Game 1 in Boston Thursday, 6pm
Game 2 in Boston Saturday, 7pm
Game 3 in Toronto Monday, 6pm
Game 4 in Toronto Wednesday, 6pm
After all the whining, moaning, and kvetching, they are still going to play this series and not reschedule the Leafs against a team their media contingent deems is a better matchup for them. At some point, either the Leafs are good enough or they aren’t, and whether they spit it in the first or second round really shouldn’t matter. But any slight is a massive injustice to those clad in blue. In reality, this is a team they should be getting past, no matter the history. But thanks to their mental fragility and bed-wetting, they may have turned the Bruins into such a monster in their own heads there’s no way by.
Goalies: The other thing Leafs Nation seems unwilling to admit to itself is that no matter who the opponent, Freddie Andersen is as likely as anyone to clown it up but good. He fell apart in Game 7 last year versus these same Bruins, just as he’d done three years prior against the Hawks, just as he’d done the year before that when John Gibson took his job. He is basically the biggest question mark for the Leafs, and that’s on a team with no top-pairing d-men. He also went to pieces in the spring with a terrible March, though the Leafs are hoping his small recovery in April bodes well. It doesn’t. That said, the Leafs’ style put Andersen under mass amounts of pressure all season and he was just shy of Vezina-level. If it’s ever going to happen for him…
On the other end, you pretty much know what you’re getting from Tuukka Rask. He was a touch north of league average this year, which is basically where he’s lived the past few years. His playoff record is pretty glittering, somewhat marred by the Bruins being overmatched by the Lightning last year. There’s very little chance that Rask is going to upend his own team, and a better chance he is a major factor to the good in this series. And even if he does misstep, the Bruins have a pretty stout safety net in Jaro Halak, who’s been marvelous all season and has his own playoff history to work with. The only concern is if Bruce Cassidey wants to get cute early and heaps too much pressure on both goalies and tenses up the team, but that’s not all that likely.
Defense: As has been the problem for years, you might have heard about it, the Leafs blue line doesn’t come anywhere near matching the quality of the forwards. Jake Muzzin has been an all right addition, but hasn’t really locked anything down. Nor was he ever going to. This is an outfit still giving meaningful minutes to Ron Hainsey, who can regale you with tales of cars without windshields. Jake Gardiner is back, which apparently counts for something. I don’t know what. Morgan Rielly is good pointed one way but not the other. The Leafs are best off just going for broke, trying to get up the ice as much and as fast as possible and trying to take their d-men out of the equation as much as they can.
The thing is, it shouldn’t be that big of a disadvantage against the Bruins. Because I don’t think there’s a lot here. Zdeno Chara has been able to strip down his game and be effective at his advanced age, but that only makes him a second-pairing player. Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy are offensive weapons but specialize in the Lemeul Stinson trail-technique whenever asked to defend anyone. Brandon Carlo is….fine? Maybe? Do we even know? I’m sure I don’t care. Somehow they make it work, because they give up the least amount of attempts, shots, and chances in the East. It can’t be all Bergeron…can it?
Forwards: This is where it feels like the Leafs have a huge advantage. But it felt that way last year and look how that went. The Leafs have been showtime at times this year, and that’s with William Nylander getting seriously wounded by the SH% Dragon (BABIP Dragon’s sister). Remember, their second center has 47 goals this year. And neither Tavares or Matthews were the leading scorer on the team. Nazem Kadri is a hell of a weapon, both scoring-wise and annoying-wise, to have on your third line. Only Tampa can boast more, and at least forward-wise, it’s closer to a push than you might think.
We’ve been convinced for years that the Bruins are nothing more than Bergeron’s line plus David Krejci. But much like the defense we can’t comprehend, it keeps working. They were somehow shocked to discover that Charlie Coyle sucks. Jake DeBrusk gives Krejci at least half of a player to do things with, but beyond that there is nothing here. But because of Bergeron’s dominance there doesn’t have to be. The Leafs aren’t going to have any answer for Patrice and Marchand and Pastrnak. Matthews and JT can’t do the defensive work and there’s no pairing up to the task.
Prediction: On paper, there’s no excuse for the Leafs losing this. But there’s more at work here. Much like last year, the Leafs just don’t have an answer for Bergeron, and the questions about their defense are slightly louder than the ones about Boston’s. The questions about their goalie are much louder than the ones about Boston’s. Still, with that firepower the Leafs should be able to simply outscore the Bruins. Even if Rask plays well the Leafs could, and probably should, get three goals or more per game. And the Bruins would be hard-pressed to match that. In a vacuum. But this isn’t a vacuum. And it feels like the Leafs have been looking for an excuse to shoot themselves in the face again. This one’s got a familiar ring to it…
Bruins in seven.