How Bruins and Maple Leafs stack up in playoff rematch
With a couple of games remaining in the NHL regular season, the Bruins known they’ll be facing the Toronto Maple Leafs and know they’ll enjoy home-ice advantage in that first round just as they did last spring as well. Given that seven-game playoff series and given the way the divisional games have played out over the last couple of seasons between Toronto and Boston, it will likely be an evenly played series that could very well go the seven-game distance as well.
So here’s a breakdown of the two opponents in all of the key areas headed into the playoff series:
This is really the area where the Maple Leafs are going to have to do their damage. The Leafs have depth with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and then secondary scoring with Kasperi Kapanen, Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Andreas Johnsson and Zach Hyman. They have depth in their forward group, can get goals and offense from each of their four lines and will be able to attack the Bruins defense with skill, speed and a growing amount of playoff experience as those young guys continue to cross over into veteran status.
It’s funny to say the Leafs have the advantage, though, when Boston’s top line destroyed them in the playoffs last season. It was just last spring that Brad Marchand (3 goals, 9 points), Patrice Bergeron (1 goal, 8 points) and David Pastrnak (5 goals, 13 points) combined for nine goals and 20 points in the first round series, and were the single biggest factor in Boston’s eventual victory. But the check mark goes to the Leafs’ depth.
Advantage: Maple Leafs
This is the biggest area of strength for the Bruins over the Leafs. The Bruins have a top pairing of their No. 1 defenseman of the past in Zdeno Chara and their No. 1 defenseman of the future in Charlie McAvoy. While neither of them may be a Conn Smythe-level of defender at this point in their respective careers, there isn’t a single D-man on the Toronto roster that would be considered a No. 1 defenseman worthy of a Cup winner.
Sure, Morgan Rielly has enjoyed a great offensive season with an excellent 20 goals and 72 points this year, but the Bruins typically get whatever they want offensively against a soft Maple Leafs defense that’s built more for puck-moving than shutting down other teams. Toronto brought in Jake Muzzin midseason to try and address those issues to mixed results, and it feels like the Bruins should be able to do whatever they want offensively against Toronto.
The Bruins won in seven games over the Maple Leafs last season, but neither of the two goaltenders really ended faring well in an offense-heavy series. Freddie Andersen had his moments in the middle of the series and Tuukka Rask had some pretty good games, but both goalies were pretty bad in a high-scoring Game 7 at TD Garden.
So who gets the advantage here? Well, based on the .924 career playoff save percentage that Rask brings to the table, it should definitely be the Black and Gold. Andersen is putting the finishing touches on a season where he collected 36 wins and posted a .918 save percentage, and he’s been pretty good against the Bruins in his past. But this edge goes to the Bruins depth in goaltending with Rask and Jaroslav Halak, and based on Andersen’s inconsistency that seemed to crop up during the postseason as it did last spring.
The Bruins power play is a big strength with the league’s third-best man advantage scoring 26.3 percent of the time. In fact, the B’s power play is so good that it’s done the job of carrying the offense for the Black and Gold even as their 5-on-5 play has been in the bottom-third of the league for most of the year. The penalty kill is average for the Bruins, but they do have premier penalty killers like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand that can rise to the occasion in the playoffs.
The penalty kill for the Leafs is equally middle of the road ranked 16th in the league, and their power play is potent too. It’s just not as potent as the Bruins, as it's ranked eighth in the league while scoring 22.1 percent of the time. We’re going to call this one in favor of the Bruins, but this is as close to a wash as we’re going to get in any of these categories.
Mike Babcock has gone on long playoff runs and he’s won a Stanley Cup. He’s also considered perhaps the best coach in the NHL. So for those reasons, he gets the nod over Bruce Cassidy, but this is once again a category where it’s a very close call based on the job that Cassidy and his staff have done over the last three seasons. It’s Cassidy that managed to navigate through a ton of injuries this season including a month where he was without both Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, and it’s Cassidy that’s managed to win games despite not really having a functioning third line all season long.
There’s a reason why Cassidy is once again being mentioned in the Jack Adams conversation and it’s all about the job he’s done this season. But watch Patrice Bergeron start to get kicked out of the face-off circle more often once the series gets going, and you’ll see some of the places where Babcock is managing to make an unspoken impact on the series.
Advantage: Maple Leafs