Auston Matthews and Brad Marchand Image by: Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The stage is set for the fourth ever Game 7 battle between the Bruins and Maple Leafs, and while Boston – at home and with history behind them – would seem to have the edge, don't count Toronto out in a series that has had a bit of everything.
So, it all comes down to this. After six games of the Bruins and Maple Leafs trading blow after blow, Boston striking early and Toronto clawing their way back, the first-round series between the two Original Six rivals comes down to Game 7.
But if one is to look at trends throughout NHL history, the indication would be that Boston heads into the outing with the edge.
In fact, the Bruins, as the home team, enter the contest with a few historical advantages working in their favor. Throughout NHL history, 169 post-season series have gone to a seventh and deciding game, and the home team has come out the victor on 99 of those occasions. That’s good for a .586 winning percentage. And while it’s not as significant an edge, the home team does also have a slight advantage should the Bruins and Maple Leafs be evenly matched through regulation. Overtime has been necessary to decide 41 Game 7s, with the home team holding the 21-20 advantage.
On a team-only basis, the home and away records of both the Bruins and Maple Leafs in Game 7s tilt in Boston’s favor. The Bruins — who will be playing in their 26th Game 7, the most of any franchise in NHL history — have an all-time record of 13-12 in the winner-take-all affairs, with a 12-8 record when playing at home. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have played 14 of their 22 all-time Game 7s on the road, but hold a modest 5-9 record in those games. If the script was flipped in this instance, Toronto would hold a massive historical advantage with a 7-1 home record in Game 7s and Boston 1-4 on the road in the series-deciding tilts.
Further yet, the two teams have squared off in three Game 7s previously. Each of those contests have been played in Boston — two at the former Boston Garden, one in the TD Garden — and the Bruins hold a 2-1 edge in the meetings with each contest decided by a single goal.
The Game 7 in 1941 was decided by a Mel Hill third-period tally as the Bruins escaped with a 2-1 victory, whereas the Maple Leafs pulled off the come-from-behind third-period victory in 1959’s Game 7 meeting on the strength of a Gerry Ehrman goal. And while some in Toronto will try to convince you those are the only two Game 7s the two teams have ever played and any other Game 7 has been wiped from the collective memory of the fanbase, there’s no forgetting the 2013 collapse that saw the Bruins erase the Maple Leafs’ three-goal lead in the back half of the third period only for Patrice Bergeron to deliver the overtime dagger mere minutes into the extra frame.
Of course, Game 7 won’t be played in the history books, and actually winning the contest and advancing to the second round will have next to nothing to do with what has happened in the past.
Instead, a Boston victory is going to have to hinge on the Bruins executing in much the same way they have throughout the entirety of the series, but this time with a little more puck luck. Boston has been, in a word, dominant throughout the first round. At 5-on-5, the Bruins have won the possession battle by way of a 52.2 Corsi for percentage, 53.8 shots for percentage, 50.8 scoring chance for percentage while being one high-danger chance shy of even with the Maple Leafs. When adjusted for score at 5-on-5, however, those numbers all tilt slightly more in Boston’s favor. And at all strengths, the Bruins have the edge in each category.
Realistically, there’s not much else Boston can do as a unit beyond continuing to pound Toronto’s defense and generate opportunities. That said, engineering a few more high-danger opportunities might allow the Bruins, who were the NHL’s sixth-highest scoring team in the regular season, to fire home more than the one goal they mustered in their Game 6 loss.
But on an individual level, there may be something to be said for Tuukka Rask’s performance. The Bruins netminder has been excellent at times in this series, but an outing similar to his Game 4 performance would help ensure Boston moves on. Rask stopped 31 of 32 shots in that game, and he held fast despite facing 32 scoring chances and 10 from high-quality scoring areas in that outing. It was the one game Rask unquestionably helped steal for Boston. And a solid performance from Rask would help silence those who are pointing to his 1-2 record and .849 save percentage in his past Game 7s as an area of concern for the Bruins.
For the Maple Leafs, though, success in Game 7 could hinge entirely on the play of Frederik Andersen. Toronto’s No. 1 netminder has arguably stolen three of the past four outings, stopping a combined 114 of 120 shots in Games 3, 5 and 6, and the Maple Leafs are going to need more of the same if they’re to advance against a Bruins team that has, as noted, controlled play for long stretches of the series. It wouldn’t be all that much of a stretch to call Andersen the MVP of the series for Toronto, particularly given his play in the past two games.
However, like Rask, Andersen’s totals in Game 7s aren’t exactly sparkling. He’s faced the pressure of a series-deciding, winner-take-all playoff outing twice in his career, but is sporting a .847 SP in those contests with an 0-2 record. In both of his Game 7 appearances, too, Andersen has given up a goal in with seven minutes of the opening faceoff. That might be worth watching come Wednesday evening.
Any shortcomings or stumbles for Andersen in Game 7 could be masked, however, if the Maple Leafs’ offense continues to score as it has through much of the series. Toronto has scored three or more goals in four of the six games thus far, and Mitch Marner in particular has been a handful for the Bruins’ defense. After being held off the scoresheet in Game 1, Marner has since contributed points in each game, including one-goal, two-point outings in Game 2 and Game 6. Pairing him with Patrick Marleau and Tomas Plekanec has been a stroke of genius, too, as the line is clicking better than any of Toronto’s other units.
Marner aside, though, the Maple Leafs would love for Game 7 to be Auston Matthews’ coming out party. He has just one goal and two points through six games in this series, and should Matthews make good on his big-game potential, he could single-handedly guide the offense, and Toronto, through to the second round. He has performed in crucial games before, too, firing home goals in each of the final four games of the Maple Leafs’ first-round series against the Washington Capitals last season.
And Matthews, Marner or William Nylander — whoever, really — striking early for the Maple Leafs might be all Toronto needs if Andersen can play the way he has throughout three of the past four games. That said, there is one final piece of history of which to be wary: while the team to score first has won nearly 75 percent of all Game 7s, the first to score holds a 1-2 record when it comes to Boston and Toronto, and that record would be 0-3 were it not for the 2013 comeback.
But in a series that has had everything from goal-filled blowouts to game-stealing goaltending performances, shows of supreme skill to suspensions and penalty-filled affairs, the only thing history can really assure us is that we’re in for a show when puck drops on Game 7 Wednesday night.
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