TORONTO -- Momentum can be a great thing for a hockey team this time of year. That is, if you get it and can maintain it.
Last season the Los Angeles Kings barely made the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but got on a roll in the postseason and rode a wave all the way to their first championship.
Thus far in the first-round Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins, neither team has been able to carry momentum from one game into the next. The Bruins won the series opener, but then lost Game 2 at home. The Maple Leafs, in their first playoff appearance in nine years, received huge support from their adoring fans, but were unable to translate that into victory at home, dropping both Games 3 and 4.
Then, with the possibility of concluding the series in five games, the Bruins lost a second straight home game and here we are with Game 6 in Toronto on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"There certainly is momentum in games in a playoff series, but we won the last game and they really dominated the third period, so I guess both teams could claim to have momentum," said Toronto left wing Joffrey Lupul, who is tied for the team lead in scoring with three goals and four points. "Realistically, this is a game we have to win and it's a game they probably want to win desperately. For us, we have no choice; we have to win."
Clarke MacArthur, who was a healthy scratch in Games 2 and 3, but returned to the lineup with goals in Games 4 and 5, believes the Maple Leafs deserve a better fate than to be 0-2 at home in the series.
"We played good enough at home last game to win, I thought," MacArthur said. "We need to have the same effort and get a bounce or two tonight. Both teams are going to be geared up and going hard tonight. It should be a good tilt."
Even though the Bruins lost Game 5, they held a distinct territorial advantage in the third period but managed just one goal on Toronto goalie James Reimer, who had his best game of the playoffs.
Asked why neither team has been able to hold the momentum, Bruins center Chris Kelly said, "I think for the most part the whole playoffs have been like that. Teams are playing hard and playing desperate at critical times, and the Maple Leafs were the more desperate team last game. We outplayed them in the third period, and that's the way we choose to look at it, but you could also say they were up by one goal and were kind of sitting back. I don't think we played extremely well for the first 40 minutes of that game."
Boston coach Claude Julien said there is so much parity in today's NHL that it is nearly impossible to gain momentum in a playoff series.
"I don't know if there is such a thing as momentum when you get to the playoffs," Julien said. "Whether you win or lose, you turn the page and get on to the next game. If you lose, you know you have to bounce back, and if you win, you try to keep the momentum but you know there is going to be some desperation from the other team that wants to bounce back. I don't think in any of the series you have seen one team totally dominate the other. You saw the Islanders against Pittsburgh, and with a little break they could have been going to Game 7."
"We're feeding off the energy of the building and of the city in general," Lupul said. "We have shown videos of the fans at Maple Leaf Square in our dressing room, the celebration of some of our goals, and it's a special feeling for us. Despite the fact we lost Games 3 and 4 here, we felt we did some good things. We had 50-plus shots in both games, so we have to find a way to get to (Tuukka) Rask. He has been great in both games and that will be the first order of business for us, to make him uncomfortable."
Here are the projected lineups for the Bruins and Maple Leafs in Game 6: