NHL playoffs preview: No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Toronto Maple Leafs
By Allan Muir
Feb. 2: Bruins 1, Maple Leafs 0
March 7: Bruins 4, Maple Leafs 2
March 23: Maple Leafs 3, Bruins 2
March 25: Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 2 (SO)
Boston's keys to victory
There are undoubtedly positive thinkers in Boston who look at the start of the playoffs as a fresh slate. And maybe that's exactly what this team needs after ending the regular season on a dismal slide that produced just two wins in its last nine games. The struggling B's enter the playoffs searching for an identity. Only once during that stretch did they score more than two goals, a failing that relates directly to their inability to assert themselves physically. Lining up against a Toronto team that thrives on that style, Boston needs to stop taking shortcuts and start paying the price. That's why, ultimately, this set could come down to the play of Milan Lucic. The burly winger has been a massive disappointment this season, scoring just three times in his final 31 games. More to the point, his ability to impose his will on a game has evaporated. When he's banging and crashing, the Bruins can seem unbeatable. When he's not, well, you've seen the results. Netminder Tuukka Rask is capable of stealing games on his own, but not a series. He's going to need some scoring help to guide Boston into the second round.
Toronto's keys to victory
It's going to be fascinating to watch Phil Kessel in this series, isn't it? A man who has withered under media scrutiny in the past will face an unprecedented level of attention as the focal point of this series. It's fair to say that how he responds could determine the way this thing plays out. He comes in playing his best hockey of the season, having scored 10 goals and 18 points in 12 April games. And the taunts and jeers that will rain down on him in Boston? He's heard it all before. This is his time to put his past behind him and dominate the way he can. Fortunately for Phil, he has a stronger and deeper supporting cast behind him than in the past. Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk all are dangerous scorers in their own right. Maybe more to the point, the Leafs are a nasty, physical bunch who earn space the way the Bruins once did. And if they go over the line occasionally, no problem. They can take penalties with impunity, knowing how slight a threat Boston's power play poses (just five PP goals in the final 22 games). If Toronto controls the boards, it could give the Leafs the edge they need. The one area the Leafs have to be concerned about is over-relying on goaltender James Reimer. The team has developed a bad habit of being outshot by a wide margin over the last month, and while Reimer has stood up to the challenge, it's not a sustainable model in the postseason. Limiting Boston's chances will be critical.
Toronto in six: The Bruins have owned the Leafs during the past few seasons, including this one, in which Boston won three of four. But timing is everything and right now, the Leafs are catching the B's deep in the trough. With goal scoring at a premium, look for Toronto to squeak into the second round.MORE PREP: Staff picks | Upset alert | Key storylines | X-factors | Power Rankings | Schedule