Previewing Matchup Between Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs in First Round of 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Picture: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
It’s no secret the Bruins are shooting for the Stanley Cup. The Bruins found themselves with a top three record entering the playoffs while earning home-ice advantage for the first round. Their opponents are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will be looking for revenge. These same two teams played to a game seven in their first-round matchup last season.
Boston found themselves down 4-3 entering the third period and they exploded for four unanswered goals to win game seven by the final score of 7-4. The Leafs have not won a playoff series since 2004 and have only been in the playoffs three times since. This year, the Leafs hope to right their wrong from last season, and knock out one of the league’s best.
Both teams are bringing back similar rosters to last season, but this time the Leafs bought a $77 million insurance policy in forward John Tavares. Tavares signed as a free agent in the offseason coming over from the New York Islanders. The first overall pick in 2009 played in all 82 games and he averaged over point-per-game in his first season with the Leafs. Tavares also finished with the third most goals scored at 47.
Toronto retained all of their dangerous weapons from last season including William Nylander. Nylander was holding out for a contract in the early part of the season. Had Nylander held out for even a few more minutes, the 22-year-old would not have been eligible to play this season.
The Leafs will still rely on their other two superstar forwards, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. They also got secondary scoring out of Kasperi Kapanen, Nazem Kadri, Andreas Johnsson and Zach Hyman. These four players finished with over 40 points each. The Leafs offense finished with the fourth most goals scored in the NHL on the season.
The Bruins offense is led by their dominant first line consisting of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Each player on the first line is coming off their best offensive season to date. Marchand had his best offensive season ever as he finished with 100 points.
Despite playing in under 70 games, Bergeron finished with 79 points; a new career high.
Pastrnak also played in under 70 games and he finished with 81 points. Despite playing in every game last season, Pastrnak had one more point than last year. Head coach Bruce Cassidy could also drop Pastrnak to the second line at any point to provide his team with two very dangerous lines.
The Black and Gold also got a major contribution on offense from David Krejci. Krejci tied his career high in points at 73.
Jake DeBrusk had 27 goals for Boston this season which puts him fourth on the team. Krejci and DeBrusk will each need to continue to provide the B’s with secondary scoring.
While the Leafs may have a slight advantage on offense, the Bruins have the clear cut advantage on defense.
The defensive core is led by former Stanley Cup champion and Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. The Bruins also have experienced defenders in the form of Torey Krug and John Moore. Each have been on numerous playoff runs throughout their careers and they know how intense a playoff game can be.
While Moore isn’t expected to be available for game one, he will likely return to the lineup before the end of the series.
The B’s also have 21-year-old Charlie McAvoy who is likely to be one of the young and bright stars in the future. McAvoy has plenty of offensive upside to add to a quality group of forwards.
On the other hand, the Leafs do not have the defensive core the Bruins have.
Jake Muzzin has the most playoff experience among Leaf defenders. Muzzin won the Stanley Cup with the Kings twice. However, he did not appear for the Kings in a single game during their first cup victory.
The Leafs most dangerous weapon on defense comes in the form of Morgan Rielly, who finished third among defenders in scoring with 72 points and he was the leading goal scorer of that group with 20.
The system each head coach used to rotate their goalies were the exact opposite of eachother.
Toronto used the traditional system of running with their starting goalie for most games. Frederik Andersen started 60 games and finished with a record of 36-16-7. Andersen might have started more games had he not missed three weeks of action from late December to mid-January. Despite not having the best group of defenders in front of him, Andersen holds a .917 save percentage.
On the other hand, the Bruins elected to split starts among Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.
Rask started just eight more games than Halak and finished with a record of 27-13-5 to go along with a .912 save percentage. Rask will be the Bruins starter entering the playoffs, but if the Finnish goalie struggles, then head coach Bruce Cassidy can confidently turn to Halak.
Halak holds a record of 22-11-4 and holds a better save percentage than Rask at .922.
The Leafs will be forced to rely on Andersen, while the Bruins can make a change if they feel it will benefit the team.
Maple Leafs backup goalie Garret Sparks struggled all season and was replaced by AHL starter Michael Hutchinson in the backup role at the last game of the regular season.
Hutchinson had a save percentage of .909 during his time with the Toronto Marlies.
The Leafs are prepared to live or die by Andersen.
Andersen, Rask and Halak all had impressive seasons and are not separated by much. Neither team statistically has an advantage in terms of goaltending.
While on paper this appears to be a close series like last season, I believe that the Bruins will defeat the Leafs convincingly in five or six games.
Toronto has entered the playoffs stumbling with just three wins in their last ten games.
The Bruins have the playoff experience and a deep team around the roster. If an injury were to occur, the B’s are better equipped to deal with it opposed to Toronto.
Toronto is starting to gain the playoff experience they seek, but they are taking on a hot and experienced Bruins side.
The Leafs defensive core is very weak compared to the Bruins as they tend to give up more A+ scoring opportunities. The key for the Leafs is their defense stepping up and helping out Andersen. If they can limit Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak, then they will find themselves in a wonderful position. But limiting the Bruins top scorer is easier said than done.
The key for the Bruins is showing their dominance early and limiting the Leafs top players in Tavares, Matthews and Marner. If the Black and Gold allow Toronto to build confidence, then they may be in for a tough series.