This series has been locked in longer than any other and the anticipation for one of the best recent playoff rivalries has been brewing for weeks. In a rematch of last year’s first-round matchup, Boston and Toronto finished the regular season with the third- and seventh-best records.
In another format, perhaps these two teams would meet a little later on in the bracket, but who’s turning down a pressure-packed first-round meeting where the losing team has to head into the summer finishing well short of expectations?
Here’s a look at the Maple Leafs-Bruins matchup:
5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
Toronto: 51.73 CF% (8th), 54.79 GF% (7th), .924 SV% (7th), 9.47 SH% (3rd), 1.019 PDO (4th)
Boston: 53.07 CF% (6th), 55.12 GF% (4th), .931 SV% (3rd), 7.34 SH% (26th), 1.005 PDO (10th)
Toronto: 21.8 PP% (8th), 79.9 PK% (17th), 286 GF (4th), 249 GA (20th)
Boston: 25.9 PP% (3rd), 79.9 PK% (16th), 257 GF (11th), 212 GA (3rd)
The skinny: It was 4-1.
That phrase has haunted Maple Leafs fans since 2013, when the team squandered a three-goal third-period lead in Game 7 and fell to the Bruins in Round 1. It was Toronto’s first playoff appearance of the salary cap era and what followed was another lost journey into the wilderness as they rebuilt the roster from the ground up over three straight miserable seasons.
The arrival of Auston Matthews got Toronto back on track and after being eliminated by Washington in their 2017 playoff return, the Leafs again met their post-season rivals from Boston in 2018 over another seven-game series. This time, Toronto held a 4-3 lead heading into the third, when they melted away by again allowing four unanswered Bruins goals.
This year’s series has been locked in for a while now and the anticipation of it has led to much nail-biting in Leafs Nation. Is this the year they can finally move past Boston?
Toronto Maple Leafs X-Factor: Despite all the star power up front, Toronto’s MVP is its goalie, Frederik Andersen. He was in the running for the Vezina Trophy throughout the season, but a slow finish ultimately faded out his chance.
That’s what should be concerning the Leafs. He’s been remarkably consistent for them over three seasons, finishing twice with a .918 save percentage and wrapping up at .917 in 2018-19. This season and last, though, he’s finished the season slowly.
Last 12 games in 2018 – SV%: 0.895 GAA: 3.50 RECORD: 6-5-0
Last 12 games in 2019 – SV%: 0.889 GAA: 3.66 RECORD: 4-3-4
When Andersen is on his game he can steal a series and, when he’s doing that in conjunction with Toronto’s clicking offence, the Leafs become one of the NHL’s best teams. Through most of the season, Toronto was top-five in terms of 5-on-5 goals for percentage but a weak finish bumped them to sixth in the league, one spot behind Boston. When you consider that eight of the past 11 Stanley Cup champs have been top-five teams in this regard you can see why, when Andersen is on, Toronto is among the elite.
But if Andersen is off, everything changes. Not that last year’s seven-game loss to Boston was all on the netminder, but he did allow at least three goals against in five of those games and finished the series with an .896 save percentage. If his soft finish this season is indicative of similar playoff output, Toronto will be in trouble.
Boston Bruins X-Factor: We know the top line is a major key to Boston’s success and that Tuukka Rask can’t trip up against a robust offence. You also can’t pick just one defenceman or shutdown forward to slow Toronto’s attack because it’s spread out over a couple lines driven by elite players.
When Boston went on its 19-game point streak from Jan. 29 to March 9, David Pastrnak wasn’t in the lineup for 12 of those games and the Bruins didn’t miss a beat. While Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand continued to be point-per-game-or-better players in his absence, the support scoring from second-line centre David Krejci and winger Jake DeBrusk was a significant factor in keeping the train chugging.
Without Pastrnak, Krejci had six goals and 16 points and DeBrusk eight goals and 15 points in 12 and 10 games, respectively. The fact Krejci, at 32, is having one of the best offensive seasons of his career has been a boon to the Bruins. Coming off a 44-point season (in 67 games), that Krejci has managed to get back up over 70 points for just the second time – matching a career-high 73 points from 2008-09 – has breathed new life into Boston’s support scoring.
It’s worth pointing out that when Krejci is contributing to the offence, the Bruins have major playoff success. He recorded eight points in last year’s series win over Toronto and then was limited to two points against Tampa Bay in a five-game loss. In 2017, he was shutout in just three games as Boston was eliminated in Round 1. In their two Stanley Cup Final appearances back in 2011 and 2013, Krejci was Boston’s leading scorer.
If Krejci is rolling, linemate DeBrusk likely will be as well. DeBrusk also adds that heavy hockey element that many believe will be an issue come playoff time for Toronto. Boston is tough enough to beat with just the one line, but if this second unit is causing a physical hassle to the Leafs and contributing on offence it calls into question Toronto’s perceived advantage at forward. Since the trade deadline, the Bruins average more goals per game than the Leafs.
Chris Wagner (day-to-day, lower-body)
Kevan Miller (day-to-day, lower-body)
John Moore (day-to-day, upper-body)
Sean Kuraly (day-to-day, fractured hand)