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5 Keys: Maple Leafs at Bruins, Game 1

Toronto counting on center depth; top line carrying Boston again

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer



The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will play for the second consecutive season in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round, with Game 1 at TD Garden on Thursday. The Bruins won in seven games last season.

Boston, which went 3-1-0 against Toronto during the regular season, hopes to continue its recent postseason success against the Maple Leafs, who hold an 8-7 edge on the Bruins all-time in the playoffs.

Here are 5 keys for Game 1:


1. Get past the past

The Maple Leafs, who also lost to the Bruins in Game 7 in 2013, haven't won a playoff series since 2004. 

There would be no better team to do it against than Boston, exorcising some demons in the process.

Not that the Bruins are counting on the past informing the future. They know this Maple Leafs team is different, starting with the addition of center John Tavares, as well as in terms of its play and its maturity. 

"I don't think anything in the past has anything to do with this season," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "I don't think they're concerned about it. We're not thinking about it. It really has no implication on this series at all."


2. Guarding the net

Perhaps the most vulnerable spot for the Maple Leafs is in goal, where Frederik Andersen stumbled down the stretch; he was 4-3-4 with an .889 save percentage in the final 12 games after going 32-13-3 with a .924 save percentage in his first 48 games.

And that comes after he had a 3.76 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage during an up-and-down performance against the Bruins in the first round last season.

So the pressure is on Andersen, especially because Toronto doesn't have a reliable backup behind him, as the Bruins do with Jaroslav Halak behind Tuukka Rask. Toronto elevated Michael Hutchinson over Garret Sparks at the end of the season, but Sparks rejoined the Maple Leafs on Wednesday with Hutchinson's wife about to have a baby.

Video: Previewing the Leafs vs. Bruins First Round matchup


3. Strength against strength

The Bruins can be a dynamic offensive team, led by their top line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. But the Maple Leafs are the ones who really shine offensively, finishing the season fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.49). The Bruins finished tied for third in the League in goals-against per game (2.59) and allowed 128 goals at 5-on-5, second-fewest in the NHL (New York Islanders, 127), even with an often-rotating group of defensemen.

So who wins the matchup?

Can forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and Tavares and their teammates prevail? Or will it be Zdeno Chara and the rest of the Bruins defensemen, combined with their goaltending and help from the forwards? 

The ability of Boston to control Toronto's speed and stretch passes will go a long way in determining which team advances to the second round.


4. Top heavy

The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs in 2018 primarily on the backs of their top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak. Though coach Bruce Cassidy experimented with splitting them and sending Pastrnak to the second line with center David Krejci, he's going all in on the top line to start the series.

That should work heavily in the Bruins' favor. Though the Tampa Bay Lightning succeeded in slowing that line in the second round last season in a five-game series victory, the Maple Leafs never did in the first round. 

If that line can in any way replicate its play from the regular season, especially Marchand, who tied for fifth in the NHL with 100 points (36 goals, 64 assists), or from the 2018 series against the Maple Leafs, when the three combined for 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) in seven games, it would be a significant advantage for Boston.


5. Depth down the middle

This is where the Maple Leafs sparkle. Toronto added Tavares as a free agent July 1, 2018 to join Matthews and Nazem Kadri to create outstanding depth at center. But the Bruins upgraded as well. After spending much of the season with their third-line center up in the air, they acquired Charlie Coyle in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 20.

"Our addition of Charlie Coyle has really kind of solidified that spot," Cassidy said. "We've got two Stanley Cup champions [in Bergeron and Krejci] in front of him. … They're obviously strong down the middle, Tavares, Matthews, Kadri. But we don't feel they're better than us there. We just feel that that's probably the strength of both teams when you look at them on paper."


Maple Leafs projected lineup

Zach Hyman -- John Tavares -- Mitchell Marner

Andreas Johnsson -- Auston Matthews -- Kasperi Kapanen

Patrick Marleau -- Nazem Kadri -- William Nylander

Trevor Moore -- Frederik Gauthier -- Connor Brown

Morgan Rielly -- Ron Hainsey

Jake Muzzin -- Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner -- Travis Dermott

Frederik Andersen

Garret Sparks

Scratched: Tyler Ennis, Nic Petan, Martin Marincin, Calle Rosen, Michael Hutchinson, Joseph Woll

Injured: None

Bruins projected lineup

Brad Marchand -- Patrice Bergeron -- David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk -- David Krejci -- Karson Kuhlman

Marcus Johansson -- Charlie Coyle -- Danton Heinen

Joakim Nordstrom -- Noel Acciari -- Chris Wagner

Zdeno Chara -- Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug -- Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk -- Connor Clifton

Tuukka Rask

Jaroslav Halak

Scratched: David Backes, Steven Kampfer

Injured: Kevan Miller (lower body), John Moore (upper body), Sean Kuraly (fractured hand)

Status report

Hutchinson is away from the Maple Leafs to be with his wife and baby, who was born Thursday. … Clifton replaces Miller. correspondent Matt Kalman contributed to this report

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