By: Yanni Latzanakis | Follow Me On Twitter: @yanlatz
The Stanley Cup playoffs begin on Wednesday, April 10th with five games slated for the postseason to kick off. The Bruins and Leafs have to wait to get their series started on Thursday at TD Garden. This will be the second straight season that the Bruins will face Toronto in the first round series and it certainly will not disappoint.
The Leafs come into the series with one of the league’s most potent offense. With former first overall picks Auston Matthews and John Tavares and a supporting cast of incredible young talent in Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Kasperi Kapanen, the Leafs were the second top scoring team in the league with 3.5 goals per game. The Bruins offense has been stellar this season as well led by the best line in the NHL with Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak but ranked 10th in the league with 3.1 goals per game.
Each member of Boston’s top line has set a new career-high in points this season. Best line in hockey. pic.twitter.com/egQaKbv2cF
— Matt Castle (@Matt_Castle22) April 6, 2019
Boston’s second line has seemed to find a jump this season compared to last year with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk putting up career numbers. Along with them, Karson Kuhlman will join them for at least game 1 and has earned his spot on that line putting up three goals and two assists for five points in 11 games this season.
Karson Kuhlman will play this postseason. He’s “earned” the opportunity to be here according to Don Sweeney.
— Matt Castle (@Matt_Castle22) April 8, 2019
On the back-end, the Bruins have arguably one of the best defensive cores in the postseason this year with a healthy Brandon Carlo at the forefront. Carlo is finally healthy to begin the playoffs after missing the past two post-seasons with late March and early April devastating injuries. Carlo has been one of the most consistent players this season and has really broken out to become a shut-down, high hockey IQ defenseman for the B’s. Along with Chara’s leadership, the quarterbacking of Torey Krug on the powerplay, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk, the Bruins are pretty deep in the defensive end.
— WBZ Boston Sports (@wbzsports) April 8, 2019
Across the sheet, Toronto’s defense is not their strong suit. Last year’s playoffs were not good for Jake Gardiner who posted a -6 rating and got torched at times by the Bruins in the 2017-2018 first round seven-game series. With Ron Hainsey, Jake Muzzin, Travis Dermott, and Nikita Zaitsev, the defense should not scare the Bruins. However, Morgan Reilly has emerged as a Norris Trophy candidate this season thanks in part to his 20 goals 52 assists for 72 points in 82 games played, Reilly has become an incredible offensive defenseman but is really the only force on the blueline for the Leafs. The Bruins ranked third in goals against this year with 212 while Toronto ranked 20th with 249. For this series, I would give the defensive edge to Boston although they will have to be sharp against the Leafs offense.
In goal, the Bruins have arguably the best goaltending tandem in the league. Rask and Halak have helped the Bruins to the aforementioned third place in goals against and third in goals-against average. Rask has had a lesser workload thanks to Halak being able to step in and split time and do it well. Rask this season has posted a 27-13-5 record with a 2.48 goals against average and a .912 save percentage along with 4 shutouts. Rask had a rocky start to the year and even had to take a leave of absence but upon his return, has returned to form and even became the all-time Bruins winningest goalie after a 1-0 shutout of the Washington Capitals on Super Bowl Sunday.
Tuukka Rask celebrated for setting the Bruins’ all-time wins mark (265 as of puck drop). pic.twitter.com/q4dDMqlNHw
— Matt Porter (@mattyports) April 6, 2019
The Leafs goaltending is also a position that they have struggled with this season. Just last week, the Leafs sent backup Garrett Sparks down to the AHL and called up Michael Hutchinson because of Sparks’ recent struggling play. Frederik Anderson is the number one in Toronto and has posted a 36-16-7 record with a .917 save percentage, a 2.77 goals against average and one shutout. However, he is not the most consistent goalie and has struggled at times against Boston. In last years playoffs, he posted a 3.76 goals against average and a .896 save percentage. Leafs fans had a scare when in the final game of this season, Andrew Shaw of the Canadiens bumped into Anderson’s head and many Leafs fans feared that he was injured although he finished the game in Montreal. I would again give the edge to Boston in the goaltending department but Tuukka Rask has got to stay on top of his game against the Leafs offense and make the necessary saves that the Bruins need.
Mike Babcock: “Sparks has 10 days basically to work with Jon Elkin & Steve Briere to get his game back. We need him to get it back, he needs to get it back & so it’s real important as an organization that we help him out & that he helps himself so that’s where that’s at.”
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 5, 2019
Home-ice advantage is big for Boston and they were rewarded with that luxury this season in the opening round against Toronto. The Bruins went 29-9-3 on TD Garden ice this season and have taken the two previous series from the Leafs in game seven on home ice. In 2013, the Bruins came back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period to win the game 5-4 in overtime in all-time great game Bruins and NHL game seven. Last spring, the Bruins came back again on home ice and eliminated Toronto 7-4 in another home game 7 for Boston.
This series is going to be yet another great matchup. The Bruins need to continue their season-long shutdown defense, strong goaltending, and creative offense in order to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs. For the second straight year, this original six rivalry will heat up for a playoff series and it all starts April 11th at TD Garden.