The Toronto Maple Leafs are now on the brink of elimination as their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series shifts back to Boston, and they're starting to run out of time when it comes to salvaging their season.
One thing Randy Carlyle might be able to do to give his team a better shot and fight off the golf course as long as possible is give more ice-time to some of his better players. Sounds like a simple enough strategy, but it's been a constant problem in Toronto all season.
He made an effort to correct part of it on Wednesday by giving defensemen Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson over 27 minutes of ice-time, and he was rewarded with some rock-solid play from the young duo (Franson actually scored one of Toronto's goals while the Leafs badly outshot Boston with both players on the ice).
But there's another player that needs to be on the ice more for Toronto -- forward Clarke MacArthur.
MacArthur was actually a healthy scratch in Games 2 and 3 of the series but was able to find his way back into the lineup on Wednesday. And he was only given eight minutes of ice-time. But they were a very efficient eight minutes as he scored a goal to tie the game at three while the Leafs held a 10-7 shot advantage while he was on the ice. That's pretty good, and it should have been enough to earn him more shifts.
Unless there's an injury we're not aware of (and in the NHL playoffs that's always a possibility) there is really no rational reason as to why he isn't playing more. It's not like he hasn't shown he can be a useful player in the NHL. He's scored 20 goals in two of the past three seasons and was on pace for 18 this season had it been a full 82-game schedule. He's also been one of Toronto's best possession players in recent years showing an ability to drive play in the right direction, which is something that Toronto doesn't have enough of.
His usage on Wednesday was so bizarre that after scoring his goal with 2:37 to play in the second period he didn't see the ice again until nearly 11 minutes into the third period.
Carlyle's player usage has been a series of head scratching decisions after another this season, from his handling of young defenseman Gardiner and Franson, to the defensive role he's asked Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to play at the expense of their offense, to his desire to keep Colton Orr (and at times Frazer McLaren) in the lineup. The Orr fascination had to be even more frustrating for Leafs fans on Wednesday when he took a silly elbowing penalty that resulted in a Boston power play goal. In a game that's decided by one goal that's a huge turning point. And when that one-goal loss puts your team on the brink of elimination in a best-of-7 series it could be a season-ending play.
A guy like MacArthur probably isn't going to strike fear into the hearts of the Bruins defense, but he's one of Toronto's better forwards and continuing to keep him out of the lineup or limit his ice to just eight minutes doesn't make any sense.
Especially as you're now facing elimination.