Everyone take a breath; Bruins aren't going to choke again vs. Leafs

Everyone take a breath; Bruins aren't going to choke again vs. Leafs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Easy for me to say, as a Johny-Tomase-come-lately who parachutes in for the playoffs and asks salient questions like, "Has Parker Wotherspoon really been on the Bruins all year?" but everyone should exhale. History will not repeat itself.

The hard-cores undoubtedly slept like crappy babies on Tuesday night after watching the B's blow another chance to ice a series in overtime. Toronto's 2-1 victory conjured memories of Matthew Tkachuk, Carter Verhaeghe and last year's Florida Panthers, who rallied from a 3-1 deficit to render the greatest regular season in NHL history a bloodied footnote. If you're wondering about the persistent ringing in your ears ever since, don't worry, it's never going away.

So I get the inclination towards hopeless doomsaying after Tuesday's shockingly listless loss. The Bruins did it to us last year and they're about to do it again. It's classic PTSD.

Except they won't.

Take it from someone who's only casually invested. The Leafs own a far sadder playoff legacy than the Bruins, and Toronto must contend with a relentlessly hostile environment at home, where the locals still act like Red Sox fans circa 1919-2003, just waiting to meet their ghoulish end. No crowd deteriorates from buzzy optimism to hopeless despair as readily as Scotiabank Arena.

Toronto ain't Florida. The eighth-seeded Panthers, it turns out, were legit. They blitzed through the conference before falling to the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, and they ran it back this year with 110 points and a division title.

The Leafs were ... fine. They scored a lot, but their goaltending was mediocre and their penalty kill awful, particularly down the stretch. And whereas the Panthers added important pieces late last season and in the playoffs that helped them punch above their No. 8 seed – they don't beat the Bruins without center Sam Bennett and wing Anthony Duclair – the Leafs have been subtracting.

Top scorers Auston Matthews and William Nylander combined to miss one game all season, and they've already been sidelined for four (three for Nylander, one for Matthews) in this series. Nylander remains scoreless. Matthews has battled illness and a mystery ailment, because hockey makes Bill Belichick look gossipy when it comes to injuries; only after the season ends do we get a news dump of the various broken ribs, fractured vertebrae, and lacerated kidneys theretofore classified as "upper body."

The playoffs are about horses. The Leafs certainly outworked the Bruins in Game 5, and that's a problem, but they've struggled to generate offense for most of the series without a healthy Matthews, the league's first 69-goal scorer since Mario Lemieux.

Even if they do rediscover their scoring touch, we haven't even mentioned the biggest X-factor, which is goaltending.

A year ago, Linus Ullmark appeared to be playing on one leg, and shame on Montgomery for sticking with him as long as he did. The Bruins surrendered 11 goals to Florida in Games 5 and 6 before Montgomery finally gave Swayman a start, and no pressure, kid, but please go out there cold and win us Game 7.

This time around, Swayman looks like the best goalie in the world. He stoned the Leafs repeatedly on Tuesday, losing to them for the first time all year. He still hasn't allowed Toronto to score more than two goals in that span. He's not a candidate to collapse like Ullmark did, and while Boston College product Joseph Woll played a lot better in Game 5 than Toronto starter Ilya Samsonov had in Games 1-4, we're still talking a goalie with only three playoff starts to his name.

Advantage, Bruins.

So to recap, the Leafs are choking dogs with injured stars who have only escaped the first round once in the last 20 years. If they lose again, coach Sheldon Keefe will almost certainly be fired, so there's a head man on the hot seat, too, although I suppose the same could be said of Bruins counterpart Jim Montgomery.

This is not a team I'd fear winning three straight, including two in Boston. The Bruins will need to remove their heads from their undercarriages in Game 6 and stop skating like they're afraid of falling through the ice to avoid another collapse, but they won't have to do it alone.

It's the freaking Leafs, so take a deep breath. Everything will be OK. I may have only recently learned my Jesper Boqvist from my Justin Brazeau, but I know this much, and it's more than enough.