Leafs versus Bruins: 2018 First Round Series Primer

Before I get started, let’s just get this out of the way:

In 2012-13, Toronto’s top ten in ice-time were: Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk, Cody Franson, Nikolai Kulemin, Carl Gunnarson, Mike Kostka, Nazem Kadri and Mark Fraser. Of that list only Bozak, JVR and Kadri remain and in completely different roles. It’s been five years. I’m over it. Apparently the trolls aren’t over it.

Regardless of the “4-0 sweeps” brackets filled out by homers from either side, this will be a tough series that will hopefully go seven games and be as entertaining as possible. For anyone trying to make sense of first round battle between the NHL’s 4th and 7th seeds (just how dumb is this playoff bracket format?) I’ll break down the matchup bit-by-bit and try to piece this thing together.

The Forwards

This is a classic matchup of star-power versus depth. For the Bruins, Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak is considered one of the best lines in the NHL. Daily Faceoff has Marchand ranked as the #2 left winger in the NHL, Bergeron as the #4 center and Pastrnak as the #6 right wing. On top of elite puck skills, all three players are fast skater with active sticks who can play along the boards. They will unquestionably get the bulk of the minutes. If Boston can get some secondary production from Krejci, Rick Nash, Debrusk and Heinen then that should give the top line some breathing room to maneuver.

As for Toronto, the Leafs certainly don’t lack game breakers, but they have them spread across three lines. Kadri is a shutdown center with a 30 goal scoring touch. He’s flanked by Marleau and Brown who skate hard  and make plays. If I was a betting man, Babcock will try to match them up with the Rat-Frenchie-Pasta line as much as possible. As for who Boston will sick their shut down pairing on, it really is a pick-your-poison situation. If you commit your resources to shutting down Toronto’s 1A of Matthews and Nylander (and Hyman), the 1B JVR-Bozak-Marner line could potentially burn the Bruins.

Needless to say, if both goalies aren’t sharp, we could see a tonne of goals in this series.

Blue Line

Here’s a comparison between each team’s top four defensemen in order of average even strength TOI:

LeafsBruinsDLines

(G60 = Goals per 60 minutes, A1= Primary Assists,
PDO (EV) = Team S% while player on ice + Team SV% while player on ice)

As far as I can tell this is a wash. Both teams would consider their blue line as their weakest position. McAvoy, Krug and Chara are pretty comparable in terms of skill to the Rielly, Gardiner, Zaitsev trio. Polak and Hainsey are essentially used as penalty kill specialists for the Leafs while Miller, McQuaid and Grzelcyk are a pretty bland and inoffensive bottom three for Boston. 

A potential X-factor is Toronto’s Travis Dermott who has been stellar two-way threat in his first 37 NHL games. Babs has shied away from overexposing the rookie as he’s been limited to 16:00 TOI on Toronto’s third pairing. If the Leafs have their backs against the wall it’ll be interesting to see if they let the kid loose and increase his minutes.

Goalies

RaskvAndersen

This is a tough one. Overall Andersen has a slightly better save percentage. But if you strip it down to even strength save percentage then it’s Rask with the advantage. I think the most telling stat is Andersen had a far greater workload backstopping the Leafs. He was second in the NHL is games started with 66 and led all goalies in shots against by a wide margin (the next highest after his his 2211 was Andrei Vasilevskiy with 2075). And while Rask has more playoff experience, this also isn’t Andersen’s first rodeo considering he’s seen action in 34 playoff games over five seasons with Anaheim and Toronto.

Both are fantastic goalies who I think can primarily backstop a Stanley Cup champion. That being said I feel like the difference maker could be in the varying mindsets between the two goalies. “Steady Freddie” is generally cool and calm in the face of all of the shots that the Leafs give up. At the end of the day I do believe Rask is more talented but, with his hot-headed nature, all it takes is one blowup to potentially ruin a playoff run.

Health

The Leafs are entering the playoffs relatively fresh with no regulars on the IR. The Bruins on the other hand enter the playoffs a bit more banged up. Carlo, Riley Nash and Anders Bjork are all on the IR to kick off the playoffs. They will be getting Rick Nash back tonight after recovering from a concussion so that’s a huge plus.

Physicality

Hits
Boston: 1914
Toronto: 1632

Blocked Shots
Boston: 1072
Toronto: 1104

Fighting Majors
Boston: 26
Toronto: 12

Special Teams

Power Play
Boston: 23.5%
Toronto: 25.0%

Penalty Kill
Boston: 83.7%
Toronto: 81.4%

Penalty Minutes per Game
Boston: 9:29
Toronto 6:57

Experience

While Boston does have the oldest roster, their playoff experience is a bit overblown. There has been a lot of turnover since their 2011 Stanley Cup team with Bergeron, Chara, Krejci, McQuaid, Marchand and Rask (as a backup goalie) as the holdovers. All six players are huge contributors on today’s team, but the rest of the roster is actually pretty young. Rick Nash also adds some veteran experience so there young players will have no shortage of vets to lean on.

The Leafs core on the other hand just aren’t very battle-tested. Marleau has 177 playoff games under his belt and Ron Hainsey won the Cup with Pittsburgh last year but they’re just role players. Of their core, Matthews, Marner and Nylander only have last season’s six playoff games under their belt while Rielly, Kadri, JVR, Bozak and Gardiner only have seven more games (my last reference to that 2013 Boston series) to show their many years in League.

The Verdict

My official prediction is the Leafs to win the series in 6. I actually think that if they can get by the Bruins that they can go pretty deep into the playoffs. The Penguins have given the blueprint for how this Leafs team can succeed. Three potent scoring lines and an unflappable goalie can go a long way in the playoffs. I also believe that Auston Matthews can be the best player with the most impact in this series, even when playing among stars like Beregeron, Van Riemsdyk,  Marchand, Nylander, Pastrnak, Andersen and Rask.

But, out of any team in the playoffs, the Bruins are the perfect foil to this Leafs team. They play a physical, strong, possession game and they also have a goalie that can steal games. This should be an awesome series so you better believe that I will have my popcorn ready.

 

If you want to hear more playoff talk from the Bench Talk guys check out our latest podcast:

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