BOSTON – With Nazem Kadri facing suspension for his wrecking ball hit on Tommy Wingels late in Game 1, the Toronto Maple Leafs were forced into a decision with their practice lines Friday morning as they prepared to achieve their goal in Boston: earn a split.
But the extent to which they were humbled in Game 1 prompted Mike Babcock to make changes beyond sliding veteran winger Patrick Marleau into Kadri’s (likely) vacated centre-ice position. Instead, Zach Hyman was dropped down onto Marleau’s unit with Mitch Marner, while Andreas Johnsson was plugged into the fourth line (for his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut) to accommodate Leo Komarov’s move to the No. 1 unit with Auston Matthews and William Nylander.
This means one thing for Game 2: Komarov won’t soon escape Brad Marchand.
Given the extent to which Bruce’s Cassidy’s No. 1 line neutralized the Leafs’ top talent in Game 1, it only makes sense for the Bruins to continue shadowing Matthews and Nylander with Patrice Bergeron and Marchand — each of whom finished above 80 percent in shot attempts during the contest.
But it was more than that for Marchand, who had a quintessential performance which saw him find a home directly under the Maple Leafs’ skin. It included a gorgeous goal, a feathered assist and a lick (?) on the cheek that has hijacked the narrative surrounding this series.
“I’ve heard it all now, guys.” James van Riemsdyk piped up Friday.
“Never seen that before,” Marleau said of the kiss, or lick. “Now I’ve seen it twice. It’s definitely different.”
To Komarov’s credit, he’s shown the restraint Kadri lacked.
That continued Friday when he was prodded again about Thursday’s incident near the benches with Marchand.
“It is what it is,” Komarov said. “I’m playing hockey, and that’s it.”
In Brad Marchand's mind, Leo Komarov wanted the affection
— Yahoo Canada Sports (@YahooCASports) April 13, 2018
Regardless, promoting the Finn up to the top line remains a curious decision from the Leafs.
Firstly, Hyman was one of the few bright lights Thursday, scoring the Leafs’ only goal on a magnificent individual effort. But one of the more advantageous lineup tweaks Toronto made throughout the entire regular season, from an optimization standpoint, was lifting Komarov from his position within the top nine. Contributing just six primary points at even strength, the veteran winger and pending unrestricted free agent was, to say it bluntly, an offensive anchor.
Maybe it makes some sense to have Komarov on the assignment. He can make the simple play, brings sound defensive structure and can offer a little insulation for Matthews and Nylander with the ever-confident and equally effective Marchand helping stymie their attack. Matthews and Nylander need to be better Saturday, and they need time and space to turn in an improved performance.
But as Babcock will tell it, Komarov deserved the promotion on merit from the depths of Toronto’s Game 1 lineup.
“He was competitive last night,” Babcock said. “We’re trying to get the most competitive people involved as much as we possibly can.”
It’s the combination Babcock prefers for Game 2.
But you can’t help but think the Bruins will like it just the same.
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