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How the Leafs and Bruins stack up this time around

How the Leafs and Bruins stack up this time around
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The history in the playoffs of the two teams — kinder to Boston than Toronto in recent years — did not play a factor in Tavares’ decision.

John Tavares led the Maple Leafs with 47 goals this season.  (Brian Babineau / NHLI via GETTY IMAGES file photo)

He chose to come to his childhood team so he could win a Stanley Cup here.

And the first real step on that journey begins Thursday night in Boston.

“I’ve only been in the playoffs three times in my career,” said Tavares. “This is what you play for, these opportunities and the more you go through it, the more you’ve been around, you know how hard it is and you appreciate it that much more.

“You realize you can’t take it for granted. You never know how many opportunities you’re going to get and you’ve got to make the most of the ones that are right there in front of you. Certainly, really excited to be back in the playoffs and have this chance. Should be a lot of fun. Obviously, a great rivalry to be a part of to start it off and to compete in. It should be a blast.”

Game 1 is the focus for Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner, not Game 7

Using its home-ice advantage, Boston beat the Maple Leafs last year and in 2013 in seven games. Both times, the Leafs were leading in the third period. Both times the Bruins rallied. In 2013, it went to overtime.

The Bruins also won three of four against Toronto this season, earning the Atlantic Division’s second seed with a 49-24-9 record. The Leafs finished third at 46-28-8.

Both teams lost players for significant portions of the season. The Bruins weathered it better, going 15-0-4 from Jan. 29 to March 9 despite missing forward David Pastrnak for most of it and eventually passing the Maple Leafs for second place.

So the Bruins spent a great deal of time this week talking about respecting the Maple Leafs, not taking anything for granted.

“I think they’re a difficult opponent, clearly,” GM Don Sweeney told reporters in Boston. “They’re an elite team, and we’re going to have to have all facets of our game to the best, the top of our capabilities. It’s going to start with, right from the drop of the puck and playing the right way, and I think our team knows what our identity is.

“And we’re going to have to play to our strengths, and we’re going to have to minimize the effect that they can, but they’re a dangerous club. We have to be very respectful of our opponent, and we should be.”

Here’s how the two sides match up:

GOALTENDING

Bruins: “It’s all Tuukka’s fault” is a popular refrain in Boston. Tuukka Rask may be the least respected No. 1 goalie on a playoff team. He only played 46 games, missing some for personal reasons, but still went 27-13-5 with a 2.48 goals-against average (seventh among those that played at least half the season) and .912 save percentage (16th). Not impressive numbers, but he’s better in the playoffs (2.25, .914 all-time in 65 playoff appearances. Veteran Jaroslav Halak also has playoff chops (2.39, .924 all-time in 30 post-season games).

Maple Leafs: Frederik Andersen (36-16-7, 2.77 .917) has looked shaky down the stretch (3.28, .903 since the trade deadline) and does not have a history of playoff success. This is his sixth straight season in the playoffs, and he’s made it out of the first round once. He’s 22-16, 2.61, .912 all-time. The Bruins owned him last year, scoring 23 goals in seven games. He was pulled once. Michael Hutchinson was called up from the Marlies to replace a shaky Garret Spark as backup. Hutchinson has some NHL pedigree but has never played an NHL playoff game.

Edge: Bruins

DEFENCE

Bruins: Their top four are as good as any top four in the NHL. Charlie McAvoy averages the most ice time (22:10) and when paired with behemoth Zdeno Chara, the duo offers a unique combination of size, strength and skill. Chara, 42, saw his minutes limited last year. He was a particular problem for Auston Matthews. Torey Krug (six goals, 47 assists) was Boston’s top offensive blueliner. Brandon Carlo was plus-22 (tied with Chara). Stronger in their own zone.

Maple Leafs: The Leafs have their best six all healthy, finally. Morgan Rielly had a Norris Trophy-type season (20 goals, 52 assists) and quarterbacks the top power play. Ron Hainsey is his regular partner and while on the penalty kill. Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott are just back from injuries. Jake Muzzin has adapted to the Leafs’ speed (his four goals since the trade deadline was tops among the defence) and Nikita Zaitsev’s game has improved the last two months. Stronger in the offensive zone.

Edge: A wash.

FORWARDS

Bruins: Their Big Three – David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand – were too much for the Leafs to handle last year in the playoffs, combining for 30 points. They’re production is again top notch for the Bruins. With Jake DeBrusk and Krug, they form a potent power play. Pastrnak was fourth in the NHL with 17 power-play goals … The Bruins had five players hit 20 goals — the big three, DeBrusk and David Krejci … Secondary scoring is a concern for Boston, with the team scoring 3.13 goals a game, 11th in the league. ... Boston added Charlie Coyle at the deadline as a third-line centre in the hopes of being able to match the Leafs at that position.

Maple Leafs: Scoring is not an issue. With 286 goals in the regular season, or 3.49 a game, the Leafs were fourth overall … The Leafs have seven players with at least 20 goals, led by John Tavares’s 47, and three who normally get to that number — Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau and William Nylander — fell short … Auston Matthews scored 12 of his 37 goals on the power play. ... Mitch Marner led the team with 94 points … Marleau led the team in goals last playoffs, with four. ... The Leafs forwards are also fast and creative.

Edge: Maple Leafs

COACHING

Bruins: Bruce Cassidy, completing his second full season at the helm, has his team playing a disciplined, defence-first strategy. Not too surprising for the 53-year-old former journeyman defenceman who played in seven leagues, from Italy to the NHL. Cassidy outcoached Babcock last year, nullifying the Leafs main breakout strategy of stretch passes by getting his players to stay close to Leafs at all times, not giving them any space. He’s made a few mistake along the way in terms of communicating with players, but that has made him a better communicator now.

Maple Leafs: Mike Babcock has completed four years as Leafs head coach — the halfway mark of his $50-million deal — and faces his most difficult challenge yet. There are high expectations for his club and if it fails to win the first round, the post-series questions will centre on whether Babcock — the coach with the impeccable resume including a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals — has lost his touch. The 55-year-old has been vilified as “old school” but in truth has welcomed hockey’s analytics and is more likely to praise his team for its effort — as measured by high danger scoring chances — rather than wins or losses.

Edge: Maple Leafs

STATS

Bruins: Power play was third in NHL (25.9 per cent) … Penalty kill was 16th (79.9 per cent) … Won 50.7 per cent of faceoffs (10th) … Registered 1,876 hits, 15th in the league … Blocked 1,050 shots (28th) … Made 808 giveaways (19th most) … Credited with 715 takeaways (sixth best) … Boston was 24th in the league at creating high danger scoring chances (878) in all situations but only allowed 839 against, fifth lowest number in the league … Boston’s shooting percentage was .959, 13th in the NHL.

Maple Leafs: Power play was eighth in NHL (21.8 per cent), but built on a particularly hot start … Penalty kill was 17th (79.9 per cent) … Lead all playoff teams with 53-per-cent success rate at the faceoff dot … Registered 1,421 hits, the league’s third-lowest total … Blocked 1,113 shots (23rd) … Made 1,002 giveaways (seventh most) … Credited with 695 takeaways (seventh best) … Toronto was second in the NHL with 1,115 high dangers scoring chances in all situations, but only allowed 914 against, 15th in the league … The Leafs’ shooting percentage was a remarkable 10.45 per cent, sixth in the NHL.
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