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Home / Toronto / News / Maple Leafs vs Bruins NHL playoffs round 1: Leafs face Bruins for 4th time in 11 years but who will prevail?

Maple Leafs vs Bruins NHL playoffs round 1: Leafs face Bruins for 4th time in 11 years but who will prevail?

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A close look at all the NHL first round playoff matchups 2024

Maple Leafs vs Bruins NHL playoffs round 1

Following a gruelling 82-game grind of a season, the Toronto Maple Leafs kick off round one of the 2024 NHL playoffs against their ‘Original Six’ rivals, the Boston Bruins, at TD Garden. Despite losing all four regular-season games to the Bruins, each contest resembled playoff intensity, marked by tight defense, stellar goaltending, and physical battles along the boards. Here is a close look at how these Atlantic Division foes match up.

For starters, both teams boast their star players: the Leafs with their formidable core four of Marner, Matthews, Nylander, and Tavares, supported by depth in Bertuzzi, Domi, Knies, Reaves, Robertson and McMann. However, Toronto’s vulnerabilities lie in their defensive lineup and goaltending, lacking a standout goalie and a world-class defenseman.

On the contrary, the Bruins showcase the pugnacious yet skilled Brad Marchand and the perpetually dangerous David Pastrnak, up front, while Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm anchor a blue line superior to the Leafs’. Though Leafs defenseman Morgan Reilly may shine offensively, his presence on the ice often leads to chaotic situations in his own zone. The Bruins hold a clear advantage in goaltending; while Toronto relies on the sometimes-unpredictable Samsonov and the inexperienced Wall, Boston boasts two stellar netminders in Ullmark and Swayman. It’s a matchup worth dissecting…

Regular Season Head-To-Head

  • Nov. 2 at Boston: Bruins 3-2 in a shootout
  • Dec. 2 at Toronto: Bruins 4-3 in OT
  • March 4 at Toronto: Bruins 4-1
  • March 7 at Boston: Bruins 4-1

Goalie Analysis:

Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, Bruins

The goaltending situation for the Bruins will undoubtedly be a focal point throughout the playoffs, with head coach Jim Montgomery facing a challenging decision on who to start in Game 1. The possibility of utilizing a true goalie rotation adds another layer of complexity to the decision-making process. While Montgomery has expressed openness to this strategy, implementing it in the postseason would be a bold move, as no team has won a Stanley Cup using this approach in the salary cap era.

Ullmark presents a strong case to be the Game 1 starter, showcasing impressive form since the March 8 trade deadline with the second-best save percentage (.935) and goals against average (GAA) (1.90) among goalies during that period. Unlike last postseason, Ullmark is entering this playoff run in optimal health.

On the other hand, Swayman’s performance tapered off towards the end of the regular season, ranking lower in save percentage and GAA. Despite this, he displayed exceptional performances against the Leafs, earning two victories and stopping most shots. His career success against Toronto provides Montgomery with a compelling option.

Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll, Leafs

While Samsonov is likely to start Game 1 for the Leafs, his position may be precarious given his underwhelming performance this season, marked by a .890 save percentage and 3.13 GAA in 40 games. Joseph Woll, who displayed solid play in his 25 appearances, could be waiting in the wings.

However, Woll’s struggles against the Bruins during the regular season, conceding 12 goals in three starts, may give Montgomery pause. Samsonov’s lone start against Boston resulted in a shootout loss back in November, further complicating the decision.

Goaltending emerges as the weakest link in the Leafs’ roster, a concern exacerbated by recent performances where Samsonov and Woll allowed a combined 15 goals over the team’s last three games. Keefe faces a tough decision balancing Samsonov’s experience with Woll’s potential, knowing that solid goaltending will be pivotal in their series against the Bruins.

Edge to the BRUINS.

Special Teams – Maple Leafs vs Bruins

Power Play

Special teams have emerged as a notable concern for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. Despite boasting considerable offensive firepower, the Leafs struggled to capitalize on the power play, ranking a disappointing seventh in the league with a power-play percentage of 24.3% before Wednesday’s game, a significant drop from their second place finish the previous year.

