By: Andrew E Thompson Twitter: @godwentwhoops
The Boston Bruins found themselves controlling their own destiny on Sunday night. The Black and Gold were playing for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference as they took on the Florida Panthers in the final game of the 2017-18 season. The B’s weren’t able to get it done, falling to the Cats 4-2.
Sure, the loss was disappointing. Had the Bruins won, they’d have had the top spot in the East and guaranteed home-ice advantage for the first three rounds of the playoffs. The loss put the B’s playoff plans into sharp focus. With their second place seed in the Atlantic secured, they now prepare to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Bruins knew they let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers with their loss tonight. “We’re not going to allow one game to define us, yet we understand the meaning,” said Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy over the loss after the game. “We let one get away, an opportunity lost to have home-ice advantage. And we’ll see if that haunts us down the road. I think it’s too early to tell that right now.”
The Bruins certainly struggled against the Leafs this season. Early on in the season, the Black and Gold were totally black and blue. Injuries to key players kept the B’s on the defensive in their first two games back in November of 2017. The B’s dropped both of those games. The B’s looked better against the Leafs in February, beating them cleanly 4-1 in one match. In the other game, the team missed a few opportunities and fell to the Leafs 4-3.
So, how will the Black and Gold do against a team that they went 1-2-1 in the regular season?
Injuries will certainly play a factor in the series. The Bruins will be without the services of two players for the remainder of the playoffs. Anders Bjork is out with a shoulder injury sustained at the end of January. Brandon Carlo is all out of action due to his ankle fracture sustained on March 31. Rick Nash and Riley Nash are questionable for Thursday night, and their absence could be keenly felt during game one.
The Leafs are no slouch on offense. Toronto is fourth in the league in goals scored (3.29/game). Boston is sixth with 3.26 goals/game. They have seven 50-plus point players on their team (compared to four Bruins). Thankfully, no Leaf player can match the firepower of either Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak. The Leafs will also have to work hard to find a solution to Mr. Selke himself, Patrice Bergeron. (Bergeron’s 57.31% faceoff win percentage is (once again) among the best in the league.)
Special teams will certainly play a factor as well. The Leafs are second in the league on the power play (25%, the Bruins are fourth with 23.5%). The Bruins have the edge on the penalty kill, being the third best team in the NHL while a man down (83.7%, the Leafs are 12th at 81.4%).
The Black and Gold could find themselves in a protracted goalie duel in the first round. While some fans would disagree with this, the Bruins have the advantage here. Frederik Andersen won four more games than Tuukka Rask but played 12 more games. Rask has also given up a full half goal less per game (2.36 to Andersen’s 2.81). As long as Rask has proper support, he’ll be able to get the team past the Leafs.
Rask feels like he’s ready for the challenge. “Prepare mentally and physically…we know it’s going to be Toronto in the first round, so we have to be ready because it’s going to be a tough matchup like they all are,” said Tuukka Rask. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter to me who you play because you’ve got to beat them all so you just have to prepare yourself and be ready when the puck drops on Thursday.”
The Leafs also have a tendency to give up more soft goals than Boston. (The Leafs are 12th in the league with 2.8 goals-against per game, while the B’s are fourth at 2.57.)
The Black and Gold begin their quest for the Stanley Cup, and they look like they’ve got the skills to make a solid run.