(Photo Credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

By Tom Calautti | Follow me on Twitter @TCalauttis

The Boston Bruins never seem to do anything the easy way. With the Toronto Maple Leafs reeling and a potential knockout game on home ice, the Black and Gold squandered an excellent opportunity to end their first-round series, falling 2-1 in overtime. The series now shifts back to Toronto as Boston attempts to defeat the Leafs again and advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the Bruins plan on punching their tickets to Florida tonight, here’s how they will do it:

The Captain Leads

After having what some people considered a down year, Captain Brad Marchand has jumped out to an excellent start in these playoffs, registering three goals, five assists, and eight points across the team’s first five contests. It’s no secret that Boston is at its best when Marchand has things going, but that fact has been particularly evident in this series.

Marchand has scored two or more points in a game three times in this series. Those three instances occurred in Games 1, 3, and 4, which coincidentally are the three games Boston has won. In the team’s Game 2 and 5 losses, Marchand only posted a single point and was a -1. But it isn’t just the sheer number of points Marchand has amassed; it’s the timely nature of those tallies that have propelled the team. 

In Game 1, Marchand assisted on Jake DeBrusk’s back-to-back powerplay goals in the second period, extending the lead to 4-0 and putting the score out of reach. In Game 3, he potted the game-winning goal and buried the empty-netter for insurance. In Game 4, he put his team up for good with a powerplay strike and assisted on David Pastrnak’s second of the series to bury Toronto again.

For years, Marchand’s success has been an indicator of team success, but this series, more than ever, his production has directly resulted in wins. For Boston to take this series, their captain needs to lead the way and will them to victory.

Faceoff Struggles

There are several individuals I could point at to identify Boston’s struggles in the faceoff dot, but when it comes to whose performance has been the most impactful, it comes down to Charlie Coyle. Boston’s top center is the man head coach Jim Montgomery has tasked with matching up and neutralizing 69-goal scorer Auston Matthews in this series (or whoever the first line may be when Matthews is out).

According to NaturalStatTrick, Coyle has played just over 64 minutes of five-on-five ice time in this series, with 28:58 coming against Matthews and 37 minutes against his linemates. The Bruins have neutralized Toronto’s top line when Coyle has been solid in the faceoff dot. In Games 1, 3, and 4, Coyle posted a 50, 55.6, and 54 winning percentage. In Games 2 and 5, he was below 36 percent.

All of Boston’s centermen share the blame for the struggles at the dot this series, but when Coyle has succeeded, it leads to team success. If Charlie Coyle owns the dot, Boston can dictate possession and shut down Toronto’s top scorers.

Powerplay Supremacy

It’s somewhat ironic that the Bruins’ powerplay has been such a weapon in this series, considering how lifeless it was in the last month of the regular season. But everything changes in the playoffs, and since the second period of Game 1, Boston’s man-advantage has come to life, converting at a 42.9 percent rate.

Boston has scored a powerplay goal in all three of its wins and has had a strikingly similar unit on the ice for almost every goal. Of the six powerplay tallies the team has registered, four have come with the units of Coyle, Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, and Morgan Geekie on the ice. 

Any hockey fan will tell you it’s essential to win the special teams battle, but with the lack of five-on-five scoring we’ve seen in this series, Boston must take advantage of the powerplay. If Jim Montgomery stays consistent and trusts his units from prior games, Boston should be able to punish Toronto for taking penalties.

Shutdown Defense

When people talk about the Boston Bruins’ defensive corps, Charlie McAvoy’s name immediately becomes the subject of conversation. But in this playoff series, Brandon Carlo and Hampus Lindholm’s defensive play has dictated wins and losses.

Carlo and Lindholm have demonstrated poise and persistence, playing just over 86 minutes of five-on-five ice time in this series, with 35 dedicated to defending Toronto’s top line. While Marchand may lead Boston’s offense, it’s the unwavering performance of Lindholm and Carlo that truly propels the Bruins forward.

Boston’s top defensive duo was a combined +8 with three points in the team’s three victories this series. In their two losses, they’re -4 and haven’t registered a point. It’s evident that Lindholm and Carlo are responsible for keeping Toronto’s big guns in check, and if they can play the type of smother, shutdown defense they did in Games 1, 3, and 4, Boston will close out this series.