By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
So it turns out we have ourselves a series after all.
Now, that's not to say that Game 4 will be a repeat of Game 3, that the Toronto Maple Leafs will survive a 42-shot onslaught and get literally all the puck bounces to go their way. It's still most likely that the Bruins finish their chances in Game 4 and finish the job in Game 5. The ol' "gentlemen's sweep."
But in any seven-game series, 2-1 is legit. The Leafs have an opportunity in front of them to suddenly make the Bruins start to press. On Thursday, they'll have a chance on their home ice to set up an even bigger opportunity for themselves in what would be a pivotal Game 5 on Saturday. But if the Bruins continue doing what they did in the third period on Monday, and this time the little rubber disc actually crosses the red line a couple more times, then they still have the edge in Game 4 and the rest of the series.
Anyway, big-picture spiel over. Here are some observations and moments from Game 3 that deserve the spotlight...
1. The story was the missed opportunities for the Bruins' top line, but the biggest missed chance came off the stick of David Krejci. No. 46 had the most golden of opportunities on the doorstep against Frederik Andersen, but completely whiffed on his shot. If he were able to bury the puck there, it would have been an absolutely show-stopping play for Jake DeBrusk, who took a check along the boards only to maintain control of the puck and set up Krejci all alone in front. Could've set up a much, much different third period.
Look at DeBrusk here. What a player. Sets the table perfectly for Krejci who jumps the gun and fans on a sure goal. pic.twitter.com/QEONrBbGAA
— Boston Pucks (@BostonPucks) April 17, 2018
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) April 17, 2018
2. Kevan Miller couldn't keep up. After establishing himself in the first two games as a physical force and arguably the Bruins' highest-performing defenseman, Miller took a step back in Game 3. That's partially because Mike Babcock got the matchups he wanted on home ice. Miller got burned badly by Mitch Marner when he took a long pass from Morgan Rielly to set up the 2-on-1 that led to Patrick Marleau's first goal.
Now that Miller has an idea of what the Leafs are going to throw at him in Game 4, it's on him to adjust. He probably will. He's been as reliable as any Bruins defenseman in the past two playoff series. But the need to make an adjustment and improve is certainly there.
3. The Leafs made some slight improvements in their net-front defense. Something tells me that this:
Is a better defensive strategy than this:
To be fair, these are totally different situations. Beginning of a tie game from an energized team at home, versus a team down 5-2 in the third period and losing focus on the road. But it's still a hilariously stark difference between the two.
The B's may not have to adjust too much, because the Leafs showed in the third period in Game 3 that they can't exactly hold the fort in front of the goal for 60 full minutes. But Toronto at least proved capable to bring something better than the "Zero Humans" defense to the table.
4. Anton Khudobin was the Bruins' bench MVP. Imagine the officials called the Bruins for too many men here:
Khudobin saving the Bruins from taking a too many men penalty. pic.twitter.com/gFDa1WkgTi
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) April 17, 2018
Good on Doby to chip in there.
5. Charlie McAvoy made his presence felt on defense. He delivered a big hit in the first period and blocked five shots, to go with Zdeno Chara's six blocks. Those blocked shots gave him the advantage in the possession game, especially when matched up against the Leafs' third line of Jams van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, and Connor Brown.
The rookie defenseman also made a handful of sound defensive plays to poke the puck away from rushing Leafs forwards. He improved upon his so-so performance in the first two games, in which his most notable play was a bad angle on Zach Hyman's goal for Toronto.
If McAvoy can take his game to another level, or even contribute on offense, he'd suddenly add a dangerous new dimension to the Bruins' attack. He may still be too young to do what he did on Monday on a consistent basis, but once he can ... the league will be on notice. Maybe that turning point comes this spring.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].