Of course, hockey is a team sport. 12 forwards, six defensemen and a goalie work together over the course of 60 minutes to earn a win. Coaches shift lines around and match up against opponents in a never-ending chess match to score more goals, give up fewer goals, and dominate possession as much as possible. In the end, it could come down to just a few players who determine the course of a game, a series, the playoffs. For the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who are these players?
One of only two members of the Black and Gold to play all 82 games this season, Pasta has been a model of consistency. Just under a point a game, he’s found his groove, and quietly so, as a top line winger for seasons to come. An issue that crept into his head during last year’s series against the Ottawa Senators? Key penalty minutes. The guy in the box when Clark MacArthur’s shot slipped through Tuukka Rask to end the series? Yep, this guy. Can he show the same quiet sense of maturity he’s developed throughout the season, keep down on the PIMs, and continue to score?
There has to be some bedrock on this defense to match the speed of a lot of these Maple Leafs forwards. Whether it be matching speed-for-speed or throwing devastating body checks, it looks like McAvoy needs to step up and be the guy. Chara will bring stalwart play, but he can’t always skate with the likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Torey Krug can skate with some of the best of them but isn’t going to dump guys. McAvoy brings the balance of both skills to stand tall and play big minutes against great opponents. Will we see the Cinderella McAvoy of last playoffs and most of this season or will we see a shell of Chuck, impeded by two tough injuries earlier in the year?
It’s Tuukka Rask’s net to lose. The Finnish netminder posted incredible numbers this season: a 2.36 GAA, third amongst goalies who played minimum 50 games, and a .917 save %. What’s most important? He only played 54 games! Anton Khudobin proved to be quite a serviceable backup cutting 9 games off of Rask’s shoulders compared to last season. Those 9 games of rest need to come to fruition now. Can he stand tall and be the playoff goalie everyone needs him to be this season? (His career numbers are astounding, a 2.12 GAA and a 9.28 save %). Will he die a hero or live long enough to see himself become the villain?
10-1-1. 935 save %. 2.09 GAA. Did Frederik Andersen steal the magic potion from playoff Braden Holtby on how to beat the Bruins? Throughout his career, he’s given the Bruins fits when he straps on the pads. 66 games this is still a lot to deal with, even with the rest he’s been given on-and-off. In any case as well, for the games Andersen has suited up against the B’s this season, he hasn’t faced anywhere near a healthy Bruins squad. Frank Vatrano. Jordan Swarz. Matt Beleskey. Paul Postma. Rob O’Gara. Just some of the guys Andersen has faced and stopped. Rick Nash. Ryan Donato. Heck, any of the trade deadline acquisitions the Bruins made. Will a fully healthy B’s team be able to fluster Andersen enough to get him off his game?
He very clearly hasn’t been placed in a role to score points, a fourth line center with only 2 assists through 17 games. What role has he been played in? A bully. On a checking line with Leo Komarov and Kasperi Kapanen, he’ll help provide the hits, the defensive stalwartness he carries from Montreal, and a tough game to penetrate through. Will he get matched up against the top six every so often? I don’t see why not. Can he disrupt the Bruins offense from the bottom long enough to get the top six off of their game and create more chances for the Leafs?
The Maple Leafs’ equivalent to Brad Marchand. Kadri is a consistent scorer, 55 points in 80 games, and even bigger of a pest. Taking Matt Martin out of consideration, who played only 50 games this season, he led the forward corps in PIMs, not a surprise for a guy who makes it a point to wreak havoc every now and then. Kadri will absolutely be one of the top guys responsible for controlling play against the Bergeron line, but also has solid career point production against Boston, 18 points in 29 games played. Will he bother the Bergeron line enough to force Marchand’s hand, or anyone’s hand, for that matter? Will he produce enough to take too much focus away from the likes of Matthews, Marner and William Nylander?
This series is filled with firepower and fun. One team with a Cup window wide open once again and a tour-de-force on so many fronts, against a young and strong club with “dragons to slay” and a media and fan base somehow even more critical of its team than right here at home. Who comes out on top? Who do you feel is most important in this series?