Similarly, the Bruins experienced difficulties on the power play, converting just 3 of 25 opportunities in their last 10 games, placing them 13th overall with a power-play percentage of 22.2%.

Slight edge to the LEAFS.

Penalty Kill

However, it’s the penalty kill where Boston has excelled, particularly in recent matchups against Toronto. Since successfully killing all four Toronto power plays on March 7, the Bruins have thwarted 39 of 46 opposing power plays, allowing no more than one power-play goal in any game. This impressive performance ranks them seventh overall in penalty killing efficiency as of Wednesday.

In contrast, the Leafs’ penalty kill has struggled to contain opposing power plays, conceding multiple goals on five occasions within the same timeframe, landing the at 22nd overall in penalty killing efficiency.

Edge to the BRUINS.

Offense

The offseason departures of key players like Bergeron, Krejci, Bertuzzi (now with Leafs), Taylor Hall, and Dmitry Orlov left the Boston Bruins with significant gaps to fill in their offensive lineup. While additions such as former Leaf, James van Riemsdyk, Conor Geekie, and Kevin Shattenkirk attempted to address these losses, the transition was challenging, and expectations of replicating the previous season’s success were tempered.

The 2023-24 Bruins were a far cry from the record-setting team of the previous year, which boasted the NHL’s second-highest scoring offense. This season, their offensive output plummeted to 14th in the league. The absence of Bergeron particularly impacted Boston’s offensive rhythm, resulting in fewer possessions and reduced threat levels at 5-on-5. Compared to the previous season, where they ranked ninth in expected goals, the Bruins now find themselves 15th in this category.

In contrast, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offensive prowess remains formidable. Led by Auston Matthews, who’s remarkable 69 goals this season marked the highest tally by any player in nearly three decades, the Leafs continue to boast one of the league’s most potent offenses.

Supported by William Nylander’s career year and Mitch Marner’s consistent playmaking, Toronto ranks second in overall offense and seventh on the power play. Even in 5-on-5 situations, the Leafs excel in offensive play-driving metrics, including ranking third in high-danger chances per 60.

Despite the perception of being top-heavy due to their ‘Core Four’ forwards, the Leafs’ depth should not be underestimated. With five 20-goal scorers and seven players with 15 or more goals, Toronto presents a multifaceted offensive threat.

The late-season emergence of Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi’s partnership with Matthews further diversified their offensive options. Coach Sheldon Keefe’s ability to deploy Matthews and Marner across different lines, along with the potential combination of Nylander, John Tavares, and Marner on a secondary line, underscores the Leafs’ offensive versatility and depth.

Edge to the LEAFS.

Defense:

For years, the Boston Bruins set the standard for team defense, consistently ranking among the league leaders in preventing goals, scoring chances, and high-danger chances. However, the departure of stalwarts like Krejci, Garnet Hathaway, and Orlov has taken a toll on their defensive prowess. This season, Boston finds itself in unfamiliar territory, ranking a surprising 19th in 5-on-5 expected goals against.

While players like Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm continue to anchor the blue line, the Bruins’ defensive depth beyond these top players is lacking. Coach Jim Montgomery’s decision to split McAvoy and Lindholm for much of the season further underscores the team’s challenges in finding defensive cohesion. Against formidable opponents like Matthews and Nylander, players like Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk and the like, face significant pressure to perform.

In contrast, the Toronto Maple Leafs have grappled with defensive inconsistencies despite their regular-season success under Coach Keefe’s guidance. While offseason additions aimed to bolster the team’s defensive structure, the Leafs regressed defensively this season, ranking closer to the middle of the pack in various 5-on-5 metrics. Their penalty kill efficiency of 76.9%, the second worst among playoff-bound teams, reflects ongoing struggles in preventing goals against.

While Toronto boasts defensive depth, highlighted by offseason acquisitions like Benoit, Lyubushkin, and Edmundson, as well as the physicality of players like Morgan Rielly and Mark Giordano, they lack a standout shutdown pair. This defensive by committee approach sacrifices a go-to defensive duo capable of neutralizing opponents’ top threats.

