By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
With an overall record of 46-21-9, the Boston Bruins’ 101-point season thus far puts them in a tie with the Calgary Flames for the second-best franchise in the entire National Hockey League. An unexpected feat when the season began back in October, but this group of hard-working, tenacious players have battled through injuries, losses, and setbacks to be one of the best in the league today. If you were to track the Bruins’ progress throughout the season, you can see that they are now in the top three contenders for the Stanley Cup. They weren’t always in the top three so to see them where they are at now, it’s incredible.
On Saturday, the Bruins officially clinched a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 7-3 crushing of the Florida Panthers. With that said, it only further confirms that the Bruins and Maple Leafs will meet in the opening round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Do these two match up the same or will new history be created this time around?
On paper, both teams have the skill to not only score a few goals but to score a lot of goals. On the Bruins, the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak have such amazing chemistry together that it almost seems that they know the exact position of each other on the ice at all times. All three of them reached the 30-goal plateau this season, and all three of them are having some of the best seasons of their NHL careers.
Following behind them, David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk also have chemistry together – to the point where they thrive off of each other, even though they are different players. Krejci tends to slow down the game and make smart, tape-to-tape passes to his teammate to set up a slick goal. To his left, Jake DeBrusk possesses a great shot with blazing speed and aggressiveness on the puck. Their two styles blend perfectly on most nights, and it has paid off.
Although the Bruins have and continue to have issues with consistent scoring from their entire bottom-six forwards, they do have one of the best fourth-lines in the league today. So much so, that the Acciari, Kuraly, Wagner line has seen third-line minutes quite often during the year so far. The three members of that line drive on rushes, make aggressive plays on the forecheck and even lay a few hits on the opposing team as well.
Statistically, the Bruins are in the top half in the league for most goals for, but if the injuries were not a factor throughout the year, that number would be a lot higher.
With the offseason addition of John Tavares, the Maple Leafs are still a threat offensively as well. They are top five in the NHL for most goals for scored and they have depth scoring throughout all four lines. Mitch Marner leads the teams in points with 25-65-90 numbers in 76 games this season.
The biggest threat may be the center position with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Nazem Kadri all down the middle. You have to expect that Tavares will try to be more dominant because it is his first playoff series with his new team and the playoffs are without a doubt the most important time to shine. Toronto has more depth and more consistent scoring the further down you go.
Both Boston and Toronto have the power to score five or more goals in a single 60-minute game, and it creates a true challenge for the opposing defense and goaltending. However, on paper and statistically speaking, Toronto takes this category, but it is a very close one.
Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Boston Bruins have used an incredible twelve defencemen throughout the season thus far, compared to Toronto’s nine. Boston’s defense, when healthy, looks like Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller, and either Matt Grzelcyk or John Moore. More often than not, however, we have not seen this blue line core 100% healthy.
Out of those seven players listed for the Bruins, only one of them has a minus rating, (Torey Krug, -3), but Krug does have a team-high 48 points on the year from the back-end, and he is always a threat on the power-play. He is arguably one of the reasons why Boston currently has the third-best man-advantage success rate in the entire league and has been within the top five for the majority of the season.
The B’s d-men possess some solid offensive talents with Krug, McAvoy, Grzelcyk, and Moore, but they also bring a solid toughness and physicality with 6-foot-9, 250-pound captain Zdeno Chara and 6-foot-2, 210-pound Kevan Miller. Between those two men alone, fear can be set among other teams in the NHL and has done so when they are together on the ice. Brandon Carlo can fit into the physical spectrum as well, but can also add some extra points when needed to.
For Toronto, the defensive side of the puck has been a weakness for some time now, mainly due to the stacked offensive core that we have previously discussed. Morgan Rielly leads the defencemen with 20-48-68 numbers in 75 games played, followed by Jake Gardiner (29 points) and Ron Hainsey (22 points).
That is great, and all, but the blueliners on the Maple Leafs have been a liability as some of the Bruins have as well. Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey, and Jake Gardiner have had their questionable moments in a game before, some of which Bruins fans will remember as well, (Gardiner’s mistake led to DeBrusk’s game-winning goal in Game 7 of the 2018 Playoffs). That was and continues to be a concern for the Blue and White.
In January, General Manager Kyle Dubas traded for a d-man Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings, a move that made Toronto’s depth on defense a lot better. Muzzin has 5-11-16 numbers in 27 contests with the Leafs, averaging just over twenty minutes on ice per game.
