The Toronto Maple Leafs hold a 2-1 series lead over the Boston Bruins, with home-ice advantage in Game 4. A big reason why the Leafs have been able to swing the series in their favor is the job that has been done to stifle the Bruins’ potent top line.
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have matched up for just one even-strength goal in three games. And while Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Muzzin have been very effective on the back end against Boston’s top trio, Toronto’s top forward line led by John Tavares has been monumental in canceling out Bergeron and Co.
And according to Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, the key to that matchup between Tavares and Bergeron has been keeping Tavares’ shifts short.
The center has averaged 19:10 on ice thus far in the series, up slightly from the regular season. But Tavares also is averaging two more shifts a game than he was in the regular season.
“His ice time is almost the same, it’s just his shifts are 10 seconds less,” Babcock said via TSN’s Mark Masters. “It’s always interesting to me each night, we’re talking about ice time, but what I do is I just look at their shifts and how many shifts they had and did they go long … Our game, the way it is, if you play too long, you’re building up lactic acid and you can’t perform at the highest level. In order to play defense, you’ve got to be fresh. He’s done a real good job of that.”
Tavares, of course, is Toronto’s biggest addition since last year’s first-round series between these two teams, which was dominated by Bergeron’s line as Boston marched to a series win.
This year? That simply has not been the case, and it’s safe to say Tavares’ role has played a large part. It’s a pretty simple formula, but it’s clearly been working as the Leafs have a chance to take complete control of the series on Thursday.
Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports Images