and you are challenged the way we face elimination, you will be remembered one way or another. So, how do you want it to be?”

The Leafs will be remembered at least for an exciting, low-profile game. But two goals from William Nylander — his first goal of the playoffs after missing the first three games of the series — and another standout performance from Joseph Wall in goal were enough for the Leafs to snap their six-game home losing streak.

William Nylander has an influence

As anxiety mounted as the game deadlocked without a goal late in the second half, the typical calls from the Scotiabank Arena crowd were “Shoot!” It reached a fever pitch. And hey, if you're Nylander, you know how important it is to be a great listener.

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With just over a minute left in the second period, the Leafs tied the game in the offensive zone and sent Keefe's two attack-minded defensemen, Morgan Rielly and Timothy Liljegren, over the boards. It proved to be an effective move, with both players touching the puck before sending it to Nylander, who fired a wrist shot from long range on goal.

You have to appreciate the simplicity of Nylander's shot. There have been times throughout this series, especially on the power play, where the Leafs could be accused of being too nice with the ball on their stick and waiting for the perfect opportunity to shoot. Nylander appeared to simply throw the rules of the game out the window and throw the ball into the net. She found her way through traffic and passed Jeremy Swayman. Nylander isn't the type to overthink, well, anything in his life, and his modus operandi was proven by the Leafs' opening goal.

This is the same Nylander who, once again, wasn't thinking much about the game plan before Game 6:

And Nylander “played” with that, securing the victory for the Leafs with a sense of skill on a breakaway goal late in the third period.

“Very important stuff,” Keefe said of the Nylander game. “That's what you look for from a player of his caliber.”

Full credit must go to Matthew Kniss for his behind-the-back pass to Nylander. Kniss himself competed as a veteran in every match, and is growing into a dynamic and reliable playoff player before our eyes.

“The sky's the limit for a guy like Kniss.” He has a lot to deal with there. “When he plays like that, you can see how effective he is,” Keefe said.

Now, it's also worth noting that the Leafs got lucky seconds ago when Pontus Holmberg wasn't called for a penalty on what looked like a fairly obvious hit from behind on Mason Lohry.

Joseph Wall closes the door

After another impressive performance from Joseph Wall, who entered the series midway through Game 4, isn't it worth wondering how different this series might have been had Wall been the starter from Game 1?

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After Woll was one of the biggest stories in Game 5, the Leafs' rookie goaltender doubled down with a more convincing showing in Game 6, stopping 22 of 23 shots.

The most notable takeaway from his performance was the lack of work he did in the first period, as the Bruins managed just one shot on goal. In some cases, this low number of repetitions may threaten to trip up the goalkeeper mid-match.

Instead, Wall's patience kept him company in the first half, and his athleticism got him through in the second and third periods. He now owns a ridiculous .964 save percentage through three appearances in this series.

Woll was at his best through a series of Bruins chances in the third period: He was forced to stretch from side to side while lying on his stomach and make a tackle without his stick in an earlier sequence.

If you're a Leafs skater, how can you not feel more confident playing outside the defensive zone when Woll is as locked down as he was in Games 5 and 6?

“(Wall) didn't make any mistakes. That's why we stayed in the games. He gave the group confidence. And we need that now,” Keefe said.

Wall's ability to not lose his cool in a nerve-wracking affair is yet another reminder that the Leafs' goaltender of the future has arrived in a big way. He wasn't interested in any post-match introspection. Instead, he just wanted to look forward to Match 7.

“Very excited. (TD Garden) is a great building to play in,” Wall said. “It will be a great match.”

The power play comes up empty. once again

We're running out of ways to describe how ineffective the Leafs' power play has been in this series.

When David Pastrnak was assessed a double-minor for high sticking in the second period, it looked, once again, like the Leafs might finally break through on the man advantage. Instead, both units seemed as disorganized and hesitant as ever. Their puck movements were, at best, questionable, and their lack of urgency was noticeable. None of their attack-minded players seem intent on playing to their strengths on the power play. After six minutes with an extra skater through two periods, the Leafs mustered a paltry six shots.

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Go 1-for-20 through six games. Throughout the series, the Leafs' power play looked eerily reminiscent of a student sent to take an important test without reading a sentence from the syllabus.

Now, on the one hand, you could say the Leafs are tied to the series, so they're at least playing through their power play struggles.

But in Game 7, the margins for error look like they will be much slimmer. One power play goal can make the difference. They will need to improve.

Leafs looking forward to Game 7

Sitting on the podium with slicked-back hair and an equally dapper black suit, Nylander couldn't help but smile with Game 7 less than 48 hours away in Boston.
The star forward was the only Leafs player who found the ability to bring some humor into the Leafs' situation and history in Game 7s in Boston.

“It's a special experience,” Nylander said of playing in Game 7. “I don't know if we've won one yet. Or not.” So we're up to the test.”

Looking forward to Game 7, Nylander's attitude has permeated throughout the Leafs team. The Leafs themselves looked defeated and appeared dead in the water after Game 4. But after game six? It was hard not to gain a feeling of liberation. Even when the Leafs head to a building they've had trouble winning in, they're still playing with house money.

“In my opinion, we just played two Game 7s,” Keefe said.

Maybe for once, not feeling like the end of the world is on the horizon could benefit the Leafs in Game 7.

“In terms of how we feel, it's like we just went through it, where every play counts,” Keefe said. “We expect it to be tight. Because at the end of the day, all we gained is one more game on the schedule.

(William Nylander and Timothy Liljegren Image: Kevin Souza/NHLI via Getty Images)

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