As the playoffs approach, questions linger regarding the effectiveness of Toronto’s defensive philosophy and their ability to withstand the physical challenges posed by teams like the Boston Bruins.

Edge to the BRUINS.

What are the Odds on the Bruins – Leafs series?

Sportsbooks have the Bruins as the favourites to win the series.

  • Bruins to win the series: -125
  • Leafs to win the series: +105

Familiar Playoff Opponents

This will be the fourth time these Original Six franchises have met in the first round in the last 11 years. The Bruins emerged victorious over the Leafs with Game 7 victories in 2013, 2018 and 2019. All three of those clinching games were played at TD Garden, and if there’s another Game 7 this year, it’ll also be in Boston because the B’s once again have home ice advantage in this No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup.

Leafs vs Bruins – The Makings of Another Classic

This series has all the makings of a classic. These teams score a lot of goals, and they don’t like each other one bit. This was evident in their fourth and final meeting of the regular season when the Bruins and Leafs combined for 91 hits and 50 penalty minutes, including two fights. Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe called it “by far” the most physical game his team had played at that point in the year.

My Prediction: Leafs in 4

Editor’s prediction: Bruins in 7

The Rest of the 1st Round NHL Playoff Matchups.

Eastern Conference

  • Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
  • New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals
  • Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders

Western Conference

  • Dallas Stars vs. Vegas Golden Knights
  • Winnipeg Jets vs. Colorado Avalanche
  • Vancouver Canucks vs. Nashville Predators
  • Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings

Rangers vs. Capitals

The New York Rangers, holding the top seed in the playoffs, face off against the Washington Capitals, who secured a wild card spot. The Rangers, with their outstanding regular-season performance earning them the Presidents’ Trophy, enter the series as clear favourites.

Led by goaltender Igor Shesterkin and boasting a potent offense averaging 3.39 goals per game, the Rangers present a formidable challenge for the Capitals. With strong special teams and depth, the Rangers appear poised for a dominant series victory.

However, the Capitals, fueled by star winger Alexander Ovechkin and goaltender Charlie Lindgren, still harbour hopes of an upset. Despite the Rangers’ superiority, the Capitals’ recent must-win mentality and potential for standout performances could keep them competitive. While the Rangers remain the likely victors, the Capitals carry less pressure and could capitalize on any complacency from their opponents to potentially pull off an unexpected series win.

Ultimately, the Rangers are predicted to emerge victorious in five games, but the Capitals possess the ability to make the series interesting.

My Prediction: Capitals in 7

Editor: Capitals in 7

Florida vs. Tampa

The Florida Panthers, holding the top seed, are set to clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who secured a wild card spot. The Panthers, fuelled by their impressive defensive prowess this season, averaging just 2.41 goals against per game, enter the series as formidable contenders.

With strong goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and Anthony Stolarz and a 2-1-0 record against Tampa Bay in the regular season, the Panthers are poised to challenge the Lightning in a series that could extend to seven games.

However, the Lightning, despite a recent dip in form, have shown resilience since the post-trade deadline, with star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy returning to top form. With a combination of pedigree, balance, and coaching, Tampa Bay presents a credible threat to the Panthers.

While Florida holds the advantage, the Lightning’s determination to prove themselves after last year’s playoff struggles against the Leafs could tip the scales in their favour. Ultimately, it’s expected to be a closely contested series, with both teams facing high stakes and tough competition in the next round.

Despite the Lightning’s determination and competitive spirit, the Panthers are favoured to emerge victorious in seven games, setting the stage for a challenging journey to the Stanley Cup.

My Prediction: Lightning in 6

Editor: Panthers in 6

Hurricanes vs. Islanders

In the showdown between the Carolina Hurricanes, seeded second, and the New York Islanders, seeded third, the Hurricanes emerge as the favored contenders. With a 2-1-1 record against the Islanders this season, Carolina boasts superior offensive firepower and defensive depth. While the Hurricanes may not have the standout goaltender, veterans Frederik Andersen and Pyotr Kochetkov provide reliable options between the pipes.

