Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Boston Bruins (50-20-12) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (49-26-7) Toronto won the season series 3-1 Stats at a Glance GF || GA || PP % || PK %|| Boston: 269 || 210|| 23.5 || 83.5 || Toronto: 277 || 232|| 25.0 || 81.4 || Darkness, My Old Friend. We Meet Again. This matchup, even though it had a hell of an effort of Boston since like January to change its fate was a foregone conclusion for pretty much half the season. The Leafs for one brief moment had 2nd place of the Atlantic, but Boston and their inability to die overtook the Leafs and cemented themselves with home ice advantage for the 1st round. The "Battle of the Bears" also might not have happened due to Tampa's swoon near the end of the season, but failure to win their last game set up the matchup a lot of fans wanted. It's very hard to forget the last time Boston and Toronto met in the playoffs. Picture it, Spring, 2013. One team two years removed from their cup win, one team best known for what their then GM Brian Burke termed "18 Wheelers." The belief was that Boston would sweep this team who finally made the playoffs since 2004 (albeit in a lockout season), and the Leafs would be happy that they were making progress. 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. Brad Marchant and Patrice Bergeron had other ideas and in a thrilling come from behind fashion, the Leafs lost 5-4 in overtime, resulting in one of the most stunning and thrilling comebacks in Stanley Cup History. These aren't the same Boston Bruins, though the principle cast is still around (Marchand, Rask, Chara, Krejci and of course the aforementioned Bergeron, but these are very much not the same Toronto Maple Leafs. Lead by the youth movement of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, and key veteran support as well as stable goaltending in Frederick Andersen, the Maple Leafs have only lost to Boston once in two years (mirroring the Boston dominance over Toronto in 2013), and Andersen has only lost to Boston once in his entire career. [However being previously a Western Conference goaltender, this should be taken with a grain of salt). Reasons why the Boston Bruins Could Win The Series They are heavy - the type of style the Leafs generally struggle against if they can't get their feet going. The majority of their team has been there, done that, and has a cup ring to their name, so they can draw on their years of experience when they get down and out (should they get down and out). Regardless of their second place finish in the division, the Bruins haven't let anything (including key injuries) slow them down and their penchant for slowing momentum down due to their penalty kill could give Toronto's offensive power play (if they draw any) fits. Adding to this the Leafs penchant for making that one mistake (partially due to youth, sometimes due to bad habits) the Bruins can quickly capitalize on that and make this a very short series. They also have the ultimate chirp bug in Marchand - with the ultimate chirp. Reminding the team (even though there are only 5 members of the 2013 team) about Game Seven (adding to the fact the media will bring it up all the time, it could potentially play mind games for the Leafs regardless of how the series leads play out). Reasons why the Toronto Maple Leafs Could Win The Series Because why not? This team still hasn't gotten the memo that they're not supposed to be this good, this quickly. When the Leafs get dialed in, they are incredibly scary and there are very few teams who can match them in the way of speed, creativity and how they come at you at waves. Being physical with the Leafs when they are that dialed in is like trying to slow down fog. You can't. they are just there. And as good as the Bruins are, when they get the calvary back (currently having 4+ regulars out of the line up) it could ruin the chemistry somewhat as they try to adjust - something Toronto can take advantage of. They have a dynamite powerplay, threats for shorthanded goals and: a well rested Auston Matthews who a good chunk of time during the regular season due to injuries. Having the best player on the team about 20 games fresher - could be a gamechanger. And - while people might say it means nothing - knowing that your goalie has only lost 1 game to the team he's facing is a good mindgame to have in a tough series. Neutralizing Effect: Bergeron vs. Matthews Both suffering injuries that took them out for long periods of time this season, both #1 centres should be a storyline throughout the first round. While Matthews loves feasting on Boston - Bergeron does too. Advantage will be Bergeron in Boston, Matthews in Toronto (as Babcock loves to play the matchup game - and one