At long last, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us.
For the third time in seven years, the Boston Bruins will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. And like years past, the B’s will have home-ice advantage.
But before the puck drops Thursday at TD Garden, NESN.com’s Logan Mullen and Lauren Campbell broke down the upcoming series.
Goals/Game: Boston 3.13 (11th) | Toronto 3.49 (4th)
Goals Allowed/Game: Boston 2.44 (2nd) | Toronto 3.04 (20th)
Power play: Boston 25.9 percent (3rd) | Toronto 21.8 (8th)
Penalty kill: Boston 79.9 (16th) | Toronto 79.9 (16th)
— Boston won the season series 3-1
Nov. 10: Boston 5-1
Nov. 26: Toronto 4-2
Dec. 12: Boston 6-3
Jan. 12: Boston 3-2
April 11: Toronto at Boston, 7 p.m. ET
April 13: Toronto at Boston, 8 p.m. ET
April 15: Boston at Toronto, 7 p.m. ET
April 17: Boston at Toronto, 7 p.m. ET
April 19: Toronto at Boston (if necessary)
April 21: Boston at Toronto (if necessary)
April 23: Toronto at Boston (if necessary)
Bruins Projected Lines
Brad Marchand–Patrice Bergeron–David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk–David Krejci–Karson Kuhlman
Danton Heinen–Charlie Coyle–Marcus Johansson
Joakim Nordstrom–Noel Acciari–Chris Wagner
Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Zach Hyman–John Tavares–Mitch Marner
Andreas Johnsson–Auston Matthews–Kasperi Kapanen
Patrick Marleau–Nazem Kadri–William Nylander
Trevor Moore–Frederik Gauthier–Connor Brown
Logan: To put it simply, the Leafs have more name recognition from top to bottom. If you have to choose one trio that stands above the rest, it doesn’t get better than the Bruins’ first line.
David Pastrnak has had his way with Toronto plenty of times, and Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron had pretty stellar seasons themselves. Though the second-line right wing remains an area of concern for the Bruins, Jake DeBrusk came into his own last postseason, and David Krejci historically has thrived in the spring. After that, things are a little less certain. Boston’s fourth line has been great all season, but the third line has been a question mark.
It’s tough to judge the Leafs in some respects since Auston Matthews was a ghost last postseason, and he’s such a huge part of their success (or failure). But based on performance this season, I sooner trust the Leafs to get more scoring out of lines 2-4 than the Bruins. Whether or not secondary scoring swings the series remains to be seen, but the depth of Toronto up front is tough to ignore.
Advantage: Maple Leafs (narrowly)
Lauren: This might be the only category in which the Leafs have the advantage, but that’s only because Boston’s forward depth doesn’t go as far as Toronto’s. David Krejci plays his best hockey in the playoffs (see 2011 and 2013), but his right-wing side has been anything but consistent. Still, the center managed to have his best season in 10 years, and I believe he’ll up his game in the postseason, especially with Jake DeBrusk skating to his left.
Toronto’s offense is stacked with names like John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, among others. Marner led his team in points (96) and assists (68), so he has an eye for finding the open man in front of the net. The Maple Leafs had no issues with secondary scoring, with their third line combining for 39 goals on the season. Boston, on the other hand, got a lot of point production from its dominant first line of David Pastrnak (81), Brad Marchand (100) and Patrice Bergeron (79).
Advantage: Maple Leafs
Bruins Projected Pairings
Zdeno Chara–Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug–Brandon Carlo
Steven Kampfer–Matt Grzelcyk
Maple Leafs Projected Pairings
Morgan Rielly–Ron Hainsey
Jake Muzzin–Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner–Travis Dermott
Logan: Defensemen may be a misnomer for this Leafs group because, well, they are not great defensively.
It feels like the Leafs lack a true shutdown defender, which is part of the reason Pastrnak dumptrucks them all the time. Sure, they’ve got blueliners that can score, but that only goes so far when you’re getting steamrolled in your own end.
