By Allan Muir
Five quick thoughts on the players and situations that could have an impact on tonight’s must-watch Game 7 between the Bruins and Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET on CNBC), one of two winner-takes-all matchups on tap tonight:
1. Reimer’s goaltending: Has any goaltender stepped up his game in the playoffs to the same degree as Toronto’s James Reimer? After a rough start in Game 1, his save percentage (.932) has climbed higher than what he posted during the regular season (.924), all while facing 237 shots through six games, an average of 39.5 per game. He’s stopped 72 of the last 74 he’s faced, holding the Bruins to a single goal in each of the past two games as the Leafs staved off elimination. Reimer is playing his best hockey of the season at the most critical juncture. If he maintains this level, the Leafs win Game 7.
2. Gardiner’s surprising play: The must-watch player tonight? Toronto’s Jake Gardiner. Two weeks ago, he wasn’t regarded as one of Toronto’s top-six blueline options, but a finger injury suffered by Mike Kostka in Game 1 opened the door. After a nervous debut in Game 2, Gardiner has been a revelation, changing the complexion of Toronto’s transition game with his speed and passing skills and giving Boston’s defenders fits with his daring raids deep into their zone as a fourth attacker. The confidence and imagination he displayed om Sunday night was staggering, but he’s still a work in progress. It’ll be interesting to see if coach Randy Carlyle keeps the green light turned on, or if he tries to rein Gardiner in … and if he does, what impact that will have on Toronto’s attack.