For the third time in just nine years, the Boston Bruins will face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the NHL playoffs. If the previous matchups are any indication of what’s to come, we are in for a treat. An original six matchup that has provided us with some of the most memorial playoff games in the last decade. The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs will without a doubt deliver us with an exciting and exhilarating series. Although game dates have yet to be announced, it is most likely that this series will begin April 11th, with the actual start of the playoffs beginning on April 10th. Can we expect more of the same from these two teams? Can the Leafs finally knock off the Big Bad Bruins? Here’s an in-depth look at part three of this playoff bout.
NHL Playoffs Preview: Boston Bruins VS. Toronto Maple Leafs
Regular Season Wrap-Up
The Bruins and Leafs have both cemented their spots in the standings, with Boston finishing second in the Atlantic, and the Leafs finishing third. The Bruins were 3-1 against the Leafs this season, with their only loss coming on November 26th while they were missing two key players in Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Both teams have some injuries to deal with, but in general are fairly healthy.
NHL Playoffs History
This will be the Bruins and Leafs third time meeting in the playoffs in the past decade. The Bruins are 2-0 in those previous matchups. The 2013 series was capped off by an enormous comeback by the Boston Bruins in game 7. Similar to 2013, 2018 was ended by the Bruins once again, when they exploded for 7 goals in their 7-4 victory against Toronto. It’s no question that the Bruins have the edge against the Leafs both in the regular season, and the playoffs. However, the Leafs play the Bruins well nearly every matchup, hence why both series went seven games. I would expect nothing less from this series.
Key Factors for Both Teams
Toronto Maple Leafs
Key factor: Use your speed
For the Maple Leafs, the key factor against the Bruins continues to be speed. The Leafs have built their entire offense around this skill. They added one of the fastest and most prolific players in the NHL this offseason in John Tavares. Along with speed, the Leafs rely heavily upon their ability to score goals. They rank third in the NHL in goals per game (3.5). You won’t see them winning a lot of 1-0 or 2-0 games. If they can make every game a shootout, I like their chances. However, Boston is no stranger to putting the puck in the net and it’ll take some effort to beat the Bruins.
Key Player: Auston Matthews
The key player for this team has got to be Auston Matthews. Matthews finished with a mere two assists in their 2018 playoff matchup with the Bruins. Most agree that if he had been as electric as he had been in the regular season that year, the Leafs would’ve been advancing to face the Lightning in the second round. He was a +25 last season and led his team in the +/- category. In the 2018 playoffs, he was a -7. He will be key in the Leafs push for their first playoff series win in 15 years.
Key Factor: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it
This may seem obvious for the Bruins, but stick to what you know. They are now 7-4 against the Leafs since the beginning of last years playoff series. They without a doubt have Toronto’s number. However, a big factor for the Bruins will once again be stopping the speed of the Maple Leafs. The Bruins backend has always lacked in my opinion, and a lot of their mistakes have been saved by Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Not to mention, the addition of John Tavares to this Leafs team makes them even more dangerous in open ice. The Bruins are notorious for allowing quick and agile players to slip behind them for odd man opportunities. This can’t happen against the Leafs, one of the quickest teams in the NHL.
Last year when the Bruins were able to play the body and minimize open ice opportunities, they dominated the Leafs. However, when the Leafs were able to burst into the offensive zone with speed and use quick passes to get around the defense of the Bruins, that’s when there was a lot of trouble. The Bruins have got to keep guys like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares at bay. They don’t have that top 2 defensemen that can take that top guy, so they’ll have to work as a unit.
Key Player: Brad Marchand
Brad Marchand will without a doubt be a key player in this series. He is coming off his best season of his career and his first 100-point season as well. His ability to find open ice and get around defenders is undeniably elite. He needs to continue to bring this energy and scoring into the playoffs. In the past, Bruins top scorers have dried up in the playoffs. This certainly can’t happen this year. If the Leafs make this a shootout of a series, the Bruins are in for a frustrating stretch of games. However, the frustration can be subdued if Marchand can continue to put pucks in the net and create opportunities for his linemates.
Prediction: The Bruins Will Prevail Once Again
Comparing the rosters from last year to this year for both teams is dramatically different. For the Leafs, they added John Tavares while losing long-time Leaf James van Riemsdyk. For the Bruins, no substantial additions or subtractions have occurred. If you’re the Leafs, that’s not what you want to hear. Even though the stats might not reflect it, this Bruins team has better goaltending than last year, better scoring than last year, and better special teams than last year. They have solidified themselves as a top 3 team in this league, while the Leafs have played very poor hockey in the months of March and April.
The one thing that the Leafs had over the Bruins and still have to an extent, is speed. However, that gap is getting smaller and smaller each year. David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, and Brad Marchand are starting to transform this Bruins team. Do they still have the rough and tough players on their team? Sure. But they are starting to add a bit of quickness to their team that will combat the Leafs very well. I see the Bruins taking this series in six games.
There is no doubt that the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs will give us a heart-pounding series. Both of these teams are elite NHL squads and both feel they deserve to move onto the next round. For the Bruins, they’ve got the Leafs number. Now, it’s simply a matter of execution. For the Leafs, they’ve got to wear this Bruins team down and never let up. The Leafs have come so close to beating Boston multiple times, but the Bruins resiliency is a huge problem for Toronto. It’ll be an interesting first round of the NHL playoffs, highlighted by this oh so familiar matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins.
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