How the Maple Leafs won Game 5 and stayed alive: 4 takeaways

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In a tense, must-win game with so many future possibilities within the franchise hanging in the balance, you’d expect it would be the Toronto Maple Leafs veterans to step up and take control of Game 5.

Instead, it was the work of two Leafs rookies who saved them from elimination with two of the best games of their careers.

Matthew Knies scored in overtime to seal a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins while Joseph Woll stopped 28-of-29 shots to force a Game 6 back in Toronto on Thursday.

Knies’ goal was his second of the series and can undoubtedly be called the biggest of his young career so far.

Meanwhile, Woll showed the kind of composure and athleticism that proved why Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe had the confidence to turn to him with the team’s season in the balance.

Game 5 was by far the most tense and tight-checking affair of the series. The physicality that could open games up was replaced by the kind of low-event hockey you’d expect in an elimination game, and especially one that saw the Leafs lacking their best player in Auston Matthews.

But the Leafs deserve full marks for playing through the nerves that were evident in Monday’s practice and ahead of Game 5 itself. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Leafs did enough to keep things interesting.

Matthew Knies the overtime hero

Knies has had an up-and-down series against the Bruins. He took the brunt of the Bruins physicality early in the series and got up to speed very quickly on the rigours of playoff hockey. But he’s now scored two key goals that will undoubtedly fill him with confidence for the rest of the series.

His smart play on the overtime winner stands out. And it was the kind of goal that not only Knies has gotten better at scoring, but one crucial in the playoffs.

As linemate John Tavares drove to the net and kept the puck away from Bruins defenceman Matt Grzelcyk, Knies sniffed out the open ice and drove to the net. He has the size to ward off defenders and the nose for the net to do so, and made a simple play to quickly fire a rebound past Jeremy Swayman.

It’s a goal Knies will undoubtedly remember for the rest of his career. That the play was cemented postgame with a long hug between him and Woll said a lot about how much these two players mean to each other and to the Leafs.

Joseph Woll stands tall in net

Sheldon Keefe was clear after Game 4: The Leafs needed better goaltending to have a chance to stay alive in the series. That meant the end of Ilya Samsonov as the Leafs starting goalie and, it’s worth wondering, whether that meant the end of Samsonov’s time as a Leaf as well.

Keefe turned to Joseph Woll to provide that, just as he did last year when Samsonov was injured during Game 3 against the Florida Panthers.

And just as he did last year, Woll stood tall: His reads were outstanding and even when he lost a skate blade and had the Bruins crash his net, the cool-as-a-cucumber Woll that Leafs fans have come to appreciate stood his ground.

Woll’s best save came with the game on the line late as he sprawled out to prevent a Trent Frederic wraparound with his pad.

The Bruins then came at Woll aggressively in overtime, throwing five shots on goal in just over two minutes. But Woll stopped them all and kept a tight grip on the starter’s job for the rest of the series in the process.

The Leafs’ best player continues to suffer from an ailment serious enough to keep him out of an elimination game.

After Matthews took the ice for approximately eight minutes ahead of the Leafs’ optional morning skate, there was hope he might play in Game 5. But that hope was extinguished later in the day as it became clear the Leafs would need to stay alive without the three-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner.

As Game 5 unfolded, it became clear the Leafs missed Matthews’ ability to break a game open with his world-class shot. There just weren’t a ton of dangerous opportunities for the Leafs. But in Matthews’ place, Mitch Marner had a tremendous game, showing consistent effort at both ends of the ice. Marner had the primary assist on the game’s opening goal and drove the top line. That line ended with 67 percent of the 5-on-5 expected goals while on the ice, per NaturalStatTrick. It was the kind of performance from puck drop onward that we’ve been waiting for Marner to have.

Once again, the Leafs struggle to score

OK, we expected Game 5 to be tense given that the Leafs season was on the line and all the franchise-altering scenarios that could play out in their offseason.

And yes, this Leafs team was without the league’s leading scorer.

All that is valid, but we’re still talking about a team that finished second in the NHL in regular-season scoring with 3.63 goals per game. To then score just two goals in undoubtedly their most important game of the season? And zooming out, to not score more than two goals in a game just once in their past 12 playoff games?

You could get micro on this topic and scratch your head at why Max Domi would elect to slowly skate toward the goal on an odd-man rush in the third period and telegraph his pass instead of just firing it at the goal.

But the Leafs’ inability to score in the playoffs isn’t just on one player. The primary and the secondary scoring has mostly dried up.

Hey, at least the Leafs have a chance to right their wrongs in Game 6?

(Photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

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