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Breaking down the Leafs-Bruins

by Adam Proteau Proteautype / MapleLeafs.com

Before the puck drops on Game 1, Adam Proteau sizes up the series with a position-by-position breakdown of the Leafs and Bruins.

FORWARDS

Both the Bruins and Leafs are led by elite, skilled forwards that can hurt the opposition at even-strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill. Toronto has an edge in depth up front, as much of Boston's offence is generated by their top line of centre Patrice Bergeron and wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak; that top line produced 106 goals and 260 points for the Bruins, and although centre David Krejci is the only other Bruins skater who had more than 53 points, Boston also has youngsters Jake DeBrusk (27 goals) and Danton Heinen, and veterans Charlie Coyle and David Backes to rely on.

The Leafs, on the other hand, take pride in the balance that exists among their group of forwards: Toronto finished the season with seven scorers of at least 20 goals (including blueliner Morgan Rielly) - and that's a feat as impressive as it is rare. Centre John Tavares led the team in the goals department, netting 47 (and 88 points) in his first season as a Leaf; and though centre Auston Matthews missed 14 games because of injury, he still amassed 36 goals (and 73 points) in 68 games.

In addition, winger Mitch Marner set new career-highs across the board on offence, scoring 26 goals (beating the 22 he scored last season) and putting up a team-best 68 assists (beating his previous high of 47), a number that was fourth-best in the entire NHL in 2018-19. Marner led all Leafs forwards with an ice-time average of 19:49, and Toronto head coach Mike Babcock was comfortable playing him in all situations, so expect to see him play a central role throughout the post-season.

Elsewhere, Babcock has talents such as Nazem Kadri (16 goals and 44 points this season), Kasperi Kapanen (20 goals and 44 points), Patrick Marleau (16 goals and 37 points), Andreas Johnsson (20 goals and 43 points), Zach Hyman (21 goals and 41 points) and William Nylander (seven goals and 27 points in a season in which he played only 54 games) to choose from as he puts his lines together. 

All things considered, it's fair to say the Bruins have much of their offensive potency concentrated in one line, while the Leafs have a slew of point-producers up and down the lineup.

DEFENCE

Toronto's defence corps was beset by injuries later in the regular season, with cornerstone D-men Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott both missing significant time. However, Gardiner and Dermott returned for the Leafs' final couple of regular season games, and will be in the lineup for Game 1 Thursday in Boston. They'll join a group of defencemen including Rielly - who posted his best offensive season, with 20 goals and 72 points, while leading all Leafs in ice time (23:)7) - Ron Hainsey, mid-season acquisition Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev. As well, depth will be provided by Igor Ozhiganov, Martin Marincin, Justin Holl and late-season call-up Calle Rosen.

At the other end of the ice, the Bruins' defence corps was waylaid by the injury bug this season: not a single Boston defenceman played more than the 72 games played by Brandon Carlo, and Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and John Moore missed 16-20 games, Charlie McAvoy missed 28 games, and Kevan Miller missed 43 games and won't be available to begin the series.

Boston plays a stingy defensive game - their season total of goals-allowed was 215, second-lowest among playoff teams in the Eastern Conference - but they'll have to quickly show they can work as a cohesive unit despite not playing as a group of six for a good deal of the year.

GOALTENDING

The Bruins more or less split their netminding duties between franchise icon Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak this season, with Halak putting up better numbers in 40 appearances (including a 2.34 goals-against average and .922 save percentage) than Rask did in 46 games (2.48 G.A.A., .912 SP). Both netminders had their share of sub-.900 games down the stretch, but each veteran also has the capability of stealing games on their own, as evidenced by Rask's four shutouts this year and Halak's five shutouts.

The Leafs make no bones about Frederik Andersen being their No. 1 goalie, and though he played 60 games this year - six fewer than he did in each of the previous two seasons) - Andersen has been Toronto's most valuable player on many occasions in the 2018-19 campaign. This will be Andersen's sixth Stanley Cup playoff tournament, and the 29-year-old is looking to improve on a 2017-18 playoff performance that included an .896 SP and 3.76 G.A.A.

Just as they do in terms of forwards, the Leafs and Bruins differ in their employment of goaltenders: Boston has effectively employed a platoon system this season, while Toronto relies heavily on Andersen.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins had the NHL's third-best power play this season - with a success rate of 25.9 percent - and while the Maple Leafs began the season in that upper echelon of the power play rankings, they still finished the year with the eighth-best PP (21.8 percent).

On the penalty kill, both the Bruins and Leafs had the exact same success percentage (79.9 percent) to finish the year in a three-way tie for 12th overall with the New York Islanders. Both sides have work to do to get their defensive attack up to an admirable standard, and both will need their netminders to be better as they try to kill off man advantages in the post-season.

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