Mitch Marner has arguably been Toronto’s best player all series long. With two goals and six assists, most of his production has come at key moments for the Maple Leafs, too.
Marner’s play has more than passed the eye test. He’s looked dynamic and has been surprisingly strong defensively in a tough matchup role alongside Tomas Plekanec and Patrick Marleau.
Because of Marner’s role, the more traditional statistics we use to measure performance don’t look that flattering. The Leafs get just 46.4 per cent of the shot attempts while Marner is on the ice, which is 2.03 per cent worse than when he’s not on the ice, but neither Plekanec nor Marleau are possession drivers at this stage of their careers. Marner’s starting a majority of his non-neutral zone shifts in the defensive end and he’s facing a grueling matchup against Patrice Bergeron’s line.
With all that pressure facing him, Marner has risen to the challenge and the Leafs have outscored the Bruins by a 5-2 margin when he’s on the ice. That kind of performance despite being hemmed in his own zone a bit too often may not be sustainable over an 82-game season, but we can look into the data to see what has allowed Marner to help create that situation in a short playoff series.
On the surface, Marner is putting up scoring chances and successfully passing to the slot at about the same rate as he was in the regular season. But it’s important to remember the Bruins were the best team in the NHL at limiting chances and passes to the slot in the regular season and, in general, the playoffs are much tighter as well.
What’s impressive about Marner’s progression this season is that he has continually taken his shots closer and closer to the net after being a bit of a perimeter player to start his NHL career. In fact, only Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman are getting more high danger chances per minute played than Marner at even strength.
Marner is also getting a higher percentage of his scoring chances on net, which could be a short-term fluctuation of good fortune, or he’s fighting for better lanes and shooting well right now.
Since when are the 2017-18 Bruins the 1976-77 Canadiens? The emotion of the Leafs giving comfort to their stricken city, a beautiful thing, will only carry so far. Yes, you have to drive a stake through the heart of the two-time defending Cup champion Penguins. They won’t be beaten until they’ve been beaten.
The Lightning can do it. Tampa Bay can win 16 days or nights of hockey. Or at least the 12 it will take to the reach the Cup final. It has to be in the back of Lightning players’ minds. If I’m them, I want to play the Bruins. Settle all accounts. Beat the Bruins. Slay the Pittsburgh dragon. Check all the boxes.
This team can beat the Bruins, even with Brad Marchand’s stick in its gut. This team can beat the mighty Leafs, even with Auston Matthews at high port. This team can bring global warming to Crosby and the Penguins.
It’s just a feeling, one that’s been growing. Maybe it was always there.
This team can do it. This team should be the favorite.
It will be until someone beats it.
The Lightning are waiting. True, you don’t want to have to wait too long. In 2011, the upstart Lightning, under coach Guy Boucher, swept Washington in four games and waited 10 days to start the Eastern Conference final.
“That was too long,” said Hedman, who was on that Lightning team.
The Lightning lost in seven games in the conference final — to the Bruins.
Do you want the rest, or do you want to head right into the next fight?
The Maple Leafs and Bruins have no choice. They play Wednesday night.