SCHEDULE: Game 1 Thursday, Game 2 Saturday, Game 3 April 16th, Game 4 April 19th
We all know the format for the NHL playoffs is pretty stupid. In fact the NHL playoffs, if you really think about it, are kind of stupid. We just played an 82-game regular season to figure out who the best teams are, and now we’re going to subject them to the vagaries of luck and injury in a two-month battle royal that doesn’t really give us the best team, just the hottest one. But let’s leave that and say the divisional system as constructed is a problem. So when fans and media say it’s not fair that two of the seven best teams in the league have to face each other in the first round, they’re not exactly wrong.
But because it’s Toronto and Boston, I don’t give a flying fuck. Fuck ’em.
Let’s break it down.
Goalies: There can’t be a worse person to be than the Leafs goalie in the playoffs. No one is watched by more and more closely. And really, Freddie Andersen has always been just good enough to break your heart. He was excellent two years ago in the first round against Nashville, but only played five games. His three other campaigns in the playoffs have not been impressive, though some were effected by Bruce Boudreau’s treating his goalies like they were foosball players. Really, Andersen had the same season this year that he did last year, and he was fine against the Caps. But fine wasn’t enough then, and fine probably isn’t going to be enough against the Bruins. He is capable of more, we’ve just rarely seen it.
If we wrote this a couple months ago, we’d say the Bruins have a big advantage here. But Tuuke Nuke ’em has only been ok since the end of February and was horrific in three April starts. However his playoff pedigree is far ahead of Andersen’s, and he wasn’t the problem against the Senators last year. So it’s whether we go with his current form, which is basically “meh,” or what he’s done in the playoffs before which is much more. Still, I would expect Tuukka to be slightly better than Freddie at worst.
Defense: It’s kind of a measure of the firepower of the Toronto forwards that they amassed as many points as they did with this blue line. It’s still not very good, even if they figured out that Travis Dermott was a neat toy to have every night. It’s not that Jake Gardiner or The Mike Rielly Assassination or Rod Hainsey are bad… it’s just that you’d struggle to think of them as top pairing guys. They’ve been fascinated with Nikita Zaitsev for a couple seasons and yet no one’s quite explained what it is he does. Roman Polak is a circus bear. Even with the Bruins banged up whoever they throw out against Bergeron and Marchand and Pastrnak you’d have to give the B’s the advantage. And if you don’t keep a top line from scoring in a series, you’re kind of fucked.
The Bs will be without Brandon Carlo, as his ankle went Gumby, but they did get the moon-faced mouth-breather Charlie McAvoy back which is more important. He’s reinvigorated Zdeno Chara to a new contract, and he’s one of the bigger reasons that the Bruins were so good this year. Torey Krug as a bum-slayer is what you’d want, and Kevan Miller is better than I think even though his first name is stupid. Adam McQuaid has a big, dumb face and a big, dumb game but thanks to McAvoy the Bs have a top pairing where the Leafs don’t.
Forwards: Whatever arguments you might have with their defense, the only team that can even claim to have the Leafs’ top nine right now is Winnipeg. When JVR and Tyler Bozak are on your third line, you are the envy of pretty much the whole league. Which means the Leafs can get at Krug in his own end and McQuaid anywhere through Kadri and Marleau and Marner and even Plekanec on the 4th line. The depth is scary and the Leafs’ best hope. It’s also a ton of speed the Bs are going to ask Chara to deal with, and he don’t got none no more.
The Bruins will start this series without both Nashes, Riley and Rick. Though missing Rick in the playoffs really isn’t a big deal. Without them though, this starts to look a little one line-ish. It’s a hell of a line, with Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand, but they’ll need more. Krejci and Backes on the second isn’t the worst you could do, but comparing it to the Leafs and you see the problem. Donato and Heinen are kids farther down the lineup that could be weapons, especially against the iffy Leafs defense. But the Bs will need some people to return before too long. And Babcock is going to play Komarov 25 minutes anyway. The other thing to note is that since 2011, Brad Marchand has been a playoff dog, and if that continues this definitely tips to the Leafs.
Prediction: I want to pick the Leafs, I really do. Their forward depth is going to be hard to deal with. But I don’t trust their blue line or Andersen to keep the Bs top line off the scoresheet, and the important players on the Bs have all done this before. Unless Marchand pulls his Copperfield act in the spring again, the Bs seem too much. It’s going to take a while, though. Bruins in 7.