The Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs will square-off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting on Thursday, April 11th at 7:00 pm EST.
The Bruins were 3-1-0 against the Leafs in the 2018-2019 regular season and averaged about four goals/game while allowing 2.5 goals/game.
These two teams met in the playoffs this past year and in 2013, both resulting in victories for the Bruins in seven games.
For those who might not have seen either series, let me sprinkle some highlights in for you:
Thanks to the Youtube channel dafoomie for always providing the best Bruins clips on the Inter-webs.
Anyway, based on the somewhat new NHL playoff format and the current landscape of the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, the Maple Leafs and Bruins may be destined to play each other in the opening round of the playoffs for years to come.
For now, we have an exciting series ahead of us and before I waste any more of your time and attention, which I may have already lost, let’s see what we should expect in round three.
Key Players to Watch
Most casual fans know the stars on both teams in this series, so I will try to not have a list that is comprised of just top line guys. Who should you pay attention to in this series, though?
Let’s dive in:
David Krejci – A problem the Bruins ran into later on in the playoffs last season was secondary scoring outside of their top line of Bergeron, Pastrnak, and Marchand. Krejci had a renaissance season as he tied the highest point total (73) of his career, which he also accomplished in his second full season with the Bruins. Generally speaking, when Krejci gets hot, so do the Bruins. Compare the two postseasons the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup Finals versus the ones where they were bounced before then:
Reached SCF: 21 Goals, 28 Assists (49 Points), +21 Rating (47 Games)
Failed to Reach SCF: 11 Goals, 27 Assists (38 Points), +2 Rating (61 Games)
Of course, the argument here is that if a team reaches the Stanley Cup Finals, then the team’s top-players are usually at their best. That may be true, but consider Patrice Bergeron who Krejci has played with his entire career and who has generally played on the first line with more scoring opportunities available.
Bergeron when the team reaches SCF: 35 Points in 46 Games (0.76 points/game)
Bergeron when the team fails to reach SCF: 51 Points in 67 Games (0.76 points/game)
When it comes to the playoffs and the team’s success, when Krejci elevates his game, the road to the Cup is within their grasp.
The best part about Krejci this series? He has 49 points in 55 career regular season games and 20 points in 14 playoff games against the Maple Leafs. Krejci has sweepingly enjoyed the Leafs friendly, Canadian hospitality throughout his career.
Tuukka Rask – Tuukka Rask is arguably one of the most polarizing athletes in Boston sports recent memory as fans and analysts are either Team Tuukka or Team Backup. With Tuukka, he has had plenty of regular season success, but has not had many successful postseason runs. The only great run the team has had with him at the helm was in 2013 when the team reached Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. That was when the NHL had a shortened season due to a lockout, so he was relatively fresh headed into that run.
What’s remarkable about Rask is that even if you take out his 0.940 SV% and 1.88 GAA during that postseason, he still has a somewhat respectable, albeit not spectacular, 0.915 SV% and 2.53 GAA. The Bruins will need better numbers than that to go anywhere against the Maple Leafs who scored the fourth most goals in the league this season.
Against the Leafs, Rask is 17-7-2 in the regular season with a 0.925 SV% and 2.13 GAA. In the playoffs, he’s been substantially worse with a 0.912 SV% and 2.64 GAA.
Brandon Carlo – We’re already digging into the well here, but Carlo will have a vital role in this series. The Maple Leafs are known for their speedy skaters and can put up a crooked number on any team in a hurry if a team can’t keep up. Carlo, who is listed at 6’5″, 212 lbs. has the size, speed, and physicality to give the Leafs fits when trying to break out, forecheck, and set-up in their offensive zone.
The third-year player has made significant strides in his development as he not only is a defensive stalwart (287 career blocked shots, 20:20 Avg. TOI), but has improved his offensive capabilities with 22 points this season compared to 19 points in his first two.
Carlo has not had the opportunity to play in his first two postseasons with the team as season-ending injuries have plagued him. With Kevan Miller and John Moore not likely to play for a majority of the first round, Carlo will need to be on top of his game and provide strong depth behind Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and Torey Krug.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch(ell) Marner – Here is a star on the Leafs that casual Bruins fans might not know about even though he put up 94 points this season and has been a force since he came into the league three years ago. He has played on the wing alongside both Auston Matthews and ex-New York Islanders John Tavares and has been a Bruins-killer of sorts in his young career.
In the regular season, he has five goals and thirteen assists in twelve games and against the Bruins in the playoffs last year, he had a point in every game except for one and finished with two goals and seven assists. Until the Bruins can slowdown Marner, I fully expect him to factor into almost all of the scoring for the Leafs.
John Tavares – Mr. Maple Leaf has turned himself into quite the enemy in a Kevin Durant-esque fashion after joining the team this offseason while angering Islanders fans nationwide. It was a tough day for Long Island as the former 2009 first-overall pick had been with the Islanders since he was drafted. He has been a point per game type of player over the last five years and has only fueled the Leafs offense since signing his 7-year, $77 million contract.
He has had respectable numbers in his career against Boston with fourteen goals, thirteen assists, and a minus-10 rating. If you were to compare him to a player on the Bruins roster, he is an offensive-oriented Patrice Bergeron seeing as Tavares has 0.94 points/game and Bergeron has 0.79 points/game in their careers.
Jake Muzzin – The former Los Angeles Kings defenseman was traded to the Maple Leafs to reinforce their defense-core that has struggled over the years. Although Muzzin is approaching his thirties, he still is a Stanley Cup champion and has the smarts to improve the Leafs’ defensive woes.
In last year’s postseason against the Bruins, the Leafs were torched by the Bruins forwards and out of position on numerous odd-man rushes (mostly Jake Gardiner getting torched).
With 21:00 minutes of average TOI and a combined +22 rating on the Kings and the Leafs this season, Muzzin has the ability, along with Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey, and company, to slow down the Bruins forwards as much as possible (at least better than last year).
Keys to Victory
The Bruins Will Win If
- They limit mistakes and don’t play short-handed
The Bruins have barely had the Maple Leafs number over the years in the playoffs and overall, they are the more well-rounded team. Over the past few weeks, the Bruins have played uncharacteristically with mental breakdowns in their own defensive zone and have been susceptible to errant turnovers. Seeing as the Maple Leafs can be more incendiary then a Molotov Cocktail, it will be vital for the Bruins not to spend too much time in the penalty box.
It’s as cliche as it comes in hockey, but if the Bruins play their game, they will win the series.
The Leafs Will Win If
- They overmatch the Bruins with their speed
Since the firing of Claude Julien (remember him?), the Bruins have been a much faster team under head coach Bruce Cassidy. The Leafs, however, are the faster team seeing as they have some of the best skaters in the series between Matthews, Marner, and Tavares. The Bruins defense-core is banged up and that means Steven Kampfer and Connor Clifton, players who are on the third defense pair at-best, will be seeing decent minutes as a result. They may be overmatched by these players and the young talent on the rest of the Leafs’ roster.
When trying to look at this series as a Bruins fan, it is not the easiest thing to do. At some point, I know the Bruins are due to lose to the Leafs in my lifetime. So far, the Bruins have come out on top and the Leafs haven’t beaten the Bruins in the playoffs in over fifty years. At some point, the pendulum has to swing the other way, right?
I can’t imagine a scenario where this series ends before five games, so we will all be in for an exciting matchup against a familiar opponent.
The grind to the Stanley Cup is never an easy one. Winning this series would 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