By Sarah Kwak
For the first time in nine years, the city of Toronto, which many have long considered to be the epicenter of the hockey universe, renewed a long-lost tradition: hockey in May. Inside the Air Canada Centre, every high-priced seat was filled for the national anthems, which, according to Toronto natives, is an unusual sight. And it was a balmy 68 degrees in Maple Leaf Square, where thousands of fans — all decked in blue and white — stood for hours just to watch hockey on a humongous screen. Confetti dropped from the sky and television crews set up on-site sets. Now that’s some passion.
Though the visiting Boston Bruins spoiled the homecoming, defeating the Maple Leafs, 5-2, in Game 3 of their opening-round series, it’s still nice to welcome Toronto back to the playoffs. We’re happy to have you back, Leafs.
As for the game itself, here are some observations:
• Just like Game 2, Monday night was another episode of the Match Game in this series. This time, it was Boston coach Claude Julien as Contestant No. 1, trying to get his massive defenseman Zdeno Chara out against Toronto’s top line and sniper Phil Kessel as frequently as possible. Kessel’s first Chara-less shift came 7:53 into the first period, and though he still had that 6-foot-7 shadow following him more often than not, on every shift free of the Bruins blueliner he definitely looked more dynamic, creating some excellent scoring chances for linemates Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul.
CAZENEUVE: Kessel breaking free of his past
• Check Jaromir Jagr’s travel itinerary, because it seems as if the 41-year-old winger visited the Fountain of Youth on Boston’s off day. Looking a bit like the Jagr of old, minus that glorious mullet, the legendary Czech winger was one of the Bruins’ best players on Monday. Sure, he’s looked perhaps a step slower than he was in his prime, but he makes up for his diminished speed with excellent body positioning and stickwork. Take, for instance, his setup of Rich Peverley’s goal. With his long stick, Jagr took advantage of Ryan O’Byrne exposing the puck behind the net and swept in for an easy takeaway. Even for a guy who is over the hill, Jagr still has serious haunch power and is able to protect the puck as well as anybody in the league. “It doesn’t matter how old he is,” Julien said. “He was determined to be a difference-maker tonight.”
• The CBC’s Elliotte Friedman noted an interesting Jagr stat. The time between his shifts on Monday were way shorter than they had been in the previous game. Getting Jagr more involved and into the flow might be the key to reviving his play. He had been rather silent through the first two games, but on Monday, he couldn’t be missed.
• So much of the Bruins’ scoring in Game 3 was a result of bad turnovers, giveaways in the neutral zone that led to breakaways (Daniel Paille’s shorty) or odd-man rushes (Nathan Horton’s goal from Milan Lucic). Expect Toronto coach Randy Carlyle to hammer the point home before Game 4 on Wednesday. The Bruins can and will make the Leafs pay for even the smallest mistake.
• This was, of course, a home game for Toronto, but in a way it probably felt like a homecoming for Bruins winger Tyler Seguin, who grew up in nearby Brampton. It certainly looked like it. Looking excited and active, he led rushes and tried to find chances in the Toronto zone. He got two shots on net, bringing his series total to 17 without a goal. The 21-year-old will have to guard against youthful frustration.
• In addition to the sloppy turnovers the Maple Leafs coughed up throughout the game, they were fairly atrocious in the face-off circles. They won just 40 percent of the draws, a vital part of generating offensive chances. Even worse, in the offensive zone they won the face-off just 29.4 percent of the time. Having Bozak thrown out of the circle a handful of times probably didn’t help, but even he finished the game with just a 41 percent success rate overall.
• When Jake Gardiner got the Maple Leafs on the board with a power play goal midway through the second period, well, the reaction in and around the ACC was just epic, wasn’t it? That was nine years of pent-up excitement unleashed. It made me want to see these fans and this city get to experience a little more springtime hockey. What can I say? I’m a sentimentalist.