By Jesse Gaunce
Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Playoffs ROUND 1
The first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs are now set. And if you’re one of those the-sky-is-falling Bruins fans, you’re probably not too thrilled that the Bruins will be going up against the young Toronto Maple Leafs.
I really can’t say I blame you if you’re worried about this series. The Bruins, who have had to seemingly grind out every game they’ve played over the last two weeks, struggled mightily against the Maple Leafs this season, losing three out of four games. What’s more, the Leafs did not have star forward Auston Matthews for all three of their wins against Boston. They’ll have him back and healthy in this series, which is obviously not good news for the Black and Gold.
What We Need To Know About The Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs boast the No. 2 power play in the NHL and have the No. 10 penalty kill. Needless to say, the Bruins are going to have to play a disciplined series in order to keep the Leafs from bringing out the juggernaut that is their power play.
Toronto, like Boston, can consistently roll four lines that are scarier than any Saw movie could ever dream of being. Outside of Matthews, Zach Hyman and William Nylander round out one of the most exciting first lines in all of hockey. Ageless wonder Patrick Marleau, who was not playing top-six minutes to begin the year, has 27 goals. They also have another 20-goal scorer in Mitch Marner, who is only 20 years old. James Van Riemsdyk leads the team with 36 goals.
Their defense is young, led by Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and others. The goaltending does leave a bit to be desired. Starter Frederik Andersen has had an up-and-down year and finished the regular season with a 2.18 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
Boston Bruins Silver Lining
And while most of that sounds about as bad as a trip to the doctor’s office, don’t put the Bruins in the ground just yet. Sure, they haven’t played well going into the playoffs, but they have been dealing with injuries for pretty much the entire season and have played every other day since the end of February.
They recently got Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk back and will get Rick Nash and Riley Nash back when this series begins on Thursday.
Rick Nash, who was acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers just before the trade deadline, had three goals and three goals in 11 games with the B’s before suffering a concussion in mid-March. With him back, this should greatly benefit David Krejci and DeBrusk, who both elevated their games once Nash was inserted on the second line. Krejci has always benefited from a big power forward a la Milan Lucic in 2011, so Nash should give them that.
Meanwhile, Riley Nash has been a stud for Boston all year long. He notched a career-high 15 goals and 26 assists in 76 games and found himself centering David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand on the first line while Patrice Bergeron missed time with a fractured foot. Nash has not played since taking a puck to the side of his head against the Florida Panthers almost two weeks ago.
Also worth mentioning, the Bruins have young stud Ryan Donato, who has been an absolute force since his call-up in March, ready to play anywhere in the lineup. Early projections have him on Boston’s fourth line. Think about that for a second – a Hobey Baker award finalist with a knack for the net sitting on an already solid fourth line just waiting to make it better.
The Bruins will need to wear the Leafs down with their physical, yet fast, style of play and not play any kind of lackadaisical hockey like we saw in the regular season finale against Florida on Sunday night. If they can play anywhere close to the way they played for a large chunk of the third period against Florida throughout the majority of this series, they should be able to win it.
Bruins in six
Players to watch:
Rick Nash: The Bruins acquired Nash for this exact reason – another goal scoring option in the playoffs. He has been known not to show up when it matters most, but because he doesn’t have to be “the guy” in Boston so to speak, this should take pressure off of him. I expect he will be a big factor for the Bruins moving forward.
Tuukka Rask: Rask is the guy that needs to stand out the most for the B’s. His detractors will tell you he’s soft and he’s not as good as people believe he is, and he can shut them up with a deep playoff run. It starts with this series. If he can shut down a dynamic Leafs offense, Boston’s chances to go all the way increase dramatically.
Auston Matthews: Boston has seen very little of him this season. Any time he’s on the ice, expect to see Bergeron, Chara and McAvoy out there trying to stop him.
I’m going to be playing every game in this series on www.statementgames.com. Two of my lock statements for Game 1 are:
Either Toronto Maple Leafs OR Boston Bruins will WIN in OT
Bruins forwards over 2.5 goals
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