By Bob Morello
Bruins ready for playoffs
Monday’s press conference with Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney’s comments set the tone for the upcoming Boston-Toronto first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup. When asked his thoughts on the playoffs which begin tonight (Thursday), his response, “Best time of the year. Obviously, to have qualified and to be one of the 16 is a testament to our group, from top to bottom. Our coaching staff and really the whole organization should be proud of the regular season that we’ve had, and we get an opportunity. That’s what everybody hopes for, which was set out at the start of the year, what you hope for, and, again, it wasn’t without its twists and turns and some adversity along the way. Fortunately, we have home ice, and we start and everything is fresh and both teams are at the same point.”
That excitement on Sweeney’s part set the bar, and hopefully the tone of this first-round series again the Toronto Maple Leafs starting on TD Garden ice. Game 1: Thursday, April 11 at 7:00pm; Game 2: Saturday, April 13 at 8:00pm; Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Game 3: Monday, April 15 at 7:00pm; Game 4: Wednesday, April 17; TD Garden Game 5*: Friday, April 19; Scotiabank Arena Game 6*, Sunday, April 21; and TD Garden Game 7*: Tuesday, April 23. (* Indicates: game if necessary).
The stage is set, just as it was last year, when the first-round series opened with the Bruins road to a Stanley Cup journey beginning with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coach Bruce Cassidy stated, “I think it’s a great matchup, great rivalry. Guys should be excited to play.” While not matching their 50-win season last year, the Bruins did finish at 49-24-9, good enough for the number two spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Toronto with 46 wins slotted in at the number five spot.
Several thoughts come to mind when reflecting on last year’s seven-game, first-round series win over the Leafs. The most damage was done by the Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. This season that same line had an excellent total, despite losing Pastrnak for almost a month due to injury, accumulating 106 goals between them, and 260 points. The other side of the coin shows that Toronto has players that can closely match those totals, with three Leafs, John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner – who combined for 110 goals between them, and 255 points. Goaltending, as always, will be a factor – the playoff numbers for the Bs tandem of a well-rested Rask (.924 save percentage – 2.25 goals-against-average), and backup Jaroslav Halak (.924 save percentage – 2.39 goals-against-average). Frederik Andersen in net for Toronto versus Boston playoffs last year posted numbers of .896 save percentage and 3.76 goals-against-average, but judging by his much better 2018-19 regular season numbers (.917 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against-average), he will be more of a determining factor this time playoff series.
Speed will definitely be a factor in this first-round series, and the question remains, will the Bruins be able to match the speed of the Leafs successfully, much of that will depend on the youngsters (see Jake DeBrusk) who’ve become such an important part of this team. Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug, who both missed last year’s playoffs due to injury will add a dimension to the Boston blueline corps that was missing when the Bs were eliminated in the second-round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Additional first-round playoff series matchups around the NHL will have in the East: Tampa Bay Lightning v. Columbus Blue Jackets; Washington Capitals v. Carolina Hurricane; and New York Islanders v. Pittsburgh Penguins. In the West: Nashville Predators v. Dallas Stars; Winnipeg Jets v. St. Louis Blues; Calgary Flames v. Colorado Avalanche; and San Jose Sharks v. Vegas Golden Knights.
Buckle up your seatbelt and enjoy some great, exciting NHL hockey! Bruins in six?