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A blog on all things Toronto Maple Leafs

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Toronto Maple Leafs' Clarke MacArthur battles for the puck with Boston Bruins' Andrew Ference during second period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday March 23, 2013. (The Canadian Press)

Toronto Maple Leafs' Clarke MacArthur battles for the puck with Boston Bruins' Andrew Ference during second period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday March 23, 2013.

(The Canadian Press)

Mirtle: Do the Leafs have a chance against the Bruins? Add to ...

They finished just five points apart in the standings and have plenty of lopsided history, but how do the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs really stack up beyond the superficialities?

Are the Bruins a heavy favourite, or are the Maple Leafs catching them at just the right time?

Here’s a closer look at both teams ahead of Game 1 Wednesday night in Boston:

 

Forwards

Min 15 GP

Boston

Toronto

Average age

29.7

27.0

Average height

6’0.9”

6’0.9”

Average weight

203.3 lbs

202.6 lbs

Goals

117

126

Points

285

281

 

The Leafs emerged this season as one of the highest scoring teams in the league, with an abnormally high shooting percentage helping them generate slightly more than three goals per game.

Boston, however, uncharacteristically struggled to get the balanced scoring it has become known for the past five years, especially late in the year.

Overall, they posted remarkably similar goal totals at even strength (108 to 99) and the majority of the difference is a result of the Bruins inept power play.

While Toronto has better pure offensive weapons in Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, the Bruins two-way stars like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand can consistently provide solid offence, elite defence and outscore whoever they’re put up against.

Add in trade deadline addition Jaromir Jagr – on the third line no less – and there’s still some punch there, too, especially compared to some very quiet Leafs like Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Matt Frattin of late.

But many of Boston’s depth forwards have struggled, to the point that a previously useful foot soldier like Rich Peverley will likely begin the series as a healthy scratch.

(Don’t listen to any talk of a size advantage for the “big” bad Bruins either: As noted above, things are pretty even on that front these days.)

It’s also been a tough year for Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton on the second line, which is why this could be a very low scoring series all around.

Even so, they remain an experience and deep group, one that can probably flip the switch to start the playoffs and that gets the slight edge for having a more well-rounded game.

Edge: Boston

Defence

Min 15 GP

Boston

Toronto

Average age

30.5

27.9

Average height

6’3.1”

6’2.6”

Average weight

211.4 lbs

210.3 lbs

Goals

25

18

Points

82

105

 

Any conversation here has to begin with Zdeno Chara.

Even at the age of 36, the Bruins captain remains the engine that propels their defensive success and a huge reason why Boston was the second-best defensive team in the conference. For all the concerns over his mobility, he gets the job done remarkably well, using an amazing wingspan (including the league’s longest stick) and intimidation so well that he has limited Kessel to zero even strength goals in his 22 games against the Bruins.

(Boston outscores the opposition 2.90 to 2.02 for every 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play when Chara’s on the ice, far better than the 2.37 to 2.04 when he’s not.)

Beyond that, they lean heavily on Dennis Seidenberg (24 minutes a night), Johnny Boychuk (20.5) and Andrew Ference (19.5), but even with the addition of Wade Redden and Dougie Hamilton, the blueline isn’t as formidable as it’s been in the past.

What’s worth noting is that, aside from Chara, the size advantage also isn’t pronounced on the back end, with Toronto boasting so many big bodies with Mark Fraser and Ryan O’Byrne added to the mix.

That said, the Leafs back end will have to rely on Dion Phaneuf to play huge minutes, likely at least matching Chara in the 30-plus range throughout the series. He doesn’t have nearly the veteran backup that the Bruins do, either, as four of the Leafs top seven blueliners combine for one total game playoff experience and hasn’t fared well against the Bruins in general.

(Most of Phaneuf’s possession statistics when up against Boston’s best players, as per hockeyanalysis.com, are exceptionally poor.)

While Carl Gunnarsson serves as a capable No. 2 when healthy and Cody Franson has had a breakthrough year offensively, Toronto’s defence core has laboured of late, having difficulty breaking out of their zone and lacking the mobility to skate with the puck.

That plus the Chara factor swings the blueline in Boston’s favour.

Edge: Boston

Goaltending

Starters

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Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

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