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Sizing Up the Bruins Matchup with The Maple Leafs

82 games. 50 wins. 112 points. It’s finally here. The greatest product in all of sports: The Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After a magical and downright dominant regular season, the Bruins could be favorites out of the east. A late season falter caused the Bruins to fall to second in the Atlantic to face, yep, the Toronto Maple Leafs. New Jersey would have been an easier matchup, no doubt, but there is no reason this team shouldn’t beat a good-but-still-t’snferior Leafs team

Let’s break it down shall we?

Lines:

Alright before we start, here’s each teams expected lineup heading into Game 1. Subject to change, of course.

Bruins:

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Rick Nash

Danton Heinen – Riley Nash – Ryan Donato

Tim Schaller – David Backes – Noel Acciari

Ex: Sean Kuraly, Tommy Wingels, Brian Gionta

Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug – Kevan Miller

Matt Grzelcyk – Adam McQuaid/Nick Holden

Ex: Adam McQuaid/Nick Holden

Tuukka Rask

Anton Khudobin

Injured: Brandon Carlo, Anders Bjork

Kuraly, Rick Nash, and Riley Nash are both returning from injuries and expected to play in game 1, so this is the first time the Bruins will have a totally healthy lineup with Ryan Donato in, so this is more of a guess than set in stone.

 

Leafs:

Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – William Nylander

Patrick Marleau – Nazem Kadri – Mitch Marner

James van Reimsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Connor Brown

Leo Komorov – Tomas Plekanec – Kasperi Kapanen

Ex: Andreas Johnsson, Matt Martin, Josh Leivo, Dominic Moore

Morgan Reilly – Ron Hsinsey

Jake Gardiner – Nikita Zaitsev

Travis Dermott – Roman Polak

Ex: Connor Carrick

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney

Offense:

There’s no doubt, this Leafs team goes as its offense goes. They’re one of the most offensive reliant teams in the league, and for good reason. Mike Babcock didn’t find his ideal lines until around Game 50, when he swapped Kasperi Kapanen in for Matt Martin and swapped Connor Brown and Mitch Marner on lines 2 and 3. All four lines can score, and their top line is one of the best in the league. Auston Matthews scored over a point a game in his second NHL season, and Mitch Marner lead the team in scoring. James van Reimsyk’s 36 goals sets him up for a huge contract this summer, and is one of the leagues biggest threats at the top of the crease. This Leafs team is scary up front with their speed and skill, and it’s going to be the reason the move on if they can in fact upset the Bruins.

The Bruins are no slouch offensively either. Their 3.26 goals/game slightly trails the Leafs 3.29, but their top line makes that difference up. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak have straight up dominated the league this season, and will be relied on to shut down the Matthews line, one of the few lines in the league capable of doing so. Getting Rick Nash back on David Krejci’s right wing will be a big jolt to the lineup and Krejci himself, making the Bruins second line a threat. Riley Nash’s career year, scoring 40 points makes his line another two way threat, and the late season addition of Ryan Donato adds more scoring prowess. The Leafs are known for their offense, but the Bruins can score as well, and their defense from their forwards may be just as valuable

Edge: Leafs, by a hair

Defense:

The Leafs defense is the bane of their existence, so they essentially need to score and goal tend themselves to victory. Morgan Reilly has emerged as a true #1 defenseman in the NHL, but beyond that, it’s shaky. Ron Hainsey is reliable, but seems to be breaking down and doesn’t bring much to the table offensively. Jake Gardner is a fantastic offensive defenseman and has great skill, but is prone to a bad turnover or loss in coverage much more than the average defenseman, and Nikita Zaitsev has taken a step backward from a solid rookie season. Travis Dermott is a promising rookie defenseman, but just 37 games of NHL experience for the 20 year old is concerning, and, well, his D-partner is Roman Polak, who is just… bad. They allowed the 4th most shots in the league at 34 per game, the most of any playoff team. The defense is the Leafs biggest weakness, and what separates them from the upper echelon of the NHL.

