The Bruins are the favorites heading into their first-round match-up with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re the higher seed, have home-ice advantage, and handled the Leafs just fine during the regular season.
That doesn’t mean this series will be a cakewalk.
No, nothing about this match-up screams DOOM AND GLOOM, but there are a few potential trouble spots that are worth considering.
1. The Leafs arguably have a deeper offense
When discussing the Leafs, most people focus on guys like John Tavares, Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner, and rightly so: all three are elite talents.
However, the arrival of Tavares in Toronto also did something that will become far more important once the playoffs begin: it allowed the Leafs to push talent further down in the lineup.
It’s not a stretch to say that each team will focus as much effort as possible on stopping the other’s top two lines. Assume (and obviously you can never really assume this, but play along) that those two lines match each other or cancel each other out, and the depth lines become all the more important.
For the Bruins, that means relying on production from Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen, who are no slouches. But this year, Toronto is able to ice a third line of Patrick Marleau, who definitely has a big goal or two left in him, Nazem Kadri and William Nylander.
Last year, that third line had Tomas Plekanec as its center, so it wasn’t exactly a fear-inspiring unit.
This year, however, the Bruins can’t really focus on shutting down a single line and calling it a day.
2. The dreaded “hot goalie”
Obviously any goalie can get hot and lead his team through the NHL playoffs, and there have been plenty of goalies who went on epic playoff runs and then seemingly disappeared forever. All it takes is a quick hot streak to completely derail a season.
Frederik Andersen isn’t exactly the kind of goalie who inspires brick wall-esque fears, but he’s certainly a guy who is capable of going on a tear. There were times during last year’s series where Andersen seemed to make big save after big save, but he laid a bit of an egg in the third period of Game 7.
While it’s not likely that Andersen is able to steal the series on his own, his ability to get hot is enough to make you stop and think. If Andersen is able to play at his 2.00, .942 November 2018 level, it could get interesting.
3. The need for speed
This one may not be as big of an issue as it has been in recent years, but the Leafs have some guys who can really fly. While the Bruins aren’t the plodding bunch they used to be, the Leafs have enough high-end speed to make things difficult for the Bruins.
Simply skating at a high level of speed isn’t going to be enough for the Leafs to win this series, but their ability to come through the neutral zone with speed will be enough to put pressure on a Bruins defense corps that isn’t exactly 100% healthy.
Everyone remembers the footrace Kasperi Kapanen won in Game 7 last year. Mitch Marner can fly. The list goes on.
The Bruins, to their credit, appear to be preparing to play a faster lineup (that’s arguably the biggest reason why David Backes is sitting). But if the Leafs are able to find open ice and turn on the jets, the Bruins could be chasing them in more ways than one.
What do you think? Are these concerns overblown, or is there something that’s missing? Have your say in the comments!