The Quick Look
2017-2018 Season Statistics
|Boston Bruins||Toronto Maple Leafs||League Ranks|
The Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs will square-off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting on Thursday, April 12th at 7:00 pm EST.
The Bruins were 1-2-1 against the Leafs in the 2017-2018 regular season, including a game that the Bruins lost in the final minutes due to a controversial non-goalie interference call.
These two teams have not met up in the playoffs in recent years, except for one memorable series in the 2013 playoffs. Down 4-1 with less than eleven minutes remaining, the Bruins scored three unanswered goals to tie the game – including two with Tuukka Rask pulled.
They would then go on to win fairly soon in overtime and would continue their historic playoff run before ultimately falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Key Players to Watch
Brad Marchand – As other-worldly as Marchand has been this season, he can still struggle at times.
In the last six games of the regular season, a stretch where the Bruins needed their top players to step up to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference, he had a -8 rating and only one assist. What’s even more unusual for “The Rat” is that he has scored only 1 goal in his last 18 playoff games. For the Bruins to advance far into the playoffs, especially with their recent defensive struggles, they will need Marchand to break out of his funk. Marchand has 30 points in 36 career games against the Leafs and also had 3 points in the playoffs against them in that 2013 seven-game series. Marchand is at his best when he shoots the puck and doesn’t try and be cute with his game by trying to make the extra pass or deke past more defenders than he can handle.
Tuukka Rask – There are two camps when it comes to the $7 million/year goaltender: Tuukka is either a great goaltender that has the potential to carry the Bruins to the promised land or Tuukka craps all over himself in big games and can’t steal a game or two for his team. No matter which side you land on, you have stats to back up your argument. Rask owns a .928 save-percentage with a 2.12 goals against average in 53 career playoff games and is 30-23 in these games. Not bad, right?
Well, when the team has needed him the most, Rask has somewhat crapped on himself in the playoffs. In elimination games, Rask sports a 2-4 record with a SV% of .891 and a GAA of 3.91. All in all, the Bruins have not gotten any great performances from Rask when their backs have been up against the wall. Rask normally plays as well or as poorly as the team is in front of him and if the team is getting torched by the Maple Leafs forwards, the Bruins will need to put up 3-4 goals at the minimum to compensate for the lackluster defense.
(Source: Sporting News)
Zdeno Chara – I guess you could say all of the Bruins defensemen can be lumped in with Chara (specifically Charlie McAvoy since they are paired up with one another), but Chara stands out since he is the most important defenseman for his team and probably the most important defenseman in the series between both teams. The Bruins have run into trouble over these last five or so games because of turnovers and defensive breakdowns. That’s usually why the Bruins have looked bad in the past, including at the beginning of this season when they were never fully healthy and were still meshing as a team.
As mentioned, the Bruins were 1-2-1 against the Leafs during the regular season. The only game they won was a 4-1 victory on home ice. The Leafs had superstar Auston Matthews for this game, however, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy made sure to match up the team’s most experienced defenseman with him as often as possible. Matthews wound up with a -2 rating in that game. At home, Chara will be a crucial piece in limiting the skill and speed of Matthews and the rest of the Leafs’ top lines.
The Rookies: Jake Debrusk/Danton Heinen/Ryan Donato – These three are the youngest ones on the team and have no NHL playoff experience. This means that the added pressure of the playoffs will either elevate their game or make them crack under pressure. DeBrusk will remain alongside David Krejci and will welcome back veteran Rick Nash on his opposite wing. It is confirmed that Heinen will slot-in with Noel Acciari and David Backes. DeBrusk and Heinen on their respective lines have been the most effective during the regular season, so no surprise that they are back where they are.
Surprisingly (or not surprising, depending on how you view the situation), Ryan Donato is probable to be a healthy scratch for game one. This makes sense seeing that he has less than 15 games of NHL experience, however, he was, at times, the Bruins most dynamic offensive player with his ability to snipe shots past opposing goaltenders. Donato could be the “in case of emergency, break glass” type of player if the team needs an added boost due to a potential lack of scoring.
These three will be playing prominent roles in this series and throughout the playoffs, barring that they advance to the next round. No one can truly tell how young players will react when the game moves at a faster pace and is more intense. These youngsters combined for 99 points in 159 games (0.62 points/game), which is quite impressive for rookies. The Bruins will be mostly lead by veteran talents such as Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara, but they will no doubt need contributions from these three to be a complete team.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Frederik Andersen – Both goalies in this series will be invaluable to their respective teams. Generally speaking, a team will go as far as it’s goaltender can carry them (see the 2011 Boston Bruins). Anderson is a solid goaltender and finished the year strong with an 8-3 record, .921 SV%, and a 2.29 GAA in 13 games played in April.
