After making the NHL Playoffs just once in the prior three seasons, the Boston Bruins stormed through the 2017-18 regular season to be one of the best teams in the league. The Bruins went 50-20-12 (wins-losses-overtime losses) which gave them 112 points on the season, finishing just one point shy of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins had a chance to surpass Tampa Bay for the one seed on Sunday but lost to the already-eliminated Florida Panthers. The Bruins will faceoff against their Atlantic Division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs, to open up the postseason.
The Maple Leafs are another team that registered 100 points on the season, netting 105 points by going 49-26-7. The Leafs are loaded offensively, finishing second in the NHL in goals scored, and had six players score 20 or more goals. The Leafs offense is paced by 30-goal scorers Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, and 20-year old phenom Auston Matthews.
The rivals played four games against each other, where the Leafs were victorious in three of the four games. However, the last time these two teams played was February 24th. Boston has played through some adversity since that game, playing the next 22 games in just 41 days to close out the season. The B’s played this loaded part of the schedule with injuries to important players like Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara, Brandon Carlo, Riley Nash, and trade deadline acquisition Rick Nash.
Everyone, with the exception of Carlo (out for the year) and Riley Nash (already ruled out for Game 1), is expected back in the line up for the start of the playoffs on Thursday night! The Maple Leafs look to avenge their playoff loss to Boston in 2013, but who will win this series? A-Mac looks at five things that will make or break the series for the Bruins.
63 – 37 – 88 – The Bruins top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak was arguably the best line in the NHL this season. All three guys scored at least 30 goals, the first time three different Bruins scored 30 or more goals since 2002-03. Not only were the trio a force offensively, they were one of the best defensive lines in hockey, as both Bergeron and Marchard ranked amongst the best in +/- rating (both were above +21). Toronto will have to find a way to not only stop this team offensively, but make sure their offensive weapons are not shut down by these guys.
- Auston Matthews – Speaking of Toronto’s offense, Matthews is the most lethal of the Leaf offensive weapon. The young phenom has potted 74 goals in the first first two seasons in the NHL, including 34 season. Matthews has not lit it up against the Bruins in his career, scoring only one goal and four assists in five career games, and one can only hope those low totals continue in the playoffs.
- Tuukka Rask – Rask was stellar in net for the Bruins yet again, winning over 30 games for the fifth straight season (34 in 2017-18) with a save percentage a goals against average of 2.36, both placed Rask in the top ten of both categories. Rask could be well rested for this years playoffs, as he started less than 70% of the Bruins games for the first time in his six seasons as the team’s leading netminder.
Charlie McAvoy – Even though McAvoy just logged his first regular season in 2017-18, the 20-year old defensemen is no stranger to playoff hockey. McAvoy was forced to play in the 2017 playoffs due to injuries on the Bruins backline. In the six game series loss to the Ottawa Senators, McAvoy registered three assists and averaged an insane 26:12 time on ice per game. With Brandon Carlo out, McAvoy will be paired with Zdeno Chara and will likely log big minutes again this postseason.
- Frederik Andersen – In his second season in Toronto, played a ton for the Maple Leafs. His 66 starts in net was the second-most in the NHL, while his 2,029 saves led the league. Andersen is no stranger to playoff hockey, as this series will be the fifth time in the playoffs in his five years as a starting goalie. Andersen has won 19 of his 34 career playoff games with both Toronto and the Anaheim Ducks.
A-Mac’s Prediction: Even though the Leafs won three of the four matchups in 2017-18, the Bruins are expected to win this series. The teams are pretty even offensively, both were in the top ten in goals scored, but the Bruins hold the advantage on defense, allowing only 214 goals all season, which was 3rd best in the league, while the Maple Leafs were 11th in the league with 232 goals allowed. Despite this one edge, this series will not be easy for the Bruins. The Bruins will win in 7 games, but hopefully Game 7 this year is not as stressful and dramatic as it was between these two teams five seasons ago.