BOSTON—The Boston Bruins have a successful history against their first-round playoff opponent — but they’re hardly dwelling on it.
For the second straight season, the Bruins will open the Stanley Cup playoffs with a first-round series against the Maple Leafs. Boston hosts Game 1 on Thursday night.
The Bruins won last year’s matchup in seven games, and then took three out of four from their Atlantic Division rivals this season. But general manager Don Sweeney doesn’t anticipate familiarity being a factor in the result of this year’s best-of-seven series.
“No, I don’t think it favours (either team),” Sweeney said before practice on Monday. “I think there’s been certainly changes to each team and additions and subtractions, the familiarity of the styles of play, but it’s going to come down to the performance.”
The biggest change for the Maple Leafs is the presence of centre John Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77-million U.S. contract last summer and then scored 47 goals in his first season with his hometown team. The Bruins’ additions came closer to the trade deadline in February, when Boston acquired forwards Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle from New Jersey and Minnesota, respectively.
Boston leans heavily on Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, a line that combined for 30 points in the series against Toronto last year and 260 points this season. In addition to Tavares, the Maple Leafs are built around leading scorer Mitch Marner (94 points), centre Auston Matthews (37 goals in 68 games) and defenceman Morgan Rielly (third among NHL defencemen with 72 points).
Both starting goaltenders — Toronto’s Frederick Anderson (2.77 goals-against average, .917 save percentage) and Boston’s Tuukka Rask (2.48 GAA, .912 save percentage) — had strong seasons.
Although some of the personnel are new, Boston’s strategy for stopping the Maple Leafs is the same.
“We feel that if they have time and space through the neutral zone to run those long stretch passes and attack the blue line, if we can’t control that part of the game, and eliminate their D being involved in the rush by killing rushes at the blue line, then we’re going to have problems,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.
This will be the third post-season series between the Bruins and Leafs this decade. The Bruins also won a seven-game series in 2013, when they rallied from 4-1 down in the third period of Game 7 to win in overtime. Combined with the Bruins’ triumph last year after squandering a 3-1 series lead, Boston-Toronto matchups have taught the players about resiliency.
“Obviously it’s a different team and you don’t want to dwell what’s happened in the past, but it’s more just sort of past playoff experiences,” Marchand said. “Regardless of the situation, until the series is over, anyone is in it. You know we’ve been down in a series before against them, they’ve been down and both teams have come back. So you know I’m sure it’s going to be a very exciting series, and you know regardless of what happens in the first four games, I’m sure the tides are going to swing one way or another.”