Break out all the clichés. The Maple Leafs are on the brink of elimination. Win or go home. They have their backs to the wall, etc.
Toronto was an overtime goal away from squaring the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at two games apiece on home ice, and then in a flash there was an ill-advised pinch, a chip up the wall, and David Krejci potting the winner to put the Bruins up, three games to one.
So the Leafs return to Boston for Friday night’s Game 5 with their season on the line.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was supportive of captain Dion Phaneuf, who committed the costly gaffe that led to the two-on-one break with Krejci and Milan Lucic. Game over.
“Obviously, we put the puck down in deep and we turned it over,’’ said Carlyle, referring to Phaneuf’s decision to go for the big hit on Nathan Horton, who deflected the puck to Krejci. “We made the decision to pinch, which was incorrect, and we worked hard to get back but I don’t think we put enough pressure on the puck carrier and the goal went in short side.’’
But Thursday was a new day. Carlyle said the team would regroup and put Game 4 behind them because that’s their only option.
“It hurts,’’ said Carlyle. “Nobody can say you [didn’t] put everything on the line and it was that type of game. That’s what playoffs bring, the up and down, the emotions. The physical play was very, very high in the hockey game and it hurts when you lose. The bottom line is you can’t change what happened and now it’s time to regroup and that’s what we’re here to do.’’
Toronto rebounded strongly after losing Game 1, and although the Leafs played very well for much of Game 4, they coughed up a 2-0 lead.
“We’re going to gather this group together, reset, refocus, reenergize, do all those things that we normally do,’’ said Carlyle. “We’ve got to go in and win a game in Boston.’’
As for Phaneuf, the veteran acknowledged after the game that his mistake was costly, but Carlyle said errors are part of the deal.
“He made a mistake pinching,’’ said Carlyle. “He’s a veteran guy and we all make mistakes. In reality, if you look at the way Dion has played for our hockey club, he’s represented our team as a captain, he’s played 30-plus minutes, he leads our team in a lot of different categories, and emotionally and physically on the ice, and without him we wouldn’t be here. In the team concept of a room, nobody in that room has ever not made a mistake. It’s just in the situation that developed [Wednesday] night, it was a big one and it’s under a microscope and it’s going to be talked about and that’s what we’re dealing with.’’
Carlyle said they don’t dwell on victories and they’re not going to dwell on defeat either.
“Today is the day to deal with it and move on,’’ he said. “Today is about moving on and getting ready for the Boston Bruins on Friday night. We accept the responsibility for our actions, we’ve created this template. We go back and regroup with our coaching staff and players, and focus on what we can control. We’ve done that on a pretty regular basis and we’re going to continue to do that.’’
Fraser suffers fracture
The game wasn’t the only thing the Leafs lost. They also lost defenseman Mark Fraser, who was struck in the head by a slap shot off the stick of Lucic. “He is resting at home,’’ said Carlyle. “He had surgery [Wednesday] night to repair a fracture between the eyes and the cranial area. I don’t know if you would call it a fractured skull, I think that’s a little bit severe. He was texting and in conversation with his teammates this morning before 8 o’clock so he’s back on the road to recovery.’’ John-Michael Liles will likely step in to replace Fraser. “You’ve got a guy who’s played with our hockey team most of the year and has been in and out of our lineup and has been a great soldier,’’ said Carlyle. “He’s one of our veteran guys and he’s going to get a chance to get back in the lineup.’’ . . . One of the areas Carlyle said the team has to be better is providing goaltender James Reimer with more support. “We always want [the] goalie to steal a game if he can,’’ said Carlyle. “The number of quality chances that he’s had to face, we have to cut those down. That’s part of the mandate that we talk about. Our team has got to find a way to play to a higher level.’’