2024 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Maple Leafs vs. Bruins

Kyper and Bourne discussion getting us hyped up for the Maple Leafs' first-round matchup with the Boston Bruins, breaking down both teams' chances and comparing rosters to see where the advantages may lean.

Nothing to see here, folks. No history, no rivalry, not a storyline in sight in this first-round matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.

OK, fine. If only that were the case for the Maple Leafs, whose history against Boston has its fanbase on edge heading into this series.

The Maple Leafs have run into the Bruins three times in the past 11 years, including back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019. Each of those first-round series has ended in a Game 7 victory for Boston.

It was always going to be Boston, wasn’t it? The writing’s been on the wall since last spring, when Toronto finally exorcised one major demon with the takedown of Tampa Bay to advance to Round 2 of the playoffs for the first time since 2004. That they were swiftly stymied by the other Florida team — the very squad who’d ousted Boston to get there, and whose win Tuesday night changed the division’s playoff picture — made it clear there’s nowhere to hide in the Atlantic. Everyone’s got their playoff demons.

It’s been five years since these clubs last squared off in the playoffs, with both undergoing some pretty significant changes in that time. The Maple Leafs’ scoring core is older, more experienced, and features the kind of supporting cast around them they’ve lacked in playoffs past. The Bruins are still led by Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak up front while Charlie McAvoy mans the blue line, but otherwise no longer boast the core that bounced the Maple Leafs from contention multiple times.

Boston swept the season series, which included two overtime matchups and two 4-1 wins. There was no love lost in any of them, particularly in their heavy-hitting final matchup of the season, which set the stage for what should be a wild first-round series.

Both teams stumble into this series. Boston lost back-to-back matchups to fall out of first place in the division, its longstanding date with Tampa Bay shifting to the other team in blue and white after Florida stole the Atlantic title. Toronto finished with four straight losses and a goal shy of a major milestone for Auston Matthews, which has morale looking a little low heading into the playoffs.

A clean slate awaits. And so does a new chapter in this rivalry.

Bruins Outlook: While it’s hard to find a team with as much pressure to make a playoff run as the Maple Leafs, the Bruins face their own kind of conundrum thanks to back-to-back first-round exits and a roster that could be coming up on a crossroads soon. Last year was supposed to be the year, but after putting up historic regular season numbers the Bruins fell apart against Florida in the first round, unable to send Patrice Bergeron into retirement with another Stanley Cup ring.

While the championship core is no longer entirely intact, the ‘Big Bad Bruins’ identity perhaps a little less applicable than in the days when Zdeno Chara was manning the blue line, this team remains built around the same principles. A hard-nosed group of defenders playing in front of elite goaltending is a recipe for a lot of wins, but a lack of star-power up front, beyond Marchand and Pastrnak, brings questions about whether this club has the offensive punch to win in the playoffs.

But maybe that doesn’t matter so much when you’ve got last year’s Vezina Trophy winner making up one half of a dynamic goaltending duo alongside his best friend, Jeremy Swayman, who is putting up incredible numbers of his own. Monitoring who gets the start for Game 1, and every matchup after, will be a full-time job — current momentum sides with Linus Ullmark, though Swayman’s resume against Toronto is the stuff of legend.

Neither netminder has much in the way of playoff numbers, however.

Maple Leafs Outlook: This season was defined by milestones — for Matthews and William Nylander, especially — but there’s always been an eye to the post-season. Boston is a team that thrives on structure and excels at making its opponents play the Bruins’ brand of hockey — and while a lack of heavy, hard-nosed players has been a major talking point in Toronto with every first-round exit, the Maple Leafs finally find themselves with a little more sandpaper heading into this series.

Preparations began last summer when Brad Treliving stepped into the GM role following Kyle Dubas’ departure and focused his free agency finds on players who could fight back. He’s added plenty of grit in skaters like Ryan Reaves, Noah Gregor, Connor Dewar and Joel Edmundson. He’s brought in setup men in Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi, who’ve found great top-six chemistry while Matthew Knies’ emergence gives head coach Sheldon Keefe plenty of flexibility up and down the lineup.

Goaltending has been quite a ride, with Ilya Samsonov looking up to the No. 1 task more often than not, but giving Leafs Nation a few injury scares along the way. Joseph Woll’s development has been closely monitored, and the camera will pan to him on the bench with increasing intensity if Samsonov shows any signs of struggle.

Injuries up and down the lineup — and especially in the crease — have forced the Maple Leafs to try every possible combination and stock up on depth. Keefe was forced to mix up his line combinations when Mitch Marner was recovering from a high-ankle sprain down the stretch and Bertuzzi was unavailable, and in doing so discovered strong chemistry between Matthews, Domi and Bertuzzi on the top line. Expect him to experiment should trouble arise.


(5-on-5 totals via Natural Stat Trick)


Bruins X-Factor: Special teams. When you’ve got a pair of teams that match up as closely as the Maple Leafs and Bruins do, special teams can make all the difference. And Boston’s got a clear advantage there.

While the Maple Leafs have put up stronger power play numbers than the Bruins overall this season (a 24 per cent success rate compared to Boston’s 22.2), momentum sides with the latter, as Toronto’s unit has stumbled down the stretch. Since March 1, Toronto’s power play has operated at just a 12.5 per cent success rate — that’s fourth-worst league-wide — and while Boston’s hasn’t exactly jumped off the stat sheet (17.9 per cent success in that same window) its penalty kill success makes up for any special teams flaws.

Where Toronto’s penalty kill has struggled all year Boston’s has thrived. The Bruins’ PK operates at an 82.5 per cent rate (tied with Florida for sixth best) while Toronto’s 76.9 PK percentage ranks them 23rd, an obvious weak spot all season long. Since March 1, only the Lightning, Hurricanes, and Rangers boast a stronger PK percentage than Boston’s 85.7.

Maple Leafs X-Factor: Not to state the obvious, but the Maple Leafs are going to have to score goals — and plenty of them — if they’re going to win this series. Their greatest strength lies up front in the scoring prowess of Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Tavares and Co. That’s their identity.

But while high-scoring playoff hockey is fun, we’ve seen what happens when a hot offence cools off against an even hotter goaltender. To win those grind-it-out games, your goaltending has to be at its very best. That’s Boston’s specialty.

Where Boston has the luxury of two elite netminders, Toronto’s goaltending status is a little more up in the air. Samsonov appears poised to get the Game 1 start, despite a few stumbles down the stretch — including allowing 11 goals in his last two starts — while Woll couldn’t quite seize his opportunity to steal away the job. Will one goalie stand out in the Maple Leafs’ blue paint? And how long will his leash be, if he stumbles?

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Boston Bruins

Danton Heinen-Pavel Zacha-David Pastrnak
Brad Marchand-Charlie Coyle-Jake DeBrusk
James van Riemsdyk-Morgan Geekie-Trent Frederic
Jakub Lauko-Jesper Boqvist-Patrick Maroon

Matt Grzelcyk-Charlie McAvoy
Hampus Lindholm-Brandon Carlo
Kevin Shattenkirk-Andrew Peeke

Linus Ullmark
Jeremy Swayman

Toronto Maple Leafs

Tyler Bertuzzi–Auston Matthews–Max Domi
Calle Jarnkrok–John Tavares–Mitch Marner
Bobby McMann–Pontus Holmberg–William Nylander
Matthew Knies–David Kampf–Ryan Reaves

Morgan Rielly-Ilya Lyubushkin
Simon Benoit-Jake McCabe
Joel Edmundson-Timothy Liljegren

Ilya Samsonov
Joseph Woll

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