The Bruins have a nice blend on their top two pairings, with Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy followed by Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug. While there might be a bit of a revolving door on half of the third pairing between Steven Kampfer, Connor Clifton, John Moore and Kevan Miller based on the latter two’s health, Matt Grzelcyk has been solid this year.
Regardless of who’s on the ice, the Bruins have a better blue line than Toronto.
Lauren: The Maple Leafs certainly boosted their offense when they signed John Tavares over the summer, but the team failed to up its defensive game. It’s no secret Toronto struggled to find consistency with its blue line, while Boston’s depth in that position was displayed throughout the season due to a plethora of injuries.
The Bruins’ depth will be tested throughout the first round with Kevan Miller and John Moore both nursing injuries. But Matt Grzelcyk played strong hockey this season, Torey Krug had a career season and Brandon Carlo will make his postseason debut. Carlo was dominant in the three wins against Toronto this season, and his presence certainly was missed in last year’s playoffs.
The rest of the defensemen have had the “next man up” mentality throughout the 82-game regular season. The playoffs will be no different.
Maple Leafs Goaltenders
Logan: Don’t give me your narratives, Tuukka Rask will be fine. And if he isn’t, Jaroslav Halak is a more than capable backup.
Sure, Rask hasn’t been his best lately. But neither has Frederik Andersen. For a good chunk of this season, Rask has looked pretty good, and that should inspire some confidence for this postseason run, even if he turned in a couple of clunkers late in the regular season.
Plus, though not always his fault, Andersen looked pretty awful at times last postseason.
Overall, the Bruins have a better tandem, especially since Halak looked good against Toronto this season. And if Andersen doesn’t show up for the Leafs this series, they will be in quite a bit of trouble.
Lauren: Tuukka Rask should be well-rested after playing in 46 games this season — his fewest since the 2011-12 season. Of course, a lot of that had to do with having a solid backup in Jaroslav Halak. Both netminders have playoff experience and matching career save percentages (.924) in the postseason with at least 10 games played.
Yes, you can say Rask has some sort of postseason monkey on his back. But despite ending the regular season on a sour note, he’ll be more rested than he was in years prior. And as Logan pointed out, if Rask struggles, he has Halak to back him up. Halak also has experience playing the Leafs this season, making a combined 96 saves in three games, including a 40-save performance Nov. 10.
It could be argued that Frederik Anderson was the Leafs’ best player during some of their games this season, and that’s due to Toronto’s lack of defense. He certainly can’t carry the team all series, though, and if the Maple Leafs struggle mightily in their own zone, that could spell serious trouble.
Logan: Charlie Coyle.
No other line is more of an uncertainty than the Bruins’ third line. Danton Heinen hasn’t shown he can score on his own, there’s no full-time winger on the right side and Coyle hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers since being traded to Boston.
However, Coyle has contributed beyond just goals and assists, so if he finds a way to elevate his game and take his line with him to provide some scoring, the Bruins are going to be far more of a handful.
Lauren: Karson Kuhlman.
While it’s not official, head coach Bruce Cassidy had Kuhlman skate on Krejci’s line during practice. He’s only played in 11 games for the B’s, but he certainly made enough of an impact. Kuhlman tallied three goals and two assists, and he really stood out when he played alongside Krejci. His speed will be important in maintaining a top-6 role throughout the postseason, and he could help provide a more balanced offensive attack than the team had last year.
We know Krejci and Jake DeBrusk are a deadly duo. If the B’s can find a consistent right wing for Krejci (at least through the playoffs), creating more scoring chances, that would provide some relief to the top line and add more forward depth for Boston.
Logan: Bruins in seven.
Each team goes 1-1 at home, then the hosts win in Games 5, 6 and 7. Book it.
Lauren: Bruins in seven.
The series goes back to Toronto tied 1-1, and the B’s win Games 3, 5 and 7.