The 82-game regular season is officially in the books. 16 teams will begin their journey with the hopes of hoisting the Stanley Cup when it is all said and done. The FPC NHL staff will preview each and every series all the way through the Stanley Cup Finals. On the docket: The Boston Bruins vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs.
By virtue of a makeup game from earlier in the season, the Boston Bruins took part in the final game of the regular season against the Florida Panthers. Sitting just one point behind the East-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the Bruins had an opportunity to leapfrog the Bolts and set up a matchup with the surprising, New Jersey Devils. That was not to be as they dropped that game 4-2, which set up a matchup with a very familiar opponent…the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In the moment, losing that game to the Panthers seemed devastating. The Bruins had made a furious run since the turn of the calendar year to put themselves in contention for that top spot. Something that seemed impossible at one point. Especially considering that most felt the Bruins would be a fringe team this season, likely occupying one of the two wild-card spots. However, that could not have been further from reality. The truth is, this Bruins team, led by coach Bruce Cassidy, is very good. Unexpected performances from a bevy of rookies and young players have accelerated the Bruins timetable for serious Cup contention. The time for this team is now as they have been one of, if not, the best team in the league since December.
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The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, represent one of the least preferred first-round matchups for any team. They sport the second-best offense in the league with 227 goals. They were led by a trio of players with a combined age of 61. Auston Matthews (20), Mitch Marner (20), and William Nylander (21) all broke the 60 point barrier this season. Marner and Nylander did it in 82 games with Matthews doing it in just 62 games. They combined to notch 76 goals on the year with 34 coming from Matthews. James Van Riemsdyk led the team with 36 goals as the Maple Leafs finished third in the Atlantic with 49 wins and 105 points. They had six players score at least 20 goals on the year.
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The Leafs won the season series, going 3-1 with one win coming in overtime. However, two of those wins came in back-to-back nights in early November. Well before this Bruins team became who they are now. They too are a team that relies heavily on young talent but have a core of veteran players that have been there before.
They Meet Again
The last time these two teams squared off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Bruins fans remember that series fondly, Leafs fans have different feelings about that meeting. The hotly contested series came after the lockout-shortened season of 2013 and ultimately went seven. The Leafs took a commanding lead in Game 7 at the TD Garden. Then, one of the most improbable comebacks occurred. The Bruins scored three times in the closing moments of regulation to tie the game and ultimately won the series shortly into the first overtime period.
The Bruins eventually went on to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Blackhawks that year. The Maple Leafs didn’t return to the playoffs until last season following that collapse. Now, once again, the two teams are set to meet in the round formerly known as the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
As mentioned before, each team relies heavily on their young talent. The Leafs’ Auston Matthews is the best among the young players on both teams. In addition, they have six players on the roster that scored at least 20 goals this season. Including free agent signee, Patrick Marleau, who is by far the oldest member of this team. However, from top-to-bottom, the Bruins are deeper.
For starters, the Bruins top line is one of the best in the league. David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand all broke the 30 goal mark this season. The trio combined for 99 goals and 228 points on the year, despite Marchand and Bergeron combining to miss 32 games. It will be a tall task for defensemen Ron Hainsey and Jake Gardner.
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In addition, Rick Nash looks closer to a return to the lineup which can only bode well for the Bruins depth. The trade deadline acquisition transitioned nicely to the Bruins lineup but has been out of the lineup for several weeks with an upper-body injury. Assuming his health, Nash should slide right back onto the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
For the Leafs, they must rely heavily on their second-ranked offense. The Bruins have shown a penchant for making nearly impossible comebacks all season long, so the offense will have to be on point for 60 minutes for the Leafs. Without it, this series could end really quickly.
Tuukka Rask – 34-14-5 .917 SV%, 2.36 GAA
Frederik Andersen – 38-21-5 .918 SV%, 2.81 GAA
This series has all the makings of a seven-game tilt and that is exactly what will happen. Look to see each team trade home wins and the Bruins will ultimately knock out the Leafs on home ice in less dramatic fashion than 2013.