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Series over? Charting paths to a Game 5 win for Bruins, Leafs

Mark Blinch / Getty Images

The series is 3-1 for Boston and the sky is falling in Toronto.

The Maple Leafs winning three straight games against the Bruins after Saturday night's dramatic and dreadful Game 4 showing on home ice? Yeah, seems highly unlikely. Yet, nothing's set in stone in the NHL playoffs.

For instance, the Bruins failed to close out their first-round series the past two postseasons, losing in seven games to Carolina in 2021-22 and Florida last season despite holding leads of 3-2 and 3-1, respectively.

Here's each team's path to victory in Game 5, which goes Tuesday in Boston.

Leafs' perspective

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The Leafs weren't just a good offensive team in the regular season. They were elite, placing first in five-on-five goal-scoring and seventh in power-play efficiency.

Through four games against Boston, Toronto's down 7-6 at five-on-five while producing a mere one goal in a league-high 25 power-play minutes. Forget about winning the series. In order to earn a second win, the Leafs need to throw absolutely everything they have at the Bruins on Tuesday. The attack needs to open up: pace, purpose, and to the hell with it, lots of risk too.

It all begins with cleaning up the transition game. (Toronto's zone exits were particularly bad in Game 1 and its zone entries were particularly bad in Game 4.) Once inside Boston's zone, the Leafs must start accomplishing two things simultaneously: good puck movement and good player movement. Boston's defenders have rarely appeared gassed during a shift. Toronto's too static.

So many of the Leafs' scoring chances - both at even strength and on the power play - have looked dangerous at first, but in reality, haven't been terribly difficult to stop. They've been jamming the puck into the goalie's pads instead of prioritizing full-release shots from the slot. The Bruins are certainly playing a role in this, but the Leafs are capable of maneuvering the zone better.

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Head coach Sheldon Keefe should dress his most offensive lineup in Game 5.

Let's assume for a second that Auston Matthews is over his illness and available but Bobby McMann remains out. Firstly, Keefe should sub in Noah Gregor for Ryan Reaves to create a speedier fourth line (Reaves is due for a scratch anyway after another defensive-zone blunder in Game 4), and secondly, reinsert Timothy Liljegren for Joel Edmundson to add mobility to the blue line.

There are downsides to these changes, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Keefe should also juggle his forward lines to spread out the skill. Aside from taking some dumb penalties, Domi's had a strong series. Perhaps he can cook against weaker competition in the third-line center spot.

  • Line 1: Tyler Bertuzzi, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner
  • Line 2: Matthew Knies, John Tavares, William Nylander
  • Line 3: Nick Robertson, Max Domi, Calle Jarnkrok
  • Line 4: Pontus Holmberg, David Kampf, Noah Gregor

Again, there are downsides. (The Domi line is vulnerable defensively.) But Keefe, who seems destined to be fired if the Leafs can't pull off a comeback, has to zig somehow considering the status quo clearly isn't working.

This rationale should apply to goaltending as well. Ilya Samsonov has played fine, well even, in this series. However, Joseph Woll, who relieved Samsonov after 40 minutes of Game 4, isn't a downgrade. Give him the net and see if it throws off the Bruins' attack. Woll is mentally strong and can handle the spotlight.

Lastly, stop with the unnecessary penalties. It's been an issue all series.

Bruins' perspective

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Brad Marchand, 35 and coming off arguably his worst regular season in eight years, has been the series MVP. The Leafs killer has done it all for Boston.

  • Three goals, including two game-winners
  • Five assists, including four primary helpers
  • Zero penalties taken, two penalties drawn
  • Four takeaways, four blocked shots

Meanwhile, the Bruins, for the most part, have kept a 69-goal scorer in Matthews in check thanks to stellar netminding from Jeremy Swayman (87 saves on 91 total shots) and phenomenal positioning and stick work by Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Carlo. Boston's losing Matthews' five-on-five shifts by only one goal (3-2) - an impressive stat this deep in the series.

It's tempting to suggest the Bruins, who've scored the opening goal in three of four games, should simply continue to do what they've been doing. Their opponents appear to be imploding, after all. However, it hasn't been a perfect series for Boston and teams rally back from 3-1 deficits fairly often.

Boston Globe / Getty Images

Much has been made about Toronto's lack of discipline - and rightfully so. Well, Boston's been assessed the same number of penalties (18), including three for having too many men on the ice. That's unacceptable bench management, especially since the Leafs' power play is bound to snap out of its funk sometime soon.

Bottom line: You can't give a club with that much firepower (insert joke about Mitch Marner here) chance after chance to win the special teams battle.

Another thing: While superstar winger David Pastrnak has by no means played poorly (two goals, two assists, dangerous for stretches, especially in Game 4), he also hasn't put forth a signature performance. You'd think it would be him, not Marchand, putting on a show. If Boston was down 3-1, this would be a notable storyline. Instead, it's simply something worth monitoring.

In general, Boston can't take its foot off the gas.

Coach Jim Montgomery shouldn't go back to Game 2 starter Linus Ullmark; ride Swayman again, he's been awesome and he'll be rested. The Bruins can't assume the series is locked up because the Leafs appear mentally fragile; stay hungry and capitalize on a desperate opponent's inevitable mistakes.

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

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