would assume "teachable moments" are over now). With their penchant for scoring key goals at key times, and the ability to crack games wide open - they basically cancel each other out. So does home ice/road advantage. Both teams are extremely good at home and on the road. For Babcock who does like the line match this could be seen as a detriment - however again the Leafs road record (even though it was spotty down the end) - lends it to believe this is not a big deal. Pests are Best: Marchand vs. Kadri vs Plekanec Marchand is the player that is the heart of the Bruins, and it's very hard to deny that for the Leafs it's Nazem Kadri. The key for both players is to get the troll game up while not doing anything that tends to get them in trouble. For Marchand - being cheap/dirty, and for Kadri - is going into 'rage'mode if something happens to him and a call isn't made. Theoretically - they both can neutralize each other as well (and I'd argue they will), but the one who cracks first will be interesting. Both draw penalties, both are lethal on the powerplay and both know how to finish the game. The other difference maker would be Tomas Plekanec - admittedly the only player who can get under Marchand's skin. As Marchand said he 'hates him', if Plekanec can throw Marchand off, this becomes really interesting, really quickly. ShowStoppers: Rask the Tempermental vs SeeSaw Andersen It's been mentioned before - Andersen really likes playing Boston as he only has one loss. This is a boon for a young team, and for a goalie who is steady at being middle of the road. Tukka Rask is somewhat the same but easier to throw off his game. if the Leafs get incredibly buzzy this could throw Rask off - even though he has been dialed in. Andersen does that that knack of letting in that one goal in, so the Leafs will have to be on their guard. Thankfully - Rask has this ability too. The Bruins X Factors An argument for the Leafs fans all season is that Boston is "one line" vs. Toronto's depth. A Good way to test that depth is to shut down that depth with punishing play, and stifling penalty kill. On the negative side, while Zedeno Chara is well... Zedeno Chara. He's also slow and if Babcock decides to go crazy and say put Matthews with Marner and say Kapanen (if they are behind). Wooof. Also. Experience. It was a card they had in spades in 2013, and while the Leafs had a great 2017 series vs. Washington - Boston has a lot more cards to play. The Leafs X (Y & Z) Factors Everyone. Meet Mitch Marner. What most draft buffs (and Leafs Fans) remember that during Marner's draft year he put on a clinic in the playoffs, then bettered that in his +1 year. While he had a poor playoff debut (suffering from illness and injuries) he still (very quietly) put up six points in six games. Now healthy and confident, Marner could easily be the guy to crack this series wide open. The other guy: Connor Brown. One of two (Zaitzev being the other) not to better his rookie numbers, this could be the series where Brown can shine. He'll be depended on for the PK. Remember. the Bruins/Leafs neutralize each other in a lot of facets - these two will crack it wide. (Also. Marner is the only player who has played (constantly) with every line. Babcock can shift him anywhere and the lines will be better and hard to plan for. Powerplay prowess is the Leafs fortay. While the Bruins have one of the best PK's - the Leafs are right up there in PP percentage... when they draw them. It doesn't take them very long to strike. This is where the "Y" factor draws in. JVR (PPG vs. Boston in 2013) and Bozak ((injured in the last two games vs. Boston) is dynamite. while they play 3rd line minutes, they could cause issues (and make the 'own rental' pay off in spades). And the Z Factor: Mike Babcock Will Babcock get in his own way? How long will he get in his own way? Will he adjust (in any means necessary). The spotlight on Babcock will bright and shiny as the default 'captain' of the Leafs Squad has not coached a team out of the first round in a very, very long time. And if he leans on his favourites and they aren't the best options.. a lot of loud questions will start to be asked and the cloak of "well the team is young' might not hide some of the coaching decisions. Series Prediction: Maple Leafs defeat Boston Bruins in Seven Games (double OT). because. drama and stress. Schedule Thursday, April 12, 7pm: Maple Leafs @ Bruins Saturday, April 14, 8pm: Maple Leafs @ Bruins Monday, April 16, 7pm: Bruins @ Maple Leafs Thursday, April 19, 7pm: Bruins @ Maple Leafs *Saturday, April 21, TBD: Maple Leafs @ Bruins *Monday, April 23, TBD: Bruins @ Maple Leafs *Wednesday, April 25, TBD: Maple Leafs @ Bruins A reminder: this is the Pre-Game Thread + General Thread for the series.