Series Preview: Can the Leafs slay the Dragon?

Photo Credits: John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

After five years, the Toronto Maple Leafs are finally set to ignite an old rivalry against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This matchup marks the third time in the Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander era that the Leafs and Bruins will meet. The anticipation for this clash of titans is palpable, and the excitement is building.

With the weight of a 19-year playoff series winless streak lifted, Toronto faces a new, formidable challenge: will they conquer the Boston Bruins and rewrite their playoff history? The intensity of this challenge is unmatched, but the Leafs have shown resilience and determination, inspiring hope and confidence in their fans.

Boston won the season series 4-0, winning two games in overtime and a shootout and the other two by 4-1 victories. The key to those wins by the Bruins was that Toronto’s defence could not contain Boston’s offence, costing them games. Another reason was the Bruins’ goaltending tandem of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark in all four games played; Boston’s goaltending outmatched the Leafs’ goaltending.

Both teams slumped leading up to the end of the regular season, which could impact their performance in the series. Boston lost its final two games, dropping to second place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins finished with a record of 47-20-15 and 109 points. On the other hand, the Maple Leafs lost four in a row to close the regular season with 102 points and a record of 46-26-10.

Watch out for the Maple Leafs’ star players- Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, and especially Auston Matthews. With his stellar season and record-breaking performance, Matthews holds the key to the Leafs’ success if they want to defeat Boston.

Tyler Bertuzzi is someone to watch. He made the playoffs once in his career, last season with the Boston Bruins, and he was their best player. Bertuzzi had five goals and five assists for 10 points in seven games.

Max Domi can be crucial to Toronto if they want to succeed. Domi was another exceptional player in last year’s playoffs with Dallas. In 19 playoff games, Domi had 13 points.

The Toronto Maple Leafs must find a way to contain the formidable duo of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak from the Boston Bruins. In previous playoff meetings, they have proven to be a constant threat. David Pastrnak, with his seven goals and 12 assists in 14 playoff games against Toronto, and Brad Marchand, with his 21 points in 21 games vs. Toronto, has been instrumental in the Bruins’ success.

On paper, Toronto has the better offence, but as I mentioned in the head-to-head stats, the Bruins won all four games in the regular season because their offence outperformed Toronto’s. However, Toronto comes in second place with the most goals per game by a team at 3.63.

Defence is a huge difference-maker in the playoffs. The Bruins have a slight advantage; they were fifth in the NHL in the fewest goals against per game. If the Leafs want to score goals, they must throw everything at the net and try to finish their chances.

Boston has a solid tandem with Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark in the net. This season, Jeremy Swayman played in 44 games and had a record of 25-10-8 with three shutouts, a 2.53 GAA, and a .916 save percentage.

Linus Ullmark went 22-10-7 in 40 starts with two shutouts and a 2.58 GAA with a save percentage of .915. Boston will have to decide who is going to start in game one. Jeremy Swayman is 3-4 in eight playoff games with a save percentage of .901, while Linus Ullmark, in eight playoff games, is 3-5 with a .888 save percentage.

Toronto’s goaltending was up and down this season with Ilya Samsonov. Coming off a great 2022-23 season and taking them to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 19 years, Ilya Samsonov had high expectations coming into the 2023-24 season, and Samsonov struggled the first three months of the season going 5-2-6 with a save percentage of .862 and a 3.94 GAA. Samsonov was placed on waivers; he was called up in January and turned his season around, going 18-5-2 in 25 games with a GAA of 2.70 and a save percentage of .904. Samsonov has faced Boston in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Expect him to be the starting goalie for game one.

Joseph Woll could be an option for the Leafs if they need to turn to him. In 25 games, he went 12-11-1 with a 2.93 GAA and a save percentage of .907. In Woll’s playoff career, he is 1-2.

Special teams will be a factor for both clubs. Toronto had the seventh-best power play in the league at 23.9%, a strength they can leverage in the series. On the other hand, the Bruins had the 14th-best power play at 22.2%, a weakness the Leafs can exploit. Boston is good at the penalty kill, as they were seventh in the league at 82.5%, while Toronto ranked 23rd at 76.9%, another area where the Bruins have an advantage.

This series will be filled with unpredictable twists and turns, and I think the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the series in seven games. Both teams match up well, with Toronto having the advantage on offence and Boston on defence. It will come down to goaltending: Which goalie will give their team the best chance to win, and more importantly, will Toronto’s core four show up? The uncertainty of the outcome adds to the excitement and intrigue of this matchup.

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