Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Boston Bruins (50-20-12) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (49-26-7) -- Toronto won the season series 3-1
Ask any Toronto Maple Leafs fan, it's been very hard to forget the last time Toronto and Boston met in the playoffs. It happened 5 years ago, in the spring of 2013. Boston was a solid team two years removed from their cup win, and the other, the Maple Leafs were constructed from a bunch of cast-offs and potential projects. Obviously, the Leafs were considered huge underdogs by many to beat a physical and defensive juggernaut like the Bruins. The belief among many was that Boston would sweep the Maple Leafs. While the Bruins had a 3-1 series lead, the Leafs came back to force a game seven. Holding a 4-1 lead, and ten minutes to go, the Leafs looked poised for the upset. Chara and Bergeron had other ideas and in a thrilling come from behind fashion, the Leafs ended up losing the game 5-4 in overtime, resulting in one of the most stunning and thrilling comebacks in Stanley Cup Playoffs history.
Fast forward 5 years. The Leafs have since removed all remnants of that 2013 team – players and management. Only 5 players remain from that team – Kadri, JvR, Bozak, Komarov, and Gardiner. These are not the same Toronto Maple Leafs. They are led by the youth movement of young phenom and #1 overall pick Auston Matthews, 8th overall pick in William Nylander and 4th overall pick and Memorial Cup champion, Mitch Marner. The backend is comprised of 5th overall draft pick Morgan Rielly who has emerged into the Leafs #1D, and Gardiner who has made great strides as a defenseman since Babcock took the helms. The keeper of the cabled cabana is Frederik Andersen who was acquired by Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello in the summer of 2016 after drafting Auston Matthews. The Maple Leafs have only lost to Boston once in the past two years and Andersen has only lost 1 game in his career versus the Bruins.
Bergeron vs. Matthews
The matchup everyone is looking forward to will be the battle between the two #1 centreman, Bergeron and Matthews. With Babcock who takes pride in matching lines and with both teams very solid on home ice and on the road the advantage will be Bergeron in Boston, and Matthews in Toronto. There is also a high probability that this matchup will also cancel each other out and rely on one of the other three lines to cash in.
Marchand vs. Kadri & Plekanec
Marchand is the heart of the Bruins, and Kadri for the Maple Leafs. The key for both players is to get under the opposing team’s skin while not crossing the line getting their respective team in penalty trouble. Tomas Plekanec – the former Montreal Canadien acquired by the Maple Leafs at the 2018 trade deadline – is admittedly the only player who can get under Marchand's skin. Marchand has gone on to say that he 'hates him', if Plekanec can throw Marchand off, this key battle becomes very interesting.
Rask vs. Andersen
Since Andersen has donned the Blue & White he has taken a sense of pride and confidence in his ability but has also given his team a sense of confidence when he is in the net, all while remaining very calm throughout the game. Tuukka Rask is somewhat the same but has shown throughout the years that he is much easier to throw off of his game. Ultimately, this series will come down to the particular goaltender that can make that one TIMELY save.
The Maple Leafs Will Win…
If the Bergeron and Matthews lines cancel each other out, the Maple Leafs will be looking for all hands on deck from their secondary scorers in Mitch Marner, JvR, Kadri, and Bozak. Mitch Marner, a highly-touted draft pick, broke a bunch of junior hockey records and now healthy, confident, and in his sophomore year, Marner could easily be one of a few kids to crack this series wide open both on 5v5 & PP. Since acquiring and drafting all of their young, offensive guns, power play prowess has been one of the Maple Leafs’ major strength.
It doesn't take long to strike. This is where Marner, JvR, Kadri, and Bozak are absolute dynamite. The Maple Leafs weapon on the PK is the young and responsible, two-way forward Connor Brown. He has had a relatively down year in terms of points as a sophomore, but his overall defensive game gives him a solid edge to do well in the playoffs and maybe get some points as well to improve his confidence.
Mike Babcock will be a HUGE factor in his team going forward in any round. He is arguably one of hockey’s most successful coaches and knows how to get the most out of all of his players. Some obvious questions fans have had of Babcock are he tends to value his veterans over his kids and seems to not keep his veterans accountable. Will he get in his team’s way of ultimate success? Will he adjust? The spotlight on Babcock will bright and shiny and if he leans on his favourites and they don’t end up being the best options, a lot of loud questions will be put forth towards Babcock, and he could also finally face the wrath of the Toronto media.
The Bruins Will Win…
An argument league-wide all year has been that the Bruins are a one- line team (Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak ) whereas Toronto has 4 balanced lines they can roll in waves. This, while true to an extent is not the sole reason for Boston’s success. The Bruins have a solid infusion of young skill & grit in their lineup (DeBrusk, Kuraly, Schaller, etc) are heavily motivated to do well in the playoffs, and prove to everyone they are not a one line team. The Bruins will be relying heavily on Chara, McAvoy, and Krug to shutdown Toronto’s four-line attack with punishing physical play on the cycle, and stifling penalty kill all while being armoured with the ‘E’ word – yes, that’s right experience. It’s a card they have held since 2013. A lot of playoff experience.
Toronto Maple Leafs defeat Boston Bruins in a series 4-3.
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