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Game Preview: The path to redemption begins tonight for the Leafs

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It’s time for the second NHL season.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins

Time: 7:00PM

Location: TD Garden

Broadcast/Streaming: CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports, NBSCN, NESN

Opponent SBNation Site: Stanley Cup of Chowder

There aren’t many times when you get a chance to right a wrong, but in the NHL where the standings are designed to “intensify divisional rivalries”, you do.

The difference is the Leafs knew after the puck dropped in October against the Montreal Canadiens that they were facing the Boston Bruins. Heck, the whole league knew the Leafs were going to take on the Bruins. And now it’s here.

There’s no more room for cliches (although there will be several) or excuses as Game One is tonight.

The Leafs kick things off on day two of the postseason, after day one saw a number of underdog teams respond for a victory.

The Columbus Blue Jackets battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the third period to take Game One over the Tampa Bay Lightning. St. Louis and Winnipeg were tied for the majority of the night before Tyler Bozak scored the winner with nearly two minutes to go in regulation.

But most importantly, the New York Islanders got the win as well. The Islanders could’ve got the win in regulation if not for Justin Schultz pulling a Bozak to tie the game at three and force overtime. However, Josh Bailey was the hero of the night capitalizing off some Matt Barzal-caused chaos in front of the net.

If the Leafs can take one message from last night, it’s that the narrative changes in the playoffs. Patrik Laine scored the first of the game for Winnipeg after weeks of being called a bust. Deficits can be overcome, and most importantly, teams can make mistakes. It’s not as heat-sealed tight as many make it out to be, and the Leafs have just as much a chance as anyone to win.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner

Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen

Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander

Trevor Moore - Frederik Gauthier - Connor Brown

Defence Pairs

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey

Jake Muzzin - Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner - Travis Dermott

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen

Garret Sparks

Nothing has changed as far as the line combinations go. John Tavares and Auston Matthews are likely to draw the top two lines respectively which, as Katya brought up in her piece yesterday, could leave room for Kadri to get double-shifted and give Bruce Cassidy some head-scratchers.

Another thing to pay attention to is how effective the “third pairing” can be. Jake Gardiner wore the goat horns last year, but he may be a critical piece as far as generating offence from the Leafs’ depth this time around.

Boston Bruins

Forward Lines

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Karson Kuhlman

Marcus Johansson - Charlie Coyle - Danton Heinen

Joakim Nordstrom - Noel Acciari- Chris Wagner

Defence Pairs

Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk - Connor Clifton

Goaltenders

Tuukka Rask

Jaroslav Halak

Cassidy has been preparing the Bruins for a fast series. Luckily for Hainsey, he won’t be having to deal with David Backes on the penalty kill. It isn’t the first time Boston played a game without Backes in the lineup and although he’s a prototypical ‘playoff player’, the Bruins can get along without him.

The top line is what it is: a force. Every aspect of the trio is solid offensively and defensively which can make the match against Hyman-Tavares-Marner exciting to watch. At the same time, no one should sleep on the second line, especially after another season out of Debrusk.

What is making Bruins supporters shifty is the goaltending and not knowing whether to keep faith in Rask or pass it on to Halak. There’s no question Rask starts Game One, but he did have a couple of sub .900 Sv% nights heading into the playoffs. You could also bring up Game Five last year where he was pulled for Anton Khudobin.

I don’t doubt he is their guy for the series, but if Andersen is better than he was last season and Rask doesn’t match it, then Boston will have something to worry about (which would be lovely).

The Leafs are coming off a regular season with many bumps along the way. They had more goals for than Boston but also more goals against. And while Boston had the more successful powerplay (25.9% vs. 21.8%), their penalty kills are identical (79.9%).

Similar to last year, and most series for that matter, it’ll come down to the difference in goaltending between Andersen and Rask. But there are a few other meaningful questions:

  1. Can the Leafs depth take over the Bruins depth?
  2. Can they make better use of their speed?
  3. Can they respond when things aren’t looking too good?

The best thing the Leafs can do is score first. Not only is their record 31-7-4 when doing so, but it’ll be a good way to strike fear into a Boston team who looks very confident they’ll win. And who doesn’t like proving someone wrong?