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By: Jason Cooke | Follow me on Twitter / X @cookejournalism

This matchup seemed inevitable. For the fourth time since 2013, the Boston Bruins will square off with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After the Bruins squandered the final game of their centennial season on Tuesday, the Florida Panthers claimed the Atlantic Division to force a Boston vs. Toronto showdown in the first round.

The Bruins certainly have history on their side. In the three times the original six clubs have stepped into the ring since 2013, Boston has escaped as the victor in each meeting. Every series required a seven-game gauntlet, but the B’s have shown time and time again that they have Toronto’s number—even beating them in all four meetings this season. However, this series won’t be a walk in the park for the 2023-24 Bruins. Here are some things to look for ahead of game one (time, date TBD).

Toronto’s Loaded Offense

To put it lightly, the Maple Leafs’ offense packs a serious punch. Headlined by Auston Matthews, the Leafs have four players who have surpassed the 60-point mark this season. Matthews (69-38-107), William Nylander (40-57-97), Mitch Marner (26-59-85), and John Tavares (28-36-64) are a severe threat when on the ice. The Bruins hold just two players who have passed that mark in David Pastrnak (47-63-110) and Brad Marchand (29-38-67).

With these talented players comes a dangerous power play. Toronto’s man advantage has the seventh-best success rate in the league, at 24.3%. The Maple Leafs endured a similar rut as the Bruins are currently experiencing on their special teams unit back in January but have since righted the ship. Goals are bound to happen when the likes of Matthews, Nylander, Tavares, Marner, and Morgan Reilly share the ice at once. It would be in the best interest of Boston to stay out of the box, though the B’s do have the seventh-best kill in the league at 82.5%.

Bruins’ Struggling Power Play

On the flip side, the Bruins power play is leaking oil. Boston has received 27 opportunities with the extra attacker in their last ten games. Of those 27 bids, the Bruins have cashed in just three goals for an unflattering rate of roughly 11%. It wasn’t until Tuesday night that the power play showed signs of life, as Pavel Zacha corralled a rebound from Kevin Shattenkirk to light the lamp.

This comes fresh after Jim Montgomery reshuffled his power play units, demoting Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand to the second grouping. On Tuesday, the first power play consisted of Shattenkirk, Zacha, David Pastrnak, Danton Heinen, and James van Riemsdyk. It is unknown if Montgomery will keep experimenting with some combinations in the playoffs or return to his regular rotation as the Bruins try to figure out the power play. I would, however, be shocked if McAvoy and Marchand weren’t skating with the first unit for game one.

Will the Bruins Roll With Goalie Rotation?

Finally, there is the question everyone has on their mind: Will Montgomery opt into a goalie rotation in the first round? If the B’s stay consistent with their current rotation, game one would fall into the hands of Jeremy Swayman due to Linus Ullmark starting on Tuesday. If Montgomery decides to give the nod to Swayman, the Maple Leafs may begin to tremble. Throughout Boston’s seven-game win streak against the Maple Leafs since last season, Swayman has gone 4-0-0 with a .961 save percentage.

However, leading into the playoffs this past month, the consensus was that Ullmark would get the crease for game one. The veteran goaltender has been on fire to end the season, bringing his cumulative save percentage up to .915%. But after Swayman was lights out against the Washington Capitals on Monday night, making 24 saves on 25 shots, the 25-year-old made a solid case to get the net at least some point in the series.

Regardless of who Montgomery points to for the opening game, the real concern will be who starts in game two. The bench boss hasn’t yet revealed to the media one way or another what his plans are between the Boston pipes, and I can’t imagine that will be known until their pregame skate at the end of the week. This swirling controversy comes fresh off the B’s heartbreaking collapse to the Florida Panthers last spring, where Montgomery rolled with Ullmark for the first six games of the series before giving Swayman the start in game seven. If the Bruins have learned from their miscues, I’d expect some form of a rotation to take place in the opening round against the Maple Leafs.

Regardless of what happens in the weeks ahead for the Black and Gold, it’s safe to say they’ve exceeded expectations in a season that was widely considered a bridge year. But here they are, 109 points later, again contending for some hardware.

(Photo Credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)