BOSTON — Jake Gardiner was shaking his head, slowly, sadly, emotionally, before he ever said a word. The words came out quietly.
“This game is on me,” said the Maple Leafs defenceman, who can be both great and terrible, and was closer to one than the other in Game 7 of a playoff series in which the Maple Leafs came up one period short. And now their season is over.
Gardiner picked the worst time, the wrong time, to have everything go against him and the Maple Leafs.
Hockey is too much of a team game for it ever to be about any one player, especially in defeat. But Gardiner understood what happened and how he was the symbol for all that was wrong with the Maple Leafs against Boston. And he had to explain after a minus-5 night, when at least four of the Boston goals came on plays he didn’t make, what went wrong.
And he had no explanation — only blame for a night went wrong.
“The most important game of the season, I didn’t show up,” Gardiner said, standing in there afterwards on a night when standing in there was a challenge for him on the ice. And give Gardiner this much. He came out and faced the cameras. He didn’t hide. He could have done that. He took the blame. And he looked at times, the way any number of Leafs fans looked late Wednesday night: Like he was holding back tears.
“You know, personally, I’ve got to be better,” Gardiner said.
He’s not a kid anymore. But he can play with a kid-like enthusiasm and spirit and an occasional naive approach to disciplined play. In Game 7, he knew it didn’t feel right. He hands went in one direction, his feet in another, and even as he was tripping over himself over two periods as the Leafs went ahead 4-3 and looked like a series upset was possible, he couldn’t find a way to recover for the third period.
He couldn’t. His team couldn’t.
“Not much I can say, really … There’s no real explanation. It seemed like everything I was doing ending up in the back of the net.
“This is going to be a tough one to swallow. I let a lot of people down. Um, but, you know what, hopefully I can come back better from it. It’s too bad.”
Game 7s are rarely like this one was. Eleven goals were scored. The Leafs led 1-0, 2-1 and 4-3 heading into the final 20 minutes. There were five lead changes. The Leafs were great and then the Bruins were great and then the Leafs were great — it was ‘she loves me, she loves me not hockey,’ until the third period, when the Leafs ran out of time and space.
“We had a lead going into the third period … It’s not the way we saw it going,” said Gardiner, who was on the ice for six of the 11 goals scored, five of them against him and three coming in the final 15 minutes of the series.
The final period of Game 7: Boston 4, Toronto 0.
The final count in the series: Boston 4, Toronto 3.
It was that close for six games and two periods, after a dreadful first two games for the Leafs. The club found a way, fought back, got back in the series, took a lead in the second period when the strangest of occurences took place — Brad Marchand got beaten on a puck race by Kasperi Kapanen.
The Leafs took the lead on Kapanen’s artful shorthanded score. It would be their last great moment of a memorable playoff series.
This is not at all like five years ago, when the Leafs had taken the series away from the Bruins and blew a famous 4-1 lead late and into overtime in Game 7. This is a team still learning what playoffs are all about. They lost a year ago and felt inspired by their effort. This year, they may feel inspired for some of what they pulled off against this great Bruins team, but also free engaged about parts of the Leafs future heading to the future, and wondering about what went wrong in the three losses that saw Boston scoring 19 times.
You can’t give up that many playoff goals against and consider yourself a contender. There is still that to work on, be it defensive play, team defence, compete level, and the ability or inability to win loose puck battles.
The Bruins won the loose pucks in the series. They won the series. Boston had great skill coming in with their stars of the big line and their offensive minded defencemen and their secondary scorers like the impressive rookie, Jake DeBrusk.
Through seven games, the Bruins were more compete and better on compete.
The Leafs tried to pull off the impossible and the improbable, not just winning the series but winning three straight against the Bruins, and darn it, they came close — or they didn’t — it depends how you view close.
This was a terrific playoff season for Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau and the worker bees Zach Hyman and Connor Brown. It wasn’t a terrific playoff season for Auston Matthews or William Nylander, who got better as the series got older, or Gardiner and it was up and down for Frederik Andersen, who carried the Leafs into Game 7.
And it should be noted, in wondering what could have been, that Roman Polak, the defenceman nobody but Mike Babcock likes, ended Game 7 with a plus-three. Polak didn’t disappoint, but many Leafs did.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies