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Leafs to face Bruins in first round of Stanley Cup playoffs

Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews is seen during second period NHL hockey action against the Tampa Bay Lightning, in Toronto on Thursday, April 6, 2017. Count Washington Capitals centre Evgeny Kuznetsov as a fan of Auston Matthews.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

It went right down to the final minutes of the final game of 2017-18, but the Toronto Maple Leafs finally have their first-round opponent. Tampa Bay takes the Eastern crown and finishes as a higher seed than the Boston Bruins, but there’s a case to be made that the Bolts would’ve been the preferable matchup for Toronto.

Tampa’s style lines up well with the Leafs’—they’re both teams that rely on speed and dynamic offensive skill to pile up goals on their opponents. There’s a bit of run-and-gun in there, and Toronto can keep pace with that approach. The Bruins? They’re a different breed, and they have plenty more ways to frustrate a team like Toronto.

Boston can score with the best of them — it’s the sixth-highest scoring team in the league, in fact — but it can also be punishingly physical, defensively responsible, and has a crew of leaders with Stanley Cup rings on the shelf.

Nothing has been able to quell the Bruins up to this point. Injuries and suspensions couldn’t do it — the club just kept adding key pieces down the stretch, the latest being rookie sensation Ryan Donato, who put up a quick nine points through 12 late-season games to keep things rolling.

That said, there’s plenty to like about this Leafs team, particularly up front — a crew of young, elite game-changers backed up by reliable veteran talent. But it’s the blue line that could be a problem, and one the team on the other side won’t have, as Boston allowed the fourth-fewest goals in the league this season.

Toronto has a strong enough squad to give Boston some trouble — it did take three of four meetings with the Bruins this season — but with the club getting outshot in all but one of those meetings, the onus may be on netminder Frederik Andersen to steal a series.

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