For the third time in double as many years, the Bruins and Maple Leafs faced off in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the series certainly didn't disappoint.
In one of the craziest first rounds of playoff hockey in recent memory, fans got their dosage of an Original Six rivalry in this series. Almost everyone predicted this series would go seven games; one of the only things most people got right in their playoff predictions.
It started off very shaky for the home-team in Boston, as they let up four straight goals in game one to see themselves down early in the series, even though they had home-ice advantage. Both goalies played good hockey, and most people noticed that theme throughout the rest of the games as well. Tuukka’s one lapse was on Marner’s absolutely filthy penalty shot, and I don’t think any goalie could keep their pads in front of that puck.
With Boston being exploited for their lack of urgency, Cassidy called for a lineup change in game two, bringing in veteran David Backes on the fourth line, who was a healthy scratch for the game prior. One of my least favorite players on the Bruins, Backes is far from the star he once was on the St. Louis Blues, but still finds ways to contribute to the team, regardless of whether it’s on or off the ice. He’s a threatening on-ice presence and serves as the enforcer of the squad but is more known for his wisdom and tutelage of the younger guns on the team. It helps the younger kids knowing that they have a player like Backes on their tea and I think that even though he wasn’t racking up points, he was very important to Boston’s comeback, returning the 4-1 favor back to Toronto to even the series.
The rest of the series went back and forth. It was truly a battle of the goaltenders, as Toronto's Frederik Andersen was playing the best hockey of his life at the right time. I believe anyone who still has doubt that Andersen can compete in the playoffs after his previous tough times with the Maple Leafs last year and the Ducks prior, should re-evaluate their opinions heavily. Andersen was often the reason why Toronto was able to stay in the series, and he just happened to have a hiccup at the worst time in game seven, which only saw him let in three goals.
I also want to acknowledge Tuukka Rask for putting my opinion in check. Although it’s still very early in the playoff run, I didn’t have much faith in Boston’s #40 coming in to this series. I knew Toronto had a hard-hitting offense lead by two of the best players in the league in Tavares and Matthews, and I didn’t think Tuukka would be able to keep up. Boy, was I wrong. Tuukka was consistently Boston’s best player in this series, as no one else showed up every single game and performed at their best like he did. I was scared Tuukka was going to get the butterflies, especially in game seven, but game seven was Tuukka’s best game. Now my biggest question lies with the offense.
We're on to Columbus
Columbus is a much better defensive team than Toronto (Toronto was also awful at defense, to be fair). The inconsistency at offense this first series for Boston was something to take serious caution about. However, Coach Cassidy seemed to have figured out the problem, which was our RW1. David Pastrnak usually played on the opposite wing of Marchand with Bergeron in the middle, but it was clear that wasn’t working. Switching Pasta down to RW2 and putting Heinen up on the first line seemed to better balance our stacked offense, as the Bruins scored exponentially higher in games where this lineup was intact.
Like I said, Columbus is very bottom-heavy. Their back line of defense is Sergei Bobrovsky, arguably the best goalie left in the NHL playoffs. Coming off a sweep of the best regular season team ever in Tampa Bay, Columbus hasn’t played a real game in 10 days since game four for them. I think they will have cold feet and I think game one at home for Boston is going to have to be a beat-down on Columbus to really set the tone. I’m confident in our defense and goalie to hold off the likes of Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin, who have been leading the way for Columbus on offense. What this series is going to come down to, in my opinion, is which team’s goalie plays better, as tough as that is to hear. Both of the offenses have the star power to make some noise. However less well known players like Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo for Boston and Adam McQuaid and David Savard for Columbus are really going to have to prove their worth this series.
In my (somewhat biased) opinion, there is no better team left in the NHL playoffs than the Boston Bruins, but ONLY when they play like we know they can. That leaves one question remaining: can they play like we know they can? We’ll have to wait and see tonight.