Toronto Maple Leafs At Boston Bruins Game 1 Preview

Toronto Maple Leafs forward #81 Phil Kessel will have his hands full against his former club and Boston Bruins defenseman #33 Zdeno Chara in this series

Toronto Maple Leafs forward #81 Phil Kessel will have his hands full against his former club and Boston Bruins defenseman #33 Zdeno Chara in this series

After failing to win the Northeast Division for the first time in 5 seasons, the Boston Bruins fell to the 4th spot in the Eastern Conference standings. They still get home ice advantage, but instead of facing the New York Islanders or the Ottawa Senators, they will face the Toronto Maple Leafs instead. Cue the ridiculous amount of media driven “Kessel and Seguin” hype.

For the better part of the last three seasons, or since the Kessel trade happened, the Boston Bruins have dominated the Maple Leafs. Phil Kessel himself has yet to really have an impact against the B’s after deciding he wanted out, and he is probably not to thrilled he will facing his former club in the Leafs’ first playoff appearance in nearly a decade. He even avoided the media by ducking out of the locker room earlier this week when it was announced that he would indeed be playing the Bruins in the first round.

I don’t mean to focus on Kessel entirely, though the headlines do write themselves here, instead I want to focus on his importance to the Leafs here as they gear up for the series. The Thrill has been an offensive force for Toronto after having a very poor start to the season. He  has scored 20 goals, with 32 assists, and a -3 in all 48 of the Maple Leafs’ games this season. I personally believe the Leafs chances rest in large part on his shoulders. As someone who has never really had any measurable success against his former club, he is really going to have to step up if the Leafs have any hopes in taking this home. This is my opinion, I am not saying the Leafs are without talent as Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, and James Reimer are all excellent players and they have all had great seasons.

The Bruins will certainly have their hands full against the “Laughs” as these are not last year’s Maple Leafs team. This year Toronto had a record of 27-17-5 in 48 games and scored 145 goals while only allowing 133 for a goal differential of +12 on the season. They have the NHL’s 14th ranked powerplay, and nearly 20% of all their goals scored came on the man advantage. Toronto will also get an advantage while killing penalties as their PK ranks second in the NHL, while the Bruins powerplay only ranks 26th.

The Bruins also enter the playoffs limping as they have gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games while struggling to find their game during an extremely tough 48 game condensed schedule.

The Bruins do have some things going their way though, Milan Lucic has found his game as of late and will need to use all of his abilities against an inexperienced Toronto defense core with no answer to his size and strength other than captain Dion Phaneuf. Boston will likely get the advantage as the Toronto captain will likely see the majority of his minutes against Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Tyler Seguin.

Boston Bruins forward #19 Tyler Seguin scoring on Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender #34 James Reimer in a game earlier this season

Boston Bruins forward #19 Tyler Seguin scoring on Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender #34 James Reimer in a game earlier this season

Toronto also has an advantage in speed as the Bruins have, at times, looked tired from the ridiculous stretch of games over the last two months. It has effected Zdeno Chara frequently this season, as well as Chris Kelly, Milan Lucic, and at times David Krejci. Fortunately the B’s will have Jagr and Horton back for game one as they are both recovering from different ailments. Jagr has been a force for the Bruins since joining the team just prior to the trade deadline. In 11 games with the Bruins he has 2 goals, 7 assists, and a +3. He has also given their powerplay a different option, and a better puck controller than Seguin has been this season.

The Bruins will be without Rich Peverley, Carl Soderberg, and Dougie Hamilton as all are healthy scratches for various reasons. I would assume inexperience is holding back Hamilton and Soderberg, and a poor season holding back Peverley. Peverley was a useful player in last year’s early exit against the Washington Capitals, and hopefully this healthy scratch with give him the added incentive to come out and play his best hockey.

Do not be fooled into thinking the Bruins will win this series based on previous good fortune against Toronto. This is a completely different Leafs team, and I am sure they would love nothing more than to prove to themselves and the NHL, that they can knock off one of the league’s best in Boston. The Bruins will need to fight for this one, not rest on their laurels and expect to win as we have seen them do in the past, and get burned for it.

The Bruins do have the experience in winning big games and that is the place their advantage truly lies. They will need to raise the level of their game, and hopefully they can hit that next gear they failed to get to so many times during the regular season. I do believe Boston has what it takes to win this series, but I also think the Leafs can win it too.

Tuukka Rask’s last test will be to rove he can be a playoff goaltender for the Boston Bruins. He doesn’t necessarily have to be Tim Thomas, but he will have to steal a game or two as most goaltenders to in the hunt for lord Stanley. Rask is also in a contract year so the incentive is their in more ways then one. The Leafs carry the pressure of being the first Toronto team to see the post-season in years. Their inexperience is a major disadvantage for them.

There are a lot of players on both sides who have a lot to prove to themselves, their fans, and their teammates in this series. Hopefully the Bruins rise to the occasion like they know they can.

It’ll be Tuukka Rask and Jame Reimer in net for the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs respectively tonight. Puck drop is at 7:00pm at the TD Garden in Boston.

You can follow me on twitter here for all Bruins news and notes: @Mattjacob64

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