The Bruins were one of, if not the best, defensive team in the NHL throughout the regular season. Much of this is thanks to the Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak line who didn’t allow a 5v5 goal until January and is capable of shutting any opposing line down offensively. On the back end, Zdeno Chara has been revived, and is still a beast of a defenseman at the age of 41. Along side him is 20 year old super-rookie Charlie McAvoy, who is already a top pairing defenseman at his age. Torey Krug scored 59 points from the back end, the most from a Bruins defenseman since Ray Bourque in his prime. Similarly but to a lesser degree, Krug is prone to the odd breakdown defenively, but more often than not, Kevan Miller stops the threat before it starts. The 30 year old rock has morphed into a true top 4 defenseman this year, and has used his legs more to contribute offensively. Matt Grzelcyk, who wasn’t even expected to play in Boston this season, has made an unbelievable impact, putting up an absurd 54.8% CF% and has become an analytics darling. Brandon Carlo’s unfortunate season ending injury will force one of Nick Holden or Adam McQuaid into the lineup, which is far from the end of the world and each can make a positive impact, but can scare people at times.

Edge: Bruins, by a lot

Goaltending:

As bad as the Leafs defense has been, Frederik Andersen has bailed them out. He’s played the second most games in the league and faced more shots than any other goalie, and put up a .918 sv% in all situations, with a .924 at 5v5. Where he is less than the rest of the pack is in high danger situations, just at .790 high danger sv% (ideal is above .800, so he’s slightly less than ideal). This is likely more of a result of the Leafs giving up extremely high danger chances rather than him being bad from in close, but if the Bruins get the puck in the slot, they should rip it. Curtis McElhinny has had a great season as the Leaf’s backup, but should not be relied on and likely won’t play.

Tuukka Rask’s season timeline has been… interesting. He started the season horribly, and briefly watched Anton Khudobin win 4 consecutive games from the bench. But when he came back to form, he was dominant. Playing at a .940-.950 pace for much of the middle third of the season, Rask showed to be the goalie he was in the 2013 playoffs and when he won the Vezina trophy in 2014. Though he fell back to earth at the end of the season, Rask is capable of leading this team to the cup, but the odd soft goal could also sink them. His stats are very similar to Andersen, with a .917 all situations sv%, .923 at 5v5, and .803 on high danger chances.

Edge: Push. It likely won’t decide the series, but it always could

Special Teams:

Bruins unit 1:

Pastrnak – Bergeron – Nash

Marchand – Krug

Bruins unit 2:

DeBrusk – Krejci – Donato

McAvoy – Grzelcyk

Leafs unit 1:

Kadri – Bozak – van Reimsdyk

Marner – Reilly

Leafs unit 2:

Komorov – Matthews – Nylander

Marleau – Gardiner

Both the Bruins and the Leafs are high powered on special teams. I broke down the Bruins power play, and a flaw in their PK in depth here, so I won’t do it again but the numbers are good. Since February 1st, the Leafs lead the league with a 32.9% success rate on the powerplay, and the Bruins are third with a 26.9%. The Leafs powerplay’s go to move is setting up James van Reimsdyk in front for some sort of tip, deflection, or rebound. Mitch Marner quarterback’s the first unit, often times using a smooth shot-pass to JVR in front. It’s one of those things that is easier to adjust to over a 7 game series that it is one game, but it’s something the Bruins will need to adjust to.

Bruins unit 1:

Bergeron – Marchand

Chara – Miller

Bruins unit 2:

Kuraly/Schaller – Acciari

McQuaid/Holden – Chara

Leafs unit 1:

Hyman – Komorov

Hainsey – Polak

Leafs unit 2:

Plekanec – Brown

Zaitsev – Reilly

The PK is a different story. Since February 1st, the Leafs were 22nd in the league on the PK, with just a 77.3% kill rate. The Bruins, meanwhile, were 3rd in the league. The loss of Brandon Carlo looms large here, but Zdeno Chara is perfect capable of playing a full 2 minutes on the PK. Adam McQuaid’s ability to kill penalties could earn him a spot in the lineup on his own, and you’ll likely see a rotation of all 6 guys on the 2nd unit. Marchand and Bergeron aren’t only great PKers, but they’re also a threat to score every time they get possession. The Leafs PK speaks much to their overall team defense… not great. There really isn’t anything spectacular about any of the players out there, and it’s something the Bruins can exploit.

