The playoffs are upon us and the attention that the Bruins have gotten for backpedalling into the playoffs now shifts to their first round playoff matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins finished the season 3-5-2 in their last 10 and blew numerous attempts to wrap up the Northeast Division as the Canadiens also stumbled down the stretch. The Bruins play of late, and their first round defeat last season, has left Bruins fans worried and skeptical. The Bruins will face off against Northeast rival Toronto. The Leafs join the second season for the first time in nine years and with a young and inexperienced core, they are one of the greatest unknowns in these playoffs. Will the big stage be too big for them or will they run with the flame?
Offense is one of the more equal categories between the two teams in terms of goal production. The Bruins scored 131 goals (2.73 GPG) in their 48 games, while the Leafs scored 145 times (3.0 GPG). The Bruins top scorer was Brad Marchand (18-18-36), while old friend Phil Kessel led the Leafs with 20 goals and 32 assists. The Bruins defense has typically contained Phil Kessel and the Leafs pretty well. The Bruins have won nine of the last 10 games in large part because they’ve held Phil Kessel in check. In fact, Kessel has zero 5-on-5 goals in 22 career games against the Bruins. Unlike previous years, the Leafs are not just a one-line team anymore. They mix speed and talent throughout their first three lines and will need to use that speed to get past the Bruins staunch defense. The Bruins will need to have their top two lines step up in this series if they want to advance. The Bruins scorers have long been inconsistent and with goals at a premium in the playoffs, they need their stars to rise to the occasion.
Players to watch: Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Nathan Horton, David Krejci
The Bruins have long been identified by their defense, particularly their 5-on-5 defense. The Bruins have been among the best in the league in goals allowed since Claude Julien got to town but this year had a different feel. The Bruins were third in the league in GAA, yielding just 2.18 goals per game. The Leafs found themselves in the middle of the pack, giving up 2.64 goals per game. For the Bruins, the numbers are there but the the major concern has been defensive breakdowns and the inability to hold leads that was once a given. Toronto was 7th in the league in third period goals with 47. They were also in the top 1/3rd of the league in 3rd period goals against with 51. The Bruins ranked in the middle of the pack in both categories. The Bruins do benefit from having the same core defensemen for a few years now and also benefit from the system in which they play. The Toronto defense is not very notable, they’re on the bigger side but not overly intimidating.
Players to watch: Dennis Seidenberg, Cody Franson
Tuukka Rask should be a Vezina finalist this year if you look at his numbers. Rask compiled a 19-10-5 record with a .929 SV and a 2.00 GAA and 5 SO. All of those numbers are in the top five for goaltenders. James Reimer was 19-8-5 with a .924 SV and a 2.64 GAA and 4 SO. Neither have a playoff pedigree. Rask’s last action in the playoffs was in 2009 when the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers. James Reimer hasn’t played in the playoffs since before he was in the AHL. Rask is certainly the more polished goaltender but don’t undersell Reimer, he’s a plus goalie who has the ability to keep the Leafs close even if their defense has a bad night.
Even in a year in which they won the Cup, the Bruins got by without much help from their power-play thanks to an amazing penalty-kill that made opposing power-plays look nearly as inept as their own. The Bruins PK seemed to be poised to do the same as they constantly ranked towards the top of the league in PK percentage but the Bruins PK began to look human down the stretch and finished at 87% when they had been over 90% for most of the season. The Leafs finished 14th in the league in PP% at 19% but have the talent to be much more impactful in a series. The Bruins power-play will be lucky to get multiple power-play goals in the series after finishing 25th in the league in power-play efficiency. Toronto drew 166 power-plays, while Boston drew a league worst 122 power-plays. A major part of the series will be penalty calls and power-play efficiency. The Leafs will have to convert on key power-plays to win the series and the Bruins will hope to keep if 5-on-5 for their best shot.
Despite not winning the division the Bruins got what should be a favorable matchup. The Bruins have beaten the Leafs in nine of the last 10 matchups and seem to hold a mental edge over Phil Kessel in particular who just can’t solve the Bruins. The playoffs are often dictated by goaltending and typically low-scoring contests. The Bruins get checkmarks in those categories so they should have an advantage. The Bruins will have to shake off the poor play from April and turn the page, and I think the normalized schedule and intensity of the playoffs will benefit them. Bruins in 6.