The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to take on the Boston Bruins in the first round. Sometimes, good things do happen.
Game One of this series will hit the air on Thursday.
Toronto is coming off one of their best seasons in franchise history, but that doesn’t help matters in the playoffs because life’s not always fair. Drawing the Bruins is a dream match in many ways and that’s cool for the fans, but it’s also going to be a tough slog.
Make no mistake about it, the Leafs are good. They’re third overall in goals per game and their power play is the second best in the NHL. They’re sixth in faceoffs and have a pile of young, elite players that can put the biscuit in the basket. T-Dot won three of four meetings against the Bostonian ones this season, too.
But these Bruins are tough, and they seem to get tougher in the post-season because they have so many darn layers. And they outshot the Maple Leafs in almost all of their meetings this season.
Consider that they’ve dealt with injuries and suspensions to key players all season long and have still come up with scoring depth. Even latecomers like Ryan Donato have piled up points in relatively short order. They’ve called on 11 different rookies this season, including Danton Heinen, and have managed to stay in the mix despite some serious adversity.
Boston is sixth in goals per game and their power play is fourth, 23.6 percent to Toronto’s 25 percent. That’s a hair’s difference in the post-season. The Bruins also boast the third best penalty kill in the league, while the Leafs are 11th.
Boston is versatile and well-coached, which sets them up to play just about any style that comes to mind. They can play a tough game or they can ramp up the scoring and set Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak to work. Patrice Bergeron is masterful, and their defence is an airless dynamo, allowing the second fewest shots against in the regular season.
Toronto, on the other hand, tends to allow quite a few shots against. That’s where things turn to Frederik Andersen, who put up five shutouts this season and packed up 38 wins. He has to give the Maple Leafs a chance to win and he’s done so thus far, but the Bruins can and will get ugly in front of the net.
Toronto is still stinging from last year’s exit at the hands of the Capitals and they won’t be happy without winning it all, but eventually realism sets in. This is a club that, for all its fire, still allows too many chance against. That will be the hinge that swings this series if they can’t gather the troops and start inhibiting the Bruins.
Without a doubt, it falls to Auston Matthews, James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner to put on a show. And they will. But whether that show is hot enough to conquer the tough Bruins is another matter altogether.