The Bruins allow an average of 2.48 goals-against-per-game, third in the league while the Leafs allow an average of 2.97 goals-against-per-game, 16th in the league. For that and the depth that Boston has shown with the injuries faced, the defensive side of the equation goes to Boston.
Winner: Boston Bruins
The last of the three categories is the most crucial of them all. When all of the offense fails, and the two defenders on the ice cannot prevent the puck from advancing, there is only one man who can make a last effort to stop the puck from crossing the goal line – the goaltender.
Last season, during the 2018 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals, it was an intense battle between Tuukka Rask and Frederik Andersen. Although this season, times may be different. Boston has seen success with both Rask and offseason acquisition Jaroslav Halak, who could be a possible winner for the annual 7th Player Award.
Boston Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has nearly split the games started between the two netminders with Rask starting 42 games and Halak starting 37 games before Monday’s game against the Lightning. Jaroslav Halak is fifth in the league for best goals-against-average (2.31 GAA) while Rask is 7th with a 2.35 GAA. The two are the second-highest ranked duo in the league, behind only Lehner and Griess on the Islanders. Rask and Halak are both also top fifteen in save percentage.
Frederik Andersen has played 55 games this year and is 24th in the NHL for GAA (2.72), and 13th for save percentage (.918). Garret Sparks most likely will not get any starts in the playoffs as he boasts an 8-7-0 record with a 3.16 GAA and a .907 save percentage in 15 games started.
Rask and Andersen have had issues in playoff scenarios before, but the hope for Boston is that if Rask does struggle, Halak can keep the team going, as he has done in the 2018-19 regular season. That in addition to the on-paper statistics being in favor of the Bruins, this category goes to Boston.
Winner: Boston Bruins
2018-19 Season Series
Game 1: November 10th, 2018 – Bruins def. Maple Leafs 5-1 (BOS: Pastrnak x3, Bergeron, Nordstrom – Halak 41 Saves; TOR: Tavares – Sparks 29 Saves)
Game 2: November 26th, 2018 – Maple Leafs def Bruins 4-2 (BOS: Pastrnak x2 – Halak 27 Saves; TOR: Dermott, Hyman, Leivo, Ozhiganov – Andersen 38 Saves)
Game 3: December 8th, 2018 – Bruins def Maple Leafs 6-3 (BOS: Backes, Donato, Krug, Forsbacka-Karlsson, Krejci, Heinen – Halak 29 Saves; TOR: Dermott, Johnsson, Matthews – Andersen 6 GA, 22 Saves, Sparks 4 Saves)
Game 4: January 12th, 2019 – Bruins def Maple Leafs 3-2 (BOS: Krejci, Kuraly, Pastrnak – Rask 32 Saves; TOR: Marner, Johnsson – Hutchinson 26 Saves)
In the four games against the Maple Leafs this season, the Black and Gold won three of them and lost only one game. The Bruins outscored the Leafs 16-10 within those games, including a six-goal performance on December 8th. David Pastrnak scored six goals in four games versus Toronto by himself.
Boston failed to score more than two goals in that series only one time, and it was the sole game that they lost. In that loss, Frederik Andersen stopped 38 of 40 shots against to seal the deal for Toronto.
Each and every one of those games had a type of intensity and energy that is not as present when either team plays another team. The Bruins did take the season series this year, three games to one, but the Leafs can very well perform better or worse come playoff time, and the same can be said for the B’s.
Winner: Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins, on paper, win three of the four categories that I have listed here today. With that said, that can all essentially be thrown out the window once the puck drops to signify the start to Game One as both teams will gain a brand new intensity and momentum that the playoffs bring.
If you are planning on making a wager on this series, I would recommend a prediction of seven games, at least. Either one of them can take the series at any given time, but with the experience of the past games dating back to 2017-18, these two Original Six franchises have so many glaring similarities and yet, differences. The question is, is will those differences be enough to win four games? That is the main goal for either club.
It doesn’t stop there either. The Bruins have a tougher roster mentally, at least what has been shown this season and that will most definitely play a factor in who advances to the second round. Whether you are a Boston Bruins fan or a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, prepare for yet another nail-biting, entertaining, exciting matchup between the team we love to cheer for and the team we love to cheer against.