With a record breaking regular season behind them, the Toronto Maple Leafs now stare down a tough draw in Round 1 against old rival, the Boston Bruins.

From my estimation, there are about three or four series in the first round of the 2018 NHL Playoffs that are basically even matchups, or at least don’t really have a favourite. This is one of those series. Two of the best 5-on-5 and special teams clubs in the league should provide for a long and even battle.

It’s tough for both of these teams to go into the first round with their own considerable share of points and be forced to face each other. Either team could go to to the Cup Finals and no one would be that surprised. The NHL wanted more divisional rivalries in the playoffs with the current format — and they got one, but it also means one of the top six teams in the NHL will be certainly be out after round one just by virtue of playing one another.

The Matchup

Season series: BOS 1-2-1, TOR 3-1-0

The Bruins lineup is going to be different than the last Leafs vs. Bruins meeting: Ryan Spooner was traded and Brian Gionta, Rick Nash, and Ryan Donato were all added. Defenseman Brandon Carlo, a second pair blue liner for the Bruins, has since been injured and won’t factor into the playoffs, while third-line center Riley Nash has been ruled out for Game 1. The Leafs, who were without their franchise center in Auston Matthews for three of their four games against Boston this season, are fully healthy, or at least as healthy as can be at this juncture of the season.

In the second half, few teams were as dangerous as the Leafs or successful as them in the standings, but again, the Bruins are one of the few who were better. Boston holds slight advantages in Corsi-For% and xGoals-For% in games 41-82. The Leafs have scored more and given up fewer in the second half, plus they’ve gotten better goaltending.

Like any playoff series, there will be a focus on matchups. The Bruins, from what we’ve seen over the last few years, have a clear matchup they’d like to chase on home ice. In his series preview here, Anthony sums up the matchup situation well:

In the one game Matthews did play in the season series (and Marchand did not play), the Leafs lost. In that game, the Bruins matched up Patrice Bergeron against Matthews and he dominated – In 7:55 of 5v5 ice time against each other, the shot attempts were 9 – 2 for Bergeron.

In the other three games, the Bergeron matchup went to Nazem Kadri. Kadri won one game (17 vs. 13), was almost even in another (8 vs. 11), and was completely dominated in the third (5 vs. 22). Even with the mixed results, that will be the matchup the Leafs chase. On the flip side, Boston will surely be chasing the Bergeron vs. Matthews matchup, and that’s where home ice could prove to be a big deal.

Also at MLHS, Gus Katsaros has a look at some of the different tactics the teams deploy within their systems that will help you prepare for tonight.

Game on!

Game Day Quotes

Mike Babcock on Patrick Marleau still searching for his first Cup at age 38:

I think it’s a great message to everybody in our room. You think you’re a bunch of kids and your chances are going to come and it’s going to come and it’s going to come. Next year never comes in sport. When you have an opportunity, make good on it. We believe, in our room, that we have an opportunity.

Babcock on the Bruins and the Leafs’ depth:

Both teams have got real good depth. They’ve got centers you can trust throughout the lineup so you don’t have to worry as much about your group. It doesn’t tend to be as big of a deal. That’s important for us starting on the road. They have one line that is absolutely dominant, without any question, so your matchups against that group are important. But we still feel our lines can play against them.

Babcock on the difference between this year and last at playoff time:

I just think the belief in our room is different. Last year, we were very excited. You still always believe that you have a chance. This year, as good of a team as Boston is — and they’d be the same in their room — we feel we’re going to win and they feel they’re going to win. Something has got to give.

Babcock on the Bruins top line:

Well, they’re elite players. Bergeron’s real good in the faceoff circle. They all work real hard and compete real hard. They’re elite penalty killers, so they know how to play the game without the puck. For the longest part of the year, they hardly got scored on. They got scored on a little bit 5-on-5 here at the end, but you know, they’re just a good line. They usually possess the puck and they play in the Ozone.

What is different about that line: Lines that can really score, lots of times, they don’t defend. These guys can really defend. So, they’ve got good players and they play hard. Our job is to understand that and know what they do.

Babcock on Tomas Plekanec and the other veterans’ importance in the playoffs:

You can trust them to play against good players. Now that Leo, Kap, and him — or Leo, Johnny, and him — are a line, it gives me real good options there. [Plekanec] will be important for us in this series. I think, like all older guys, they get more juice at this time of the year. We expect them to be good.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy on setting the tone in Game 1:

A lot of Game 1s over the years, the winner of the game doesn’t always win the series. But it is an opportunity to establish the way you want to play and dictate the pace and style of play. That’s how we’re looking at it.

Regular Season Stats

Regular Season Record49-26-7 (105pts)50-20-12 (112pts)
Shots Against/g34.828.8
5v5 CF%47.9% 52%
5v5 SV%.911.917
5v5 SH%8.38.9

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lineup

Hyman – Matthews – Nylander
(82-15-25-40) – (62-34-29-63) – (82-20-41-61) | Total Goals: 69
Marleau – Kadri – Marner
  (82-27-20-47) – (80-32-23-55) – (82-22-47-69) | Total Goals: 81
Van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Brown
  (82-36-18-54) – (81-11-32-43) – (82-14-14-28) | Total Goals: 61
Komarov – Plekanec – Kapanen
 (74-7-12-19) – (77-6-20-26) – (37-7-2-9)  | Total Goals: 20

Rielly – Hainsey
 (74-6-46-52) – (80-4-19-23) | Total Goals: 10
Gardiner – Zaitsev
 (82-5-47-52) – (60-5-8-13) | Total Goals: 10
Dermott – Polak
(37-1-12-13) – (54-2-10-12) | Total Goals: 3

Andersen (.918 sv%)
McElhinney (.934 sv%)

Extras: Moore (50-6-6-12), Leivo (16-1-3-4), Martin (50-3-9-12), Johnsson (9-2-1-3), Carrick (47-4-8-12)

Boston Bruins Projected Lineup

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
(68-34-51-85) – (64-30-33-63) – (82-35-45-80) | Total Goals: 102
Debrusk – Krejci – Rick Nash
  (70-16-27-43) – (64-17-27-44) – (71-21-13-34) | Total Goals: 53
Heinen – Acciari – Backes
  (77-16-31-47) – (60-10-1-11) – (57-14-19-33)  | Total Goals: 40
Schaller – Kuraly – Wingels
(82-12-10-22) – (75-6-8-14) – (18-2-3-5)  | Total Goals: 20

Extras: Gionta (20-2-5-7), Donato (12-5-4-9)

Chara – McAvoy
 (73-7-17-24) – (63-7-25-32) | Total Goals: 14
Krug – Miller
 (76-14-45-59) – (68-1-15-16) | Total Goals: 15
Grzelcyk – McQuaid
(61-3-12-15) – (38-1-3-4) | Total Goals: 4

Rask (.917 sv%)
Khudobin (.913 sv%)

Injuries: Brandon Carlo, Riley Nash