Bruins-Maple Leafs Game 7: X factors, preview, predictions


It all comes down to this. After it looked as if the Boston Bruins were going to breeze right by an imploding Toronto Maple Leafs team, the blue and white stormed back to take Games 5 and 6.

Now it’s 3-3 in the series, and a trip to the second round is on the line between the rivals as they face off in Game 7 Saturday night in Boston (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+).

Which players will be most critical to their team’s success? And who will win the game?

Who is the one key player you’ll be watching for the Bruins?

Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: Charlie Coyle. Coyle has two assists and zero goals through six games against the Maple Leafs. It’s a bit jarring, considering he scored a career-high 25 goals and 60 points this regular season (both third most on the team). That allowed the Bruins to get by without more established top-six options down the middle.

This also goes back to Jim Montgomery saying he needs more from his stars. Although he was talking mostly about Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, the regular-season numbers Coyle put up mean there are expectations for him as well.

Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Jeremy Swayman. That’s assuming Jim Montgomery doesn’t go completely off the deep end and start Linus Ullmark in Game 7. Swayman has been the Bruins’ backbone in this series and their most consistent performer — with the .947 save percentage and 1.60 goals-against average to prove it.

But although Swayman has been excellent in these playoffs — and was great in Boston’s last postseason go-round, too — he has never won an elimination game. That will obviously have to change in Game 7 for the Bruins to advance. Montgomery said earlier in the first round that he thought Swayman was in the Leafs’ heads a little bit. Well, now it’s time for Swayman to show that script hasn’t flipped to where Toronto is messing with his mojo.

Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: Brad Marchand. These are the moments that define a player’s captaincy. I spoke with Marchand before the season, and no one was more disgusted with Boston squandering its series against the Florida Panthers than he was, feeling that the Bruins cost two of their players — Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci — the “fairy-tale ending” they deserved.

Marchand didn’t have a point in Game 7 against the Panthers last season. He hasn’t hit the score sheet in the past two losses to the Maple Leafs. He didn’t have a shot on goal in Game 5, and he has six penalty minutes combined in those two losses. He’s the heartbeat of the Bruins. If he’s not a difference-maker in Game 7, it’s another “fairy tale” with “THE END” printed on Page 1 for Boston.


Who is the one key player you’ll be watching for the Maple Leafs?

Clark: Max Domi. What Domi accomplished in the playoffs last year by helping the Stars get to the Western Conference finals showed he can be a key player for a playoff contender. He leads the Maple Leafs in points, and he has looked like one of their better players to this stage.

Three of his four points have been assists, which means he’s able to facilitate play for others. But it also goes back to what he did last year. The 13 points Domi had in 19 playoff games with the Stars is what made him such an attractive option in free agency. Now it’s about seeing whether Domi can continue building his postseason résumé with the sort of performance that can get the Leafs into the second round.

Shilton: Mitch Marner. There’s something about Auston Matthews not being in the Leafs’ lineup — it just brings out the best in Marner. He was sensational for Toronto in Games 5 and 6, revealing a confidence and determination at both ends of the ice that was lacking in his previous playoff performances.

Where Marner could have more of an impact is on the score sheet. He has just one goal and two assists through the six games, and while Toronto has benefited in its comeback from contributions outside the core, it would be a boost for both Marner and the Leafs to see him capitalize on those golden opportunities (like when his shot went off the post in Game 6). It feels as if Marner is still on the cusp of a breakthrough, production-wise. There’s no time like Game 7 to make that a reality.

Wyshynski: Joseph Woll. Stanley Cup playoff history includes a number of rookie goalies popping off and becoming postseason heroes. I’m not saying Joseph Woll is going to be Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy or even Cam Ward, but he has given the Leafs everything they need in goal right now: a .964 save percentage and a goals-against average of 0.86 in his two games since replacing Ilya Samsonov.

The huge goaltending advantage Boston had with Swayman has been mitigated. We’ve got some proof of concept now with Woll, as he played well in last season’s playoffs, too. The Leaf-iest thing would be for Woll to melt down and give up three goals in the first 10 minutes in Game 7 on the road. But at this point, I’d be surprised if the rookie goalie costs them the game — and not surprised at all if he’s the reason they win it.


The final score will be _____.

Clark: 4-3 Bruins in OT. How much did the Bruins learn from last year’s first-round exit, and can they avoid a similar fate Saturday? Those are the two major questions they’ll be seeking to answer. One way to answer those questions is by establishing the “big period” like they did in Game 1, when they scored three goals in the second period, and again in Game 3, when they scored three in the final frame.

Maybe that will happen. Or maybe it’s too late, given how they’ve looked in Games 5 and 6. But if the Bruins want to win this game, it’s about trying to find that one period in which they can pump in multiple goals, with those goals coming from different parts of their lineup.

Shilton: 2-1 Leafs. Scoring has been at a premium lately in this series, and given how well Swayman and Woll are playing, Game 7 doesn’t project as a barn burner. Boston was in control, but now the Bruins look lost at times.

Toronto has played with Game 7 levels of urgency twice already, and Boston will have to match that on the fly come Saturday — while grappling with how it went from dominant to docile so quickly. The Bruins have had their chances to close the Leafs out, but Toronto has snatched all the momentum; plus, the Leafs have been a terrific road team all season (and in this series).

Wyshynski: 3-1 Leafs. Bruins coach Jim Montgomery went from calling their first-round disaster last season a teachable moment after Game 5 to declaring that Boston is not living in the past after Game 6. Sorry, but the déjà vu is simply too strong here: 3-1 lead, overtime loss at home, loss on the road, back to Boston for Game 7.

The Bruins look slow. They look ineffective. The Leafs are playing the kind of simple, straight-ahead game the Bruins used to be known for playing: dominating zone time and the face-off circle. I’m not sure Boston can flip the script. The Bruins have lost six straight games with a chance to clinch a playoff series, tied for the seventh-longest streak by any team in NHL history.

We all assumed the pressure of a Game 7 in Boston would crush the Maple Leafs. At this point, is there any question that the Bruins are the ones with the flop sweat?



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