Toronto Maple Leafs (3) at Boston Bruins (2)
The Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Boston Bruins matches two Original Six blue bloods in the NHL. Boston has captured 6 Stanley Cup titles and boasts about past players like Ray Bourque, Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr. This will be the 72nd playoff appearance for the Bruins in their 94 seasons as a club. The Maple Leafs have one of the most passionate fanbases in sports. The team possesses 13 Stanley Cups, but they have not won the finals since 1967. Each of these teams could be Cup contenders, but one heads home after their first round meeting.
Toronto enters the playoffs with the fourth most potent goal scoring attack in the league averaging 3.53 goals per match. John Tavares headlines the attack with 46 goals making him the third leading scorer in the league. Tavares is backed up by rising star Mitch Marner (25,67) and steady producer Auston Matthews (37,35). These centers are a dominant force and their ability to score from anywhere on the ice is hard for the opposition to stop.
Boston is less dynamic on the attack sitting 12th in goals per game at 3.10, slightly above the league average. They are neck and neck as the season winds down with Toronto for goal differential sitting at +40 with 3 games to go. The Bruins offensive attack is captained by Patrice Bergeron (32,45) who missed time earlier in the season with an injury. Brad Marchand (34,63) has been the steadying influence on the team while his LW peer David Pasternak (36,41) dominates play, but also missed time with an injury.
Toronto’s back half could prove to be their Achilles heel in this nearly even series. Opponents score 3.01 goals a night against the Leafs one of the highest GAA of playoff teams. The absence of Travis Dermott and Jake Gardiner in late February proved to be a difficult hole to fix. Look for Morgan Rielly to contribute in the defensive zone and spark a Leafs counter attack with a pass up ice.
Toronto’s top goalie is Frederick Anderson, who is backed up by Garret Sparks. Anderson when on, can be tough to score against, but recently has been leaky. With two excellent defensemen out, this is not entirely Anderson’s fault, but his save % is sitting at 22nd in the league at 92.8%. When looking at his High Danger Save %- Anderson is only saving 81% of attempts and his Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) is negative 6.17 (-6.17). Anderson must be better against the Bruins for Toronto to have a chance.
Boston’s defense has one of the most recognizable players in the NHL in the grizzled veteran Zdeno Chara and not just because of his age. Chara is 6’9” and still tangles with the toughest players on the ice. This toughness is spread among the Bruin defenders and they can hold their own against Toronto’s young attackers. The Bruins are currently the third best team in goals allowed this season with a 2.58 GAA.
Boston has one of the most solid goalie rotations in the league between Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Halak’s GSAA is 14.41 (4th in the league) and is a statement of how tough he is to score against. Rusk is a veteran netminder who should be up to the stiff task that is the Leafs offense. If one of these goalies gets hot, the Bruins have a more than fair shot at the Stanley Cup heading to BeanTown.
Who Wins: The series comes down to an efficient Boston attack against an average Toronto defense. The Bruins are 3-1 against the Leafs this year lead by David Pasternack’s 5 goals, including a hat trick early in the season. Fredrick Anderson was chased in a previous matchup after being torched for 6 goals on 28 shots. Boston locked up home ice advantage and employs a better goalie tandem. Unfortunately for the Leafs, long suffering and passionate fan base, the Bruins prevail in the series 4-2.