Considered a legitimate Stanley Cup threat, Carolina is poised to assert dominance over the Islanders, who are perceived as underdogs happy to have made the postseason. However, the Islanders possess a star goalie in Ilya Sorokin, backed by veteran Semyon Varlamov, capable of leading the team to victory.

If key forwards like Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat deliver big performances, the Islanders could potentially upset the Hurricanes

My Prediction: Islanders in 7

Editor: Canes in 5

Dallas Stars vs. Vegas Golden Knights

In an unexpected turn of events, the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights find themselves facing off once again, this time in the opening round of the playoffs. Last year’s Western Conference finalists now meet as the defending Cup champions, the Golden Knights, secure a No. 8 seed after a challenging season.

The Stars have exceeded expectations, clinching the top spot in the loaded Central Division and boasting impressive statistics with 51 wins, a plus-63 goal differential, and strong performance on the road. With aspirations for their first Stanley Cup since 1999, Dallas appears poised for a deep playoff run.

Vegas fans may find solace in the possibility of facing the Stars, given their success in the season series. However, with the postseason looming, both teams are gearing up for what promises to be an intense playoff matchup.

My Prediction: Knights in 5

Editor: Knights in 7

Winnipeg Jets vs. Colorado Avalanche

This playoff meeting marks the first postseason clash between the two teams. Last year, both teams were eliminated in the opening round, with the Jets falling to the Vegas Golden Knights and the Avalanche exiting after a seven-game series against the Seattle Kraken.

Recent performances have favoured the Jets, who secured a three-game season series sweep, including a convincing 7-0 victory in Colorado. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played a pivotal role in these wins, boasting an impressive .958 save percentage across the matchups.

As the playoffs loom, the Jets carry momentum and confidence into the anticipated showdown with the Avalanche.

My Prediction: Avs in 7

Editor: Jets in 7

Vancouver Canucks vs. Nashville Predators

Lately, the Nashville Predators have faced uncertainty despite their earlier success. Following a franchise-record 18-game point streak, where they went 16-0-2, they comfortably secured the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks have dominated the Pacific Division for much of the season and have nearly secured the top spot. Vancouver views Nashville as a favourable opponent, having swept the season series and outscoring the Predators while maintaining a significant advantage in shots.

My Prediction: Canucks in 6

Editor: Canucks in 7

Oilers vs. Kings

The Edmonton Oilers are favored to defeat the Los Angeles Kings in the 2024 playoffs for several reasons. Firstly, the Oilers boast an impressive lineup featuring star players such as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who possess exceptional offensive skills and playoff experience. Additionally, the Oilers have added depth scoring with players like Zach Hyman, providing secondary offensive contributions.

Furthermore, Edmonton has strengthened their defensive capabilities and depth, which could prove crucial in shutting down the Kings’ offensive threats. On the other hand, the Kings rely on a defensive style of play and strong goaltending to succeed. Their defensive structure and goaltender could potentially pose challenges for the Oilers’ offense.

However, Edmonton’s offensive firepower and depth may overwhelm the Kings’ defensive tactics, giving them the edge in the series.

My Prediction: Oilers in 6

Editor: Oilers in 5

Final Thoughts

As the NHL playoffs kick off, excitement builds for fans across the league. Amidst the competition, the Toronto Maple Leafs stand poised to make a historic run for their first Stanley Cup since 1967. With a talented roster featuring stars like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, complemented by depth players who have stepped up throughout the season, the Leafs possess the offensive firepower and defensive stability necessary for a deep postseason push.

Moreover, goaltender Ilya Samsonov has shown flashes of brilliance and could prove instrumental in key moments. While challenges undoubtedly lie ahead, including potential matchups against formidable opponents, the Leafs’ combination of skill, depth, and determination makes them a strong contender for hockey’s ultimate prize.

As the playoffs unfold, all eyes will be on Toronto as they strive to etch their names in hockey history once again.

Myles Shane

by Myles Shane

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca

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