Edge: Bruins. Leafs with the slight edge on the PP and Bruins with the large edge on the PK

Matchups and coaching:

In the playoffs, matchups are huge. The lines will be matched differently in Toronto and Boston and the home team will get the last change. Here’s how I anticipate the matchups to look like:

In Boston:

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak vs Hyman – Matthews – Nylander

Heinen – Riley Nash – Donato vs Marleau – Kadri – Marner

DeBrusk – Krejci – Rick Nash vs van Reimsdyk – Bozak – Brown

4th line vs 4th line

Bruce Cassidy will try and shut down the Matthews line at home. They did so very effectively in a 4-1 win in early February, and will hope to keep that going. Cassidy will lean on the Riley Nash shut down line to keep the Kadri line off the board, and don’t be surprised to see David Backes replace Ryan Donato if they have a lead. The Krejci line vs the Bozak like will be a high event offensive battle, probably giving the slight edge to Boston because of Krejci. The battle of the 4th lines will be interesting, as the Bruins 50’s line will try to wear them physically and on the forecheck, while the Leafs will try to beat you with their speed with guys like Kasperi Kapanen, especially if Andreas Johnsson gets in the lineup

In Toronto:

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak vs Marleau – Kadri – Marner

Heinen – Riley Nash – Donato vs Hyman – Matthews – Nylander

DeBrusk – Krejci – Rick Nash vs van Reimsdyk – Bozak – Brown

4th line vs 4th line

A small change, but one Mike Babcock will use effectively. He will put agitator Nazem Kadri against the Bergeron line, as they effectively contained the league’s best line in Toronto in late February. Babcock will then try and overpower the Riley Nash line with the Matthews line, which is probably going to work. It’s possible he puts Matthews against Krejci, but I’d anticipating him trying to get as much as he can out of the Matthews line at home while he can.

Edge: Pretty self explanatory. They don’t call it home ice advantage for nothing.

By the Numbers (5v5):

Corsi for %

Boston: 53.8% (2nd in NHL)

Toronto: 49.8% (17th in NHL)

Goals for %

Boston: 54.5% (4th in NHL)

Toronto: 54.1% (5th in NHL)

Expected goals for % (Essentially quality of shots)

Boston: 53.5% (3rd in NHL)

Toronto: 51.1% (13th in NHL)

Penalty differential

Boston: +8 (14th in NHL)

Toronto: -6 (19th in NHL)

PDO – save % + shooting % (Essentially measures luck. 100 is average, above is luckier, below is less lucky)

Boston: 100.16 (15th in NHL)

Toronto: 101.82 (2nd in NHL)

Man games lost to injury

Boston: 304 (9th most in NHL)

Toronto: 101 (28th most in NHL)

Edge: Bruins. It’s right there for you to look at

Predictions:

I probably made this sound more one sided than it really is, but don’t get me wrong – Toronto is a good team. They didn’t get 105 points by accident. Sure, they won 7 shootouts and rode a high PDO for much of the season, but they’re a good team. That said, the Bruins are the better team. They’ve dominated the NHL for much of the regular season, and are one of the few teams capable of shutting down the Leafs offense, especially their first line. The home games give each team the favorable matchups, and Mike Babcock will try to capitalize on it while he can. That all said, the Bruins are the better team, and have showed that they can overcome anything, and win in any type of game in any type of circumstances. This team is special, and I just can’t see them going down to an inferior Toronto team. The Leafs won’t get there long awaited revenge on 2013, when… uh, I don’t know if you heard, but… *shouts from the roof tops* IT WAS 4-1. I’m tempted to say 5, I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes 7, but I’ll take the Bruins in 6.

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