The surprising stat for the Danish goaltender is that he has only lost once in his career to the Bruins (10-1). He owns a career 10-1 record against them with a .935 SV% and 2.09 GAA. Those numbers aren’t just good, they are pretty darn close to elite, especially against one team. I don’t think many fans have even realized that Andersen had been so dominant against the Bruins in his career. If he puts up numbers that are 80-90% of what he normally does against this team, then the Bruins might find themselves struggling offensively.
With that said, however, this is the playoffs and Andersen has never faced the Bruins in the postseason. You can metaphorically throw the record books out the door (or physically if you have one of those) during the playoffs, especially with hockey. In last year’s playoffs, Andersen went 2-4 with a .915 SV% and a 2.68 GAA. He has performed much better than those numbers when he played for the Anaheim Ducks, but those Ducks’ teams were more well-rounded than this current Maple Leafs squad.
Auston Matthews – The first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft is an obvious player to pay attention to in this series. He is easily the most talented player between these two teams (no offense to Marchand, Bergeron, or David Pastrnak) and has the ability to take over a game with his speed and play-making ability. Interestingly enough, however, Matthews only played against the Bruins once during the regular season and this was the only game the Bruins won. He had a -2 rating with no points in that game and was shut down by the Bruins defense.
I have a hard time believing though that Matthews will stay off the scoresheet in this series and that one game is just an outlier. Matthews does have 5 points in 5 career games against the Bruins, indicating that he probably will be on the scoresheet at some point this series. If the Bruins are caught flatfooted as they have down the stretch of the season, then Matthews will make them pay.
(Source: The Athletic)
Mitch(ell) Marner – The second-year centerman-turned-winger led the Maple Leafs in points with 69 during the regular season (22 G, 47 A). Marner has been moved around a little bit during the season, but he currently resides on the second line alongside veteran Nazem Kadri and longtime Sharks forward Patrick Marleau. The former first-round pick is a naturally gifted goal-scorer who is built for the bright lights.
During the regular season, Marner earned nine points in the four games against the Bruins, while also sporting a +6 rating. When he’s on the ice, he can elevate his and his line’s game, making him as dangerous as they come. His worst game against the B’s was when he scored the lone goal in a 4-1 loss in Boston. He’s as lethal as they come and he only adds to the speed and scoring ability of an already dangerous lineup.
Keys to Victory
The Bruins Will Win If
- They limit their own turnovers, especially in the defensive zone
A big thing that got the Bruins into trouble down the stretch was not being able to control the puck in their own zone and then in transition through the neutral zone. Too many of these turnovers led to great scoring chances for the opposition and the Maple Leafs will surely capitalize on those mistakes. If they eliminate or at least limit these mistakes, this will decrease the number of odd-man rushes for the Leafs and increase the scoring chances for the Bruins.
- The veterans do their job
Not trying to be Captain Obvious here, but the team with the most playoff experience usually triumphs in the playoffs. Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Chara, Rask (yes, even him), and Adam McQuaid (yes, even him as well) were all apart of the 2011 Stanely Cup championship and know how to win. Players like David Backes and Torey Krug will also be key for keeping everyone focused and making sure the team does their job and plays their game.
It wouldn’t hurt too if the top line of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak played like they did earlier in the season when they scored in bunches and no one could score against them.
The Maple Leafs Will Win If
- Their speed takes over
In the past, teams that played with speed (ie. the Montreal Canadiens) would skate circles around the Bruins and make them look foolish. I believe a similar situation would play out if the Leafs force the Bruins to make mistakes with their speed. Their speed would be more of a factor in Toronto, seeing as they have the last change and could match up the Leafs’ top lines with whichever line on the Bruins they deem as a favorable matchup.
- Andersen continues his dominant play against the Bruins
As mentioned earlier, Andersen owns 10-1 record against the Bruins with a .935 SV% and 2.09 GAA. I don’t expect his save-percentage and goals against average to continue at that pace, but if he plays almost as well as he has in the past against the black-and-gold, then the Bruins will be in trouble. The Bruins have gotten behind early in games throughout most of the season, however, they simply cannot afford to play catchup against Andersen.
When trying to look at this series objectively, it is not always the easiest thing to do. I originally predicted the Bruins would win the Stanley Cup and I am not backing down from that pick. This isn’t to say the Bruins won’t have some tough games/series along the way and I think the Leafs will give them fits during this series. In fact, I think the Leafs could take out the B’s in this round if they either split or win the first two games of this series. This would throw the Bruins’ home-ice advantage out the window and that is something this team desperately needs for matchup purposes.
The grind to the Stanley Cup is never an easy one. Winning this series will only give the Bruins that much more confidence moving forward. I fully expect this matchup to go the distance, but deciding how long it will go is always tough.
Final Prediction: Bruins in 7
*All stats for this article were obtained from the following sites:
Nhl.com – Hockey-reference.com – Shiftchart.com – Thesporttank.com