Randy Carlyle has a fascinating choice to make in light of the series-ending injury incurred by Mike Kostka.
Carlyle can insert Jake Gardiner or Ryan O’Byrne into the lineup.
Certainly, O’Byrne has played more. Acquired at the trade deadline exactly for this kind of situation, O’Byrne last played April 24 against Tampa, a week after Gardiner.
The six-foot-five O’Byrne has played 308 NHL games and 19 post-season contests which, you should know is 19 more than the 22-year-old Gardiner.
That said, Carlyle should go with Gardiner.
The Leafs problem in Boston wasn’t a lack of heft, it was a lack of speed and in the impunity in which the Bruins defencemen pinched and pressured the Leafs forwards in the Toronto zone.
Zdeno Chara isn’t going to shrink overnight and emboldened by their aggressive defence, the Bruins promise more of the same Saturday.
Jake Gardiner could be the antidote.
The Leafs need a defenceman confident enough to skate the puck out of his zone and the residual effects of that strategy change could spiral. With Gardiner on the ice and able to beat a forechecker, the Bruins defenceman would need to step back and respect his speed. That, in turn, should buy the Leafs forwards a bit more room.
There is risk, of course. After being one of the dominant players in the AHL, Gardiner struggled after a concussion. His on-ice decision making regressed. Carlyle loves speed but wants a little contact, even from his most skilled players, and especially on defence.
But it’s not like Gardiner will make the Leafs defence more error prone than it was in Game 1.
Moving forward, Gardiner projects as a top-four player despite his shaky season.
The playoffs are also about advancing careers. In one night, Gardiner could rectify the arc of his season and give a quality of dynamic skating from the blue line the team suddenly needs.
It’s easy to characterize Randy Carlyle as a conservative coach. He is old-school and like any coach who has seen the post-season he has a deep appreciation for experience.
But in the earliest stage of the playoffs he is faced with a pivotal decision: high-end talent with high-end risk or a safer choice without the potential upside.
It will be fascinating to see which way he goes.