The Toronto Maple Leafs will try to stave off elimination and an early disappointment from their first playoff appearance in a decade on Friday night, when they visit the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
We’ve seen quite a few players serve as disappointments in this series, as the normally potent Leafs offensive attack has had some issues scoring consistently against this top notch defensive club from Boston. Countering that list, though, is the likes of Jake Gardiner, who has had a fantastic series to this point.
Gardiner did not play in Game 1 of this series, as he served as a healthy scratch. He played in only a dozen regular season games, appearing sparingly in March and April, along with a couple of games at the beginning of the year. That lack of time with the Leafs prompted his agent to tweet “free Jake Gardiner” at one point.
If he can keep improving like he has in this series, the Leafs will be ecstatic that they did not “free” Gardiner. He’s been a huge asset to this lineup in his three games since coming in. He’s put up some points, with a goal and three assists over that span, but much of what we’ve seen from him isn’t on the stat sheet.
Gardiner has performed well in matching up against the likes of Jaromir Jagr in this series. Jagr has been relatively quiet so far, with two assists in the series. He hasn’t been immune to the occasional miscue in his own zone, but that’s actually something that has improved a great deal for Gardiner. And we already know what he can do with the puck in the offensive end.
He’s been an offensive weapon from the blue line, playing the physical game a bit and blocking shots, with three blocks in each of the last two games. He’s averaged over 22 minutes of ice time in the series, including almost two minutes on the power play.
While the Maple Leafs likely won’t make it out of this series, unless they can pull off three consecutive wins against this Bruins squad, it’s pretty clear that Gardiner is looking like the real deal on the blue line. He’ll come out of this postseason as a building block for the future on defense.