The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins meet for the second year in a row in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning Thursday night at TD Garden. It is nearly impossible for anyone analyzing this series to look at the matchup without factoring in the Leafs two third-period collapses in Game 7 six years ago and last April.
The series is one of only two in the first round where both clubs have 100 points or more, and one critical decision, mistake or shortcoming could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Completing the breakdown of the Boston - Toronto series, we look at the forward groups and make a prediction for the outcome:
Toronto finished the regular season fourth in the NHL in scoring (286 goals) with six forwards that had 20-goals or more, with John Tavares leading the club with 47 goals in his first season with the Leafs. Auston Matthews scored 37 goals in spite of missing 14 games with a shoulder injury and leading scorer Mitch Marner led the club with 94 points.
Wingers Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, and Zach Hyman achieved career-highs in goals, but Nazem Kadri saw his goal totals decline by 50% due to his shift to the third line, Patrick Marleau posted his lowest point total since his rookie season, and William Nylander never recovered from missing the first two months in a contract impasse, scoring just seven times in 54 games.
Boston boasts arguably the best line in hockey with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. The trio accounted for more than 40% of the Bruins offense this season, including Marchand’s club-leading 100 points and Pastrnak’s 38 goals. Veteran David Krejci tied his career-high with 73 points and sophomore Jake DeBrusk had 27 goals, but Bruce Cassidy also depends heavily on third and fourth liners Noel Acciari, Joakim Nordstrom, Danton Heinen, and late season additions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson.
Speedy rookie Karson Kuhlman starts the series on the second line with aging David Backes as a healthy scratch, but depth forward Sean Kuraly is injured.
The Leafs addition of Tavares to go along with Matthews and Kadri gives them strength up the middle, but the Bruins have the experience advantage with Bergeron and Krejci (who won the Cup in 2011). With the potential of the top two centers neutralizing each other, Toronto will need Kadri to step up and outplay Coyle.
Babcock relies heavily on matchups and if he had his way, he would likely want to match Hyman-Tavares-Marner against the Bergeron line to limit their effectiveness,, but with Cassidy getting the last change at home, he has the freedom of matching his top line against anyone.
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