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STEVE SIMMONS: Andersen was great in Game 6, the Leafs were not

Defenceman Morgan Rielly, who played one of his finest games in a Leafs uniform on Sunday, hits the ice after blocking shot while Bruins Patrice Bergeron looks on. — Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)
Defenceman Morgan Rielly, who played one of his finest games in a Leafs uniform on Sunday, hits the ice after blocking shot while Bruins Patrice Bergeron looks on. — Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network) - Postmedia News

Frederik Andersen could do no more.

He was standing against the wall in the near silence of the Maple Leafs dressing room, trying to explain what didn’t happen on Sunday afternoon against the Boston Bruins, not able to put together thoughts or words of any consequence after a heartbreaking and disappointing Game 6 defeat at the Scotiabank Arena.

The Leafs got winning goaltending at home in what could have been a series-clinching game. They didn’t just get give-your-team-a-chance-to-win goaltending. They got a steal-a-game goaltending from Andersen. They got Patrick Roy in a playoff game goaltending.

They just couldn’t find a way to steal the 4-2 game against the Bruins and now, for the second year in a row, these two teams, both stronger than they were a year ago, will meet in Game 7 on Tuesday night in Boston and Andersen will have to be great again.

That’s the part that hurts most about the afternoon defeat of the Leafs. Toronto started well in Game 6, scored first, skated great for half the first period, then quickly relinquished two power-play goals — their undoing as a team in this series — and it was then, at 2-1, where the Bruins leaders took over the game and, it seemed, the series, that Andersen stood tall.

He made a brilliant glove save on Patrice Bergeron’s backhand in close with 90 seconds left in the first period, followed it up with another giant glove save off Matt Grzelcyk with 32 seconds remaining in the period. It could have easily been 4-1 instead of 2-1, but Andersen was standing tall.

The Leafs got winning goaltending at home in what could have been a series-clinching game. They didn’t just get give-your-team-a-chance-to-win goaltending.

He had little chance on either of the Boston power-play goals of the first period — the Bruins are now a mind-boggling, how-does-his-happen, 5-of-7 with the man advantage in games in this series in Toronto — and hanging on the ropes in the second period, when a rather awkward looking two-on-two saw Jake Gardiner lose his way playing David Krejci while rookie Andreas Johnsson took the wrong side of Jake DeBrusk and somehow the defensive breakdown ended up with the puck in the Leafs net.

Earlier, Andersen had next to no opportunity to stop Brad Marchand’s power play goal to tie the score at 1-1 and not much opportunity on Torey Krug’s blast that gave Boston the lead. The final goal, Marchand’s fourth of the series and second of the game, was sent into the empty net with Andersen on the bench.

“Bottom line, we needed Freddie to be good tonight to crawl our way back and we didn’t get another (goal) for him, which was disappointing. We weren’t as good as a group,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock.

Babcock thought it was the Bruins’ best game and that, by itself, is somewhat disheartening. The longtime Boston stars — Patrice Bergeron,  Marchand and Krejci — played exceptionally well and the revelation of the afternoon, and maybe the series, was the play of Boston defenceman, Brandon Carlo, who might have been the best player on the ice for either team.

It wasn’t a terrible game for the Leafs. John Tavares led in scoring chances with at least five, Auston Matthews scored his fifth goal of the series and almost brought the Leafs back in the third period and Morgan Rielly had a strong game. The Leafs were sharp at the beginning, sharp at the end, but all but gone for a long 30-minute stretch from the time of the second power-play goal to the Leafs’ flailing comeback attempt in the third period.

All the while, the score was closer than the game and that was because Andersen played at a level that was missing from the playoffs a year ago. Tavares called the Dane’s game “tremendous.” Others used similar words of praise. But the Leafs skaters didn’t match the genius of their goaltender in Game 6.

All of it being impressive and now, unfortunately, rather meaningless. Because it’s on to Game 7. This was an amazing opportunity for the Leafs in this rather unorthodox Stanley Cup playoff year. The best teams are going down, almost without explanation. But after six games and with a clinching game to come, it’s unfortunate that one of these contenders will go down on Tuesday night. You can’t say at this point one team is better than the other. Both deserve to advance. The sway of this series, the back and forth, has really not been matched up in this year’s playoffs.

The Bruins had a grand opportunity to put the series in their pocket with a win at home in Game 5. They couldn’t do it. The Leafs had the same opportunity on Sunday afternoon. They couldn’t do it. Now, it’s one game for everything and the beauty of this series is that not one game has looked much like the other.

“We know how they play, they know how we play,” said Rielly.

It’s one game and then home to Columbus. Only question is: Who’s at home?

ssimmons@postmedia.com

twitter.com/simmonssteve

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