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4 factors that will decide Game 7 of Leafs-Bruins

Michael Chisholm, Claus Andersen / Getty Images

Back from the dead, the Toronto Maple Leafs reeled off a second straight victory Thursday to force a Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, which goes Saturday in Boston.

Just as we all predicted for this first-round series ... right?!

The stakes are sky-high. Toronto's attempting to snap a five-game losing streak in Game 7s, while Boston's trying to avoid coughing up a 3-1 series lead in consecutive years. Here are four variables that will decide the outcome of the finale.

Impacts of Matthews and Pastrnak

The biggest variable of all is Auston Matthews' health.

Despite being held pointless in Game 1, the Leafs superstar looked himself to start the series. He took over Game 2, scoring the clincher and adding two primary assists in a 3-2 Toronto win. Since then, it's been nothing but bad news. He played sick in Game 3 and the first two periods of Game 4 before the medical staff pulled him. He didn't dress for Games 5 and 6, reportedly due to injury.

Mark Blinch / Getty Images

Whatever's ailing Matthews, it must be serious, and his chances of recovering well enough to return for Game 7 seem slim. If he does and the greatest goal-scorer in hockey can play a regular shift? Advantage, Toronto.

Boston's dealing with a similar issue, except its superstar hasn't missed a shift and doesn't appear to be fighting any major physical ailments.

David Pastrnak, usually a brilliant sniper and an underrated setup man, has been excruciatingly unproductive for the vast majority of the series. He's looked tentative, slow, and sloppy with the puck. He's generated virtually nothing.

Of the 48 shots Pastrnak has attempted, 19 made it on goal, 17 missed the net, and 14 were blocked, according to Evolving-Hockey. On the surface, that's OK. Isolate his 91 five-on-five minutes, though, and it's pretty bleak: 31 attempts, 10 of them on goal and the other 21 off target or blocked.


The image above shows Pastrnak's five-on-five shots. The yellow dots are goals. The substance here is that he's taken just four shots from the slot.

Four points in six games is unacceptable for an offensive player of Pastrnak's caliber and salary. The Leafs' defenders deserve credit, but the Bruins absolutely, unequivocally need No. 88 to snap out of it before it's too late.

Marchand's effectiveness

Early in the series, two things overshadowed Pastrnak's mediocre outings. One was Boston's winning ways. The other was the play of Brad Marchand.

Marchand, who hit an eight-year low in points per game in the regular season, racked up eight points in his first four postseason games. Crucially, he stayed out of the penalty box while Toronto counterparts Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi failed to do the same. A mind-game enthusiast on and off the ice, Marchand even went out of his way to describe the Leafs as a "tough team to play right now."

Games 5 and 6 were different stories. He wasn't overly dangerous on the attack, he bungled his scoring opportunities, and his officiating luck ran out. He was assessed three minors, all for roughing. In general, the longtime Leafs killer looked uncharacteristically overwhelmed by the moment.

The most optimistic pocket of the Leafs' fan base is convinced Marchand is rattled, cooked. The most pessimistic pocket believes the Bruins captain, eager to once again inflict pain on a rival, is saving his best game for last.

Montgomery's adjustments

Boston Globe / Getty Images

The losing coach of this series could very well lose his job. Given the sequence of events here, the heat's on Jim Montgomery ahead of Game 7.

Fairly or not, sluggish starts tend to be attributed to poor preparation by the coaching staff. The Bruins followed up a two-shot first period in Game 5 with a one-shot opening frame in Game 6 - and that shot came on the penalty kill. Truly incredible stuff.

Toronto's forecheck has set the tone in recent games. The Leafs have subsequently created chaos by hemming Boston in and jamming the slot with screens. When the Bruins have tried to respond with offense of their own, the Leafs have consistently put multiple bodies and sticks in front of the shooter.

Jake McCabe and Simon Benoit have smothered everybody from Pastrnak and Marchand to No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy and top-six center Pavel Zacha. Toronto's shutdown pairing has imposed its will as the series has chugged along, and Montgomery and the Bruins haven't adjusted accordingly.

Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

The benefit of last change should allow Montgomery to chase favorable matchups for the Pastrnak line. Defensively, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Carlo - who've both enjoyed strong series - should be glued to William Nylander, who broke out in Game 6 by potting Toronto's two goals.

It's also a head coach's job to motivate, and Montgomery told reporters that "Pasta needs to step up" in Game 7. We'll see if this direct approach pays off.

Big-game DNA of young Leafs

That Toronto has made it this far with one goal in a league-high 37 power-play minutes is quite frankly astonishing.

Think about it: The second-best offensive team in the regular season has played the equivalent of almost two full periods with the man advantage and scored just once. The Leafs miss Matthews, but they also can't get anything going.

This power-play drought has narrowed Toronto's margin of error.

Goalie Joseph Woll's gone tit for tat with Bruins star Jeremy Swayman over the past seven periods. He's been athletic and calm, moving methodically, making excellent reads, and controlling rebounds. He cannot allow a bad goal in Game 7, not with the offense averaging 1.83 goals per game.

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Woll and rookie Matthew Knies seem built for the pressure cooker that is Toronto in general, and also the added heat of this particularly unsatisfying era. Knies has steadily improved over the course of the series. He's been relentless on pucks, functionally physical, and clutch, scoring the overtime goal in Game 5 and assisting on the eventual game-winner in Game 6.

The Leafs' roster is constructed around five expensive pieces - Matthews, Nylander, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly. There's some serious irony brewing. Two guys making less than $1 million a year, who have both flashed big-game DNA in small sample sizes, could make the difference in Game 7.

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

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