Kessel has outlasted the general manager who made the trade in Toronto, to the surprise of many. He’s one of the NHL’s best offensive players … except when he faces the Bruins, which is kind of a problem if you’re the Leafs.
Who wins this battle of division rivals?
Boston Bruins (4) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (5)
May 1: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET.
May 4: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET.
May 6: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET.
May 8: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET
May 10: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins* TBD
May 12: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs * TBD
May 13: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins* TBD
Boston was 13th in the NHL in goals per game at 2.65. The Bruins didn’t have a player crack 20 goals, although Brad Marchand had 18 to go along with 18 assists. Tyler Seguin had 16 goals but was deemed disappointing by the locals, who apparently felt his offensive output in a Swiss league was easily replicated.
Patrice Bergeron is one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. David Krejci had 33 points in 47 games. Nathan Horton had 13 goals, and is someone to watch for postseason heroics. Jaromir Jagr has 9 points in 11 games with the Bruins. Then there are the grunts like Rich Peverley, Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly and Shawn Thornton who give this team its backbone.
Which brings us to Milan Lucic. Dormant for most of the season – with seven goals in 46 games – Lucic had three points in his final two games and played with a bit more snarl. If he’s engaged physically in this series, watch out.
Toronto was sixth in the NHL at 3.02 goals per game, thanks to Phil Kessel’s 20 goals and 32 assists – including six power-play tallies. His pivot, Tyler Bozak, is battling through an injury but was expected to start the series. He had 28 points in the regular season.
Nazem Kadri was, at one point, the best offensive player on the Leafs, but this production trailed off. James van Riemsdyk had 18 goals, and has been a postseason standout in the past. Joffrey Lupul had 18 points in 16 games during an injury-shortened season. Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski provide secondary scoring.
Jay McClement could get some Selke support for his outstanding defensive play. Colton Orr will bring the necessary truculence against the Big Bad Bruins.
Boston was third in the NHL with a goals-against average of 2.21. To the surprise of no one, it was Zdeno Chara leading the way with 24:56 TOI per game, including 3:12 TOI shorthanded. Dennis Seidenberg was right behind him in both categories. Kessel will be quite familiar with both.
The Bruins roll a pairing of Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk on their second unit, with Adam McQuaid anchoring the third pairing. For the sixth D-man, the Bruins have two distinct options: Veteran Wade Redden and rookie Dougie Hamilton. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the vet get the nod.
Toronto was 17th in the NHL with a goals-against average of 2.67. Their top pairing saw a resurgent season from Dion Phaneuf, who had 28 points in 44 games and played solid defensively. He’s paired with Carl Gunnarsson, who skated 21:16 TOI per game.
The team’s second best option late in the season? Mark Fraser and Cody Franson, the latter tallying 29 points in 45 games. Michael Kostka, John-Michael Liles and Ryan O’Byrne will be in the mix for the final pairing. It’s a group that can move the puck but isn’t going to bully anyone outside of Phaneuf and Franson.
A huge number of wins, a 2.00 GAA and a .938 save percentage.
That was Tim Thomas in 2010-11, before all that White House malarkey. Tuukka Rask in 2013? A huge number of wins, a 2.00 GAA and a .929 save percentage. Which is to say that he performed as well as expected behind the Bruins’ lineup.
What the Bruins are waiting to see from Rask is that special something that Thomas gave them in the playoffs; i.e. the ability to win games on his own and be the team’s MVP.
James Reimer posted 19 wins for the Leafs with a 2.46 GAA and a .924 save percentage. He gave up one goal or less in seven of his last 12 games, and was the Leafs’ backbone down the stretch. Can he handle the playoff spotlight? And if not, can Ben Scrivens be the answer?
Does Their Season Deserve an Asterisk?
The Bruins were going to be a playoff team in a 48, 82 or 182-game season. The Leafs, it could be argued, might have been in a spot of trouble in a full regular season, especially if a team like the Flyers or Sabres found its footing and challenged for a postseason slot. So yes, affix the asterisk to them. Because honestly: Leafs? Playoffs? Anomaly, right?
Claude Julien has made the playoffs in every season, and yet the Boston media will place him on the hot seat if the B’s go out in the first round. His system works, for sure; but at some point will this cast tune him out?
Randy Carlyle squeezed a lot out of this lineup during the regular season, and was helped by some stellar goaltending down the stretch. The roster’s lack of playoff experience means he’ll need to manage expectations and emotions.
Boston’s power play is traditionally subpar, and this season is no exception: No. 26 overall in the NHL at 14.8 percent. The Leafs were better at 18.7 percent, good for No. 14 in the League.
On the kill, both teams are aces: The Leafs were second in the NHL at 87.9 percent, while the Bruins were fourth at 87.1 percent.
Still, Toronto has the better power play, so …
The Leafs’ “Free To Be”, which is so very inspiring …
vs. Bruins You Be Killin’em, of course.
Bruins in 6.
Reimer steals a game in Boston, making all of Toronto go insane with delusions of first-round upsets and parade routes. The Bruins surge back; the Leafs take another; and Boston closes it out in Toronto.
Seguin scores the game winner, assisted by Hamilton. Kessel is a minus-1.
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