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Leafs still alive: 6 battles that will decide Game 6

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Matthew Knies scored 2:26 into overtime on Tuesday to keep the Toronto Maple Leafs' season alive. The Boston Bruins lead the first-round playoff series 3-2. Here are six battles that'll determine the outcome of Game 6 on Thursday in Toronto.

Power play vs. power play

One team has spent 32:40 on the power play and scored a grand total of one goal. The other's been on the man advantage for 21:40 and scored six times.

There's the series. Otherwise, the Bruins and Leafs have played to a near draw; the cumulative score at even strength is 9-8 Boston.

Mark Blinch / Getty Images

Toronto's power play, which finished seventh in the NHL in efficiency during the regular season, has recorded a playoff-high 64 shot attempts over 17 opportunities. Its lone goal: a John Tavares turnaround slap shot in Game 2.

Auston Matthews missed Game 4's third period and the entirety of Game 5 due to illness and/or injury. His uncertain status looms large in general, and especially with regards to the power play and its potency.

The Leafs rolled out a top unit of Tavares, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Max Domi in Boston on Tuesday. Nylander's an excellent shooting option. After that, things get dicey. If Matthews remains unavailable, coach Sheldon Keefe should take Domi out for Nick Robertson and his rocket of a shot. Domi's earned the PP1 spot, but his skill set is redundant on a Marner-led unit. The Leafs need a legitimate triggerman besides Nylander.

McCabe-Benoit vs. Pastrnak line

Matthews dominated Game 2, setting up the first two Toronto goals before scoring the decider in a 3-2 victory. We're still waiting for Matthews' counterpart, David Pastrnak, to author a signature performance of his own.

Pastrnak scored 47 goals in the regular season - good for seventh in the NHL and 18 more than any other Bruin. He collected 63 assists - tied for 10th in the league and 25 clear of his teammates. He racked up 382 shots on goal - second and 175 clear.

In other words, Boston's offense flows through the Czech winger. Pastrnak's contributed two five-on-five goals, one five-on-five assist, and one five-on-six assist in five playoff games - not terrible but also not good enough. Worse, he's only been credited with six high-danger shot attempts all series.

Pastrnak's line with center Pavel Zacha and Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen has almost exclusively faced the Tavares line and the Jake McCabe-Simon Benoit pairing. Keefe owns last change in Game 6 and should chase that matchup again; McCabe was particularly disruptive and controlling in Tuesday's win.

Uptempo game vs. grinding game

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Game 5 was different. The action was free-flowing and the teams traded scoring chances. It was a brand of hockey that accentuated Toronto's strengths.

The Leafs' first four games, on the other hand, were marred by poor puck movement, which led to lackluster zone exits and entries, which produced a virtually nonexistent rush game. Coupled with limited time in the offensive zone, that put a ceiling on Toronto's ability to wreak havoc.

While all of those components vastly improved in Game 5, Boston's forecheck took a back seat. Will the Bruins surge again or did the Leafs unlock something? It was no coincidence that the improvements came alongside a better showing from Nylander, who made his series debut in Game 4 and thrives on the rush. Keep an eye on him.

Bruins vs. first period

This battle is connected to the one above: The Bruins got manhandled in Game 5's first period. They generated just seven shot attempts (two on goal) to Toronto's 31 (11 on goal) and were lucky to escape with a 1-1 score.

That said, Boston's up in the series because the team has otherwise taken charge.

Coach Jim Montgomery tinkered too much with a good thing when he scratched forward Johnny Beecher and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in Game 5. Replacements Justin Brazeau and Matt Grzelcyk weren't the answer, so a reversal is in order. Beecher's been extremely effective on the fourth line.

Marchand vs. Domi

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With 118 saves on 124 shots, Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman has been the series MVP. Joseph Woll's four periods in the Leafs' net have been stellar too.

What's more interesting than the goalie duel, though, is how Brad Marchand and Domi close out the best-of-seven set. Both are built to thrive in the playoffs and have enjoyed strong series, yet both left something to be desired in Game 5.

Marchand came into Tuesday with three goals (including two game-winners), five assists (including four primary helpers), and zero penalty minutes. He left with the same point total, two minors for roughing, and limited footage to add to the highlight reel. It was arguably the captain's worst game of the series.

Domi, meanwhile, went 10-for-10 in the faceoff circle in the first period, with one of his wins leading to the opening goal. He was dangerous most of the night; however, he botched a pair of two-on-one breaks. Anyone watching could tell he was thinking about passing the puck, and then he did - both times. The irony is that Domi actually has a decent shot. Use it!

Both teams vs. external pressure

The fan base in Toronto is sick of this core losing in the playoffs. Game 5 helped turn the dial down on the noise, but it won't go away - nor should it. There's immense pressure on the Leafs to force a Game 7 on Saturday.

Boston coughed up a 3-1 lead to the Florida Panthers in last year's first round after setting a record for most points in a regular season. This is a different season and different opponent. Still, there's no denying the elephant in the room.

Which team can dig in, focus on the task at hand, and ultimately execute?

On the individual level, while Marner has somewhat redeemed himself as the series has progressed, the $11-million man remains public enemy No. 1 locally. Any goodwill created in Game 5 will vanish if the should-be difference-maker fails to produce in Game 6.

John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (

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