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2018 NHL Playoff Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Boston Bruins, Game 1

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So it begins.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

2018 NHL Playoffs Round 1 Toronto vs Boston: Game # 1

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Location: The Garden over which Toronto have Dominion

Broadcast/Streaming: CBC, cbc.ca, TVAS, NBCSN, NESN

Opponent SBNation Site: Stanley Cup of Chowder

Every team gets at least four games in the NHL playoffs. How many more than four is up to fate and fortitude and who is better than their opponent at just the right moment.

Who is better between Boston, may they long for happiness all their days, and Toronto?

That’s a tougher question than a lot of people believe. There’s a lot of fear out there that the Leafs are in way over their heads. The Bruins, may their bodies ache tomorrow, play a tight system that allows lesser players to do very well if they can execute it. The Leafs are, well, you know what they are:


Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Leo Komarov - Tomas Plekanec - Kasperi Kapanen

Matt Martin, Andreas Johnsson, Josh Leivo, Dominic Moore

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Roman Polak

Connor Carrick

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen
Curtis McElhinney

Boston Bruins

Forward Lines

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Rick Nash
Danton Heinen - Noel Acciari - David Backes
Tim Schaller - Sean Kuraly - Tommy Wingels

Ryan Donato, Brian Gionta

Defence Pairings

Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Kevan Miller
Matt Grzelcyk - Adam McQuaid

Nick Holden

Goaltenders

Tuukka Rask
Anton Khudobin


Goal Scoring

The book on the Bruins, may they never be able to find the salt shaker, is that they have one good line and then some meh sort of depth. This is likely overstated in a general way, but compared to the Leafs, it has merit.

This is goals for each player at five-on-five only, as a percentage of team total goals scored:

There’s your top line of the Bruins, may they sit on the splintered part of the bench, with one, two and three. There’s four more good players, and then it’s grinder territory. There’s a 200 minute limit on who is included, so Rick Nash isn’t on the chart, but he’s a mitigation of this top-heavy structure. Frank Vatrano is, of course, gone off to Florida.

Well, would you look at that. While one imagines how singular the star of the team would look if he’d played the whole season, one, two and three all play on different lines. Huh. The next six players are all the rest of the top nine. The top seven players on the Leafs are your major offensive threats at over 6% each. The Leafs get fewer goals from their defenders, but in terms of points, the D do fine, a touch better than the Bruins, may they continue to use too many point shots.

Shooting

And point shots are the difference:

Note the big red blobs at the points on the right. That’s the shots from defenders. The Leafs don’t do that.

They do this which is an absolute flood of shots from the highest danger areas. The point shots the Leafs do make are to get the puck in play for the forwards who penetrate the zone. Look over on the left, however, and you see the Leafs defence in all it’s glory. Sigh.

Now, about those shots in tight to the net. The Bruins, may they have no milk for their tea, are okay at getting into the high-danger area, and they are one of the best teams at preventing other teams from shooting from there. As a team. But that’s because their depth lines are really good defensively. That top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak is the worst on the team at allowing high-danger chances. If you’re on the ice against them, it’s like you’re playing the Leafs. They still do well on overall volume of shots against because they drive play so well, but get them pinned, and they are the weakest line in tight.

While conventional wisdom says you have to play this super line to a standstill, I think you have to play your best defensive game against them, but they will give up chances. Be ready to take them. I’m looking at you, Naz.

The rest of the Bruins team is very good at both driving play, and limiting shots against and at limiting dangerous chances. The thing is though, the Leafs have three brutal offensive lines to roll at them, over and over and over again. And the Boston depth just doesn’t score that much. The season averages are built up against the majority of teams who don’t have that offensive might.

One thing to watch for tonight: Can James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak “cheat” a little high defensively and turn the play over against forward lines that they outclass by miles and mile in offensive ability? They have in the past against the Bruins, may they always be chasing the play. It won’t be surprising if we see Kasperi Kapanen hit the jets and blow through the zone, either.

Other Matchups

No team has as many Scoring Chances on the power play as the Leafs do. If they get chances, they will get goals. The difference between the Leafs and the Bruins, may they fan on every shot, is extreme.

I think most people think Tuukka Rask is the better goalie, and they are not really correct there. He’s been functioning this season at just about the Expected Save Percentage. It’s easier to be Rask than it is to be Frederik Andersen, and it’s Andersen who has made the more meaningful contribution to his team.

Conclusion

Pedal down from the opening faceoff, Leafs.

Numbers: Natural Stat Trick for high-danger and scoring chances, Corsica for expected goals.