Maybe having Nazem Kadri watching from high above the ice surface in the press box for the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round series against the Boston Bruins is a good thing.
The NHL’s department of player safety revealed 45 minutes before Game 3 in Toronto that the mercurial Kadri was suspended for the remainder of the series for his vicious cross-check to the head of Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk in Game 2 on Saturday, a 4-1 win by the Bruins.
In Kadri’s absence, there were a few positive developments that helped the Maple Leafs skate to a 3-2 victory and 2-1 series lead on Monday.
First, with Kadri out of the lineup, Connor Brown moved up from the fourth line to the third, alongside Kadri’s usual linemates, William Nylander and Patrick Marleau.
That opened up a spot on the fourth line for veteran Tyler Ennis and the 29-year-old Edmonton native came through in a big way. He forced a turnover from Bruins defenceman Torey Krug in the Boston end, a play that led to the game’s opening goal early in the second period from Trevor Moore.
Kadri’s absence also opened up a spot for Andreas Johnsson on the Maple Leafs’ first power-play unit. Like Ennis, Johnsson made the most of his increased opportunity.
He set up Auston Matthews’ first goal of the series to make it 2-1 for Toronto midway through the second period.
Johnsson then scored the 3-1 goal a few shifts later on the power play and that turned out to be the game winner.
Johnsson has been a pleasant development for the Maple Leafs. He was a draft pick of the Dave Nonis regime, selected in the seventh round (202nd overall) at the 2013 draft, a couple of months after Toronto suffered its seventh-game collapse on Causeway Street in the first round against the Bruins.
Johnsson won a Swedish Hockey League championship with Frolunda in 2015-16 and late last season enjoyed his first taste of NHL life with a nine-game regular-season stint at the end of the season, as well as six games in the playoffs against Boston.
But after the Bruins dispatched the Maple Leafs in another seven-game series last spring, Johnsson rejoined the Toronto Marlies for their successful Calder Cup championship run.
Full of confidence from his stint with the Maple Leafs, Johnsson scored 10 goals and 24 points for the Marlies and won the Jack Butterfield Trophy as the AHL playoff MVP.
The 24-year-old left wing has speed and smarts and has been a good fit alongside Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen.
The Maple Leafs need a player like Johnsson to step up if they have hopes of winning their first playoff series since 2004. They need the depth players cashing in with Toronto head coach Mike Babcock set on putting up his line of John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman against the Bruins’ high-powered trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
The big-line matchup was a saw off production-wise in Game 3. But the Tavares line did hold the Bergeron threesome to only seven shots on goal. Marner came up big in the dying seconds with two massive blocks on Pastrnak.
“That’s what you need to do to win,” Babcock said. “Ideally, all those things are contagious. When you see a teammate do something like that you’re more likely to do it yourself.
“They talk about team building. To me, that’s team building. It’s just laying it on the line when you need to. It makes everyone else around you better. Good for him, good for us.”
Good for Johnsson and Ennis, too.