The Toronto Maple Leafs’ third game of the Stanley Cup playoffs was a whirlwind of emotions. Thankfully, the play of Tomas Plekanec was the main avenue through which the Boston Bruins’ storm of an offense was temporarily calmed.
Prior to Game 3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round series, Tomas Plekanec was widely seen as something of an underwhelming acquisition. Obtained — along with prospect Kyle Baun — from the Montreal Canadiens at the deadline in a trade that saw the Leafs part ways with Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel and an upcoming second-round draft pick, Plekanec’s tenure as a member of the Buds had been questionable at best. With the exception of a few games, he was used as the Leafs’ No. 4 center and often plays alongside the likes of Kasperi Kapanen and either of Leo Komarov and Andreas Johnsson.
That all changed on Monday night. A suspension to Nazem Kadri, coupled with downright embarrassing losses in Games 1 and 2, left head coach Mike Babcock in a position to address what had initially seemed to be the team’s greatest strength, but what now served as a source of concern — center depth. That Babs opted to turn to Plekanec — perhaps the most polarizing figure in #LeafsNation — would reflect the more general nature of a do-or-die situation.
To call Plekanec the night’s most valuable player is not to undermine the collective effort of the Leafs’ performance. Auston Matthews’ much needed goal, Frederik Andersen’s monstrous presence between the pipes and Patrick Marleau’s timely scoring will inevitably envelop the talk circuit of the hockey world until Thursday’s matchup. Heck, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner even made the Buds’ blueline look somewhat defensively responsible.
That said, Plekanec’s two-way presence was nothing short of irreplaceable. He was tasked with one of the most difficult assignments in contemporary hockey — shutting down the best line in the NHL. And boy, did he ever make his opportunity count.
Heading into Game 3, the impressive trio that lead the Bruins to glory on a recurring basis — Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak — looked just about unstoppable. In only two matchups, they had accumulated a whopping 20 points. Pastrnak, in particular, had even broken a record that was previously held by none other than Wayne Gretzky.
While there’s little doubt that the Leafs caught a few lucky breaks, Monday proved that, under the right circumstances, the Bruins’ primary offensive unit is susceptible to certain vulnerabilities. Central to ushering forward these shortcomings is two-way play of a very specific kind — the type that not only rids Boston of opportunities, but also gets under the skin of the Bruins’ top performers. No easy task at all, but one that Plekanec handled by marrying defensive accountability with an edge of frustration to his game.
By the end of the night, the tables had turned. Hockey’s favorite turtleneck bearer recorded an assist — just his third point as a member of the Leafs. In something of a rarity, Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak were held off the scoresheet.
It might just be one game, but tonight is a reminder of the fact that the Leafs’ decision to trade for Plekanec was no spur of the moment mishap. In the midst of times like these, echoes of the past ring truer than ever. Look no further for proof of this reality than Marchand’s infamous comments uttered back in 2014. When asked to describe the most frustrating opponent to match up against, Marchand had this to offer:
"Tomas Plekanec from Montreal…I hate him. I can’t stand him. No, I probably shouldn’t say that. I dislike him very much. Somebody is going to call and get mad at me tomorrow."
His name might be regarded in a very different light from that of Matthews, Andersen, Marleau or just about anyone on the Leafs’ roster. But credit where it’s due: Plekanec’s two-way responsibility succeeded in bringing the NHL’s most dangerous trio to a halt. Look for Plekanec to ride this wave of momentum in the games to come.
Who knows? He may just be the key difference-maker the Leafs needed.