2019 Stanley Cup playoff predictions: Experts make Bruins-Leafs picks


2019 Stanley Cup playoff predictions: Experts make Bruins-Leafs picks

Very little separated the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs in last season's first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, so it was no surprise the matchup ended with a dramatic Game 7 at TD Garden that the B's won.

Both teams enter the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs with improved rosters, and that's one reason why many experts are predicting another seven-game thriller between these rivals when they open their first-round series Thursday night in Boston.

The Leafs, perhaps more than the Bruins, have a lot to prove in this series. John Tavares was signed to a massive free-agent contract in the summer, giving the Leafs another superstar forward for matchups just like this one. Auston Matthews, one of the best young players in the NHL, also is looking to atone for his lackluster performance in last year's series. The 21-year-old scored only one goal with one assist in seven games versus the Bruins last spring, and his lack of offensive production was among the primary reasons for Toronto's early exit.

Toronto has amassed back-to-back 100-point regular seasons, and despite being early in its Stanley Cup window, another first-round exit -- even at the hands of a very good Bruins team -- would make this season a failure.

Judging by recent playoff predictions, the Leafs are getting a decent amount of support from experts around the league entering Game 1. One common denominator among the picks is most everyone expects a long series.

Here's a roundup of expert predictions for the Bruins vs. Leafs first-round series.

Joe Haggerty, NBC Sports Boston: Bruins in  7
John Buccigross, ESPN: Leafs in 7
Greg Wyshynski, ESPN: Leafs in 7
Emily Kaplan, ESPN: Bruins in 7
Kevin Allen, USA TODAY: Leafs in 6
Nicholas J. Cotsonika, Bruins
Dan Rosen, Bruins
Alex Prewitt, Sports Illustrated: Bruins
Jeff Marek, Sportsnet: Bruins in 6
Mark Spector, Sportsnet: Bruins in 5
Chris Johnston, Sportsnet: Leafs in 7

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John Moore returns to Bruins lineup, and shows the way to stand up for David Pastrnak

John Moore returns to Bruins lineup, and shows the way to stand up for David Pastrnak

BOSTON – John Moore didn’t expect to get into a fight in his first game back from major shoulder surgery over the summer.

But somebody had to step up and step in with other teams taking runs at David Pastrnak the past couple of weeks, and it was Moore that did just that after Zack Smith blew up the NHL’s leading scorer with a borderline high hit in the third period of the Bruins' 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks at TD Garden. 

Smith handled Moore pretty easily in the ensuing altercation and it looked like the Bruins defenseman thought he re-injured his shoulder as he skated back to the dressing room afterward.

Still, the message was sent by Moore that the opposition wasn’t going to make it open season on Boston’s game-breaking right winger without paying a price for it. That says something about Moore in his first game back after missing the first 28 games with a grueling rehab from shoulder surgery, but it also says something about the rest of the Bruins that a guy coming off shoulder surgery was the one that had to finally do it.

“You can’t say enough about him, right? Here he is, coming off of shoulder surgery and obviously it’s a reaction thing. He’s not thinking about anything other than protecting his teammates. So, that just tells you all you need to know about his character,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Probably not the perfect guy in that situation coming off that injury, but good for him. He’ll earn a lot of respect in that locker room that he already had, but now even more.”

The good news for Moore was that his shoulder checked out okay after he finished with three shots on net, three hits and a couple of blocked shots in 16:11 of ice time. Still, more than any of the other plays in the game, Moore will be remembered for finally doing something about the runs teams have taken at Pastrnak while trying to slow him down offensively.

“I don’t know if it was the smartest decision in the world, but I saw somebody take liberty with [Pastrnak] and thought it was my turn,” said Moore. “I’m totally fine and no issues [with my shoulder]. I was right there, I saw [the hit] and I didn’t like it. I thought something needed to be done so I acted on it. That’s just the way I am. I thought it had to be addressed there.

“I was excited [to return]. I wasn’t going to need any extra motivation going into this game. If anything I was trying to calm myself down. When you take almost 30 games watching, you have a lot of time to reflect, appreciate and be grateful to be a Boston Bruins and play in the NHL. It’s something I don’t take for granted.”

Perhaps now other players on the Bruins roster will be ready to follow Moore's lead as it appears teams aren't going to stop taking liberties with Pastrnak as long as it’s working to slow him a little offensively.

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Haggerty's Talking Points: Torey Krug's offense shines, David Pastrnak enduring first rough patch

Haggerty's Talking Points: Torey Krug's offense shines, David Pastrnak enduring first rough patch

GOLD STAR: Jonathan Toews hasn’t had a great season as evidenced by just five goals on his ledger for the year, but he had a nice little throwback performance against the Bruins on Thursday night. Toews stripped David Pastrnak of the puck in overtime and then scored on a breakaway at the other end of the ice for the game-winner in a neat little dispatching of the B’s in the extra session.

Toews finished with three shots on net, six shot attempts, three hits, a couple of takeaways and a couple blocked shots to go along with 17-of-28 face-off wins in 19:37 of ice time for the Blackhawks. It was a vintage Toews performance for Chicago in a win for the Blackhawks and it’s something that hasn’t happened nearly enough for him this season.

BLACK EYE: David Pastrnak is going through his first tough stretch of the season. He finished with more giveaways (three) than shots on net (two) and also took a pair of minor penalties while pretty clearly getting frustrated with the rough treatment he’s getting from opponents.

It was Pastrnak that went down in overtime with the puck – either by a trip from Jonathan Toews or a flop looking for a call depending on who you are talking to – and created the game-winning goal for Toews at the other end of the ice. Pastrnak has now gone two games without a goal for just the third time all season and is now falling off his 70-goal pace for the season while seemingly getting frustrated by being targeted by the other teams.

TURNING POINT: For the Bruins it was the ends and beginnings of periods where they lost their focus and lost the game. The Bruins allowed two goals in 37 seconds in the closing minutes of the first period to dig themselves a considerable hole against the Blackhawks, and then they coughed up another goal to Chicago in the first 17 seconds of the third period to go down by a 3-0 score.

People will want to talk about the play in overtime that lost it for the Bruins, but it was their wandering focus at points in regulation that ended up saddling them with the loss when it was all said and done. The Bruins eventually lost in OT, and they really deserved to lose based on the way they played for the first 45 or so minutes of the game.

HONORABLE MENTION: Torey Krug scored the game-tying goal for the Bruins in the closing minutes of the third period and deserves the credit for stepping up offensively when the team needed a big play.

Krug finished with the goal along with a team-high seven shots on net and nine shot attempts in 21:28 of ice time. Krug also threw a hit and had a couple of takeaways while generating secondary offense for the Bruins, given that both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have slowed down a little bit in recent days.

It’s going to be interesting to see where Krug is at offensively by the end of the season based on a pretty decent start compared to the very, very slow ones he’s had in recent seasons while coming back from injuries.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12-0-5 – the Bruins continue to have gone without a regulation loss on the home ice at TD Garden after dropping another overtime decision, this time to the Blackhawks after crawling back from a 3-0 hole in the third period.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level. Is that because of where we are [in the Atlantic Division standings], is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it. Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were.” –Bruce Cassidy, when asked if he needs to guard against complacency setting in with the Bruins based on their huge lead in the Atlantic Division.

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