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, NHL.com: Bruins
Dan Rosen, NHL.com: 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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