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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 ...

Rask

Reimer

Age

26

25

Career GP

138

104

Career save pct.

.927

.915

 

They’re two of the top young goalies in the game, with numbers that put them up in the top 10 in the league this season.

And if there’s any one position where the Leafs have a chance to surprise, as they have all year, it’s here.

Since coming into the NHL as an unheralded rookie two years ago, James Reimer has proven doubters wrong again and again, and this will easily be his biggest test of his young career.

Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, has been his dependable self in his first full season as the Bruins No. 1 and has solid support in rookie backup Anton Khudobin. Having Zdeno Chara patrolling the front of the crease for half the game doesn’t hurt, either.

Flip a coin, really.

Edge: Even

Special Teams

 

Boston

Toronto

Power play

14.8% (25th)

18.7% (14th)

Penalty kill

87.1% (4th)

87.9% (2nd)

PP/PK differential

-3

+12

 

How’s this for an alarming number?

The Bruins scored just 18 goals with the man advantage all season, good for dead last in the NHL and the main reason why so many of their offensive weapons posted disappointing totals.

Part of the problem is Boston simply didn’t draw a lot of penalties, as they went on the power play just 122 times (easily worst in the league) compared to 166 for Toronto.

That added up to the Bruins spending only 204 minutes up a man all year, making it more difficult to get into a rhythm.

While the Leafs are only a middling team on the power play, players like Kessel and Lupul have the ability to produce at key times and Phaneuf and Franson finished the year as two of the highest scoring blueliners in the league.

With little separating the two clubs while shorthanded (both were exceptional at better than 87 per cent) that may be where Toronto can claw back into some games.

But winning with special teams in the playoffs can be a dicey proposition given more of the games will be played at even strength.

Edge: Toronto

Coaching

 

Julien

Carlyle

Games coached

694

582

Season record

.604

.583

Playoff record

40-34

36-26

 

Generally speaking, evaluating a coaching staff often comes down to the three Ps: player usage, penalty killing and possession.

While Randy Carlyle has earned deserved plaudits all year for reviving a Leafs franchise that finished fifth last a year ago, it’s the first and third area where Toronto has really taken a step back over the last 15 to 20 games of the season.

Carlyle has insisted on rarely using some of his better possession players (Jake Gardiner chief among them) while playing his brawny big men with regularity, a curious mix that has led to games being played more and more in Toronto’s zone.

Mikhail Grabovski, a Ron Wilson favourite who very well could have been the team MVP the past two seasons, has also become a lost cause, with at least some of that regression falling on the coaching staff.

Carlyle has downplayed his team’s shot differential issues much of the year, but it may become even more starkly evident in this series. Toronto generated roughly 20 per cent fewer shots and allowed 13 per cent more than the Bruins on the year, and the Leafs are one of the five most heavily outshot teams in the eight seasons since the 2004-05 lockout.

Their puck possession numbers (usually defined using a newer statistic known as Fenwick Close) are also the fifth worst of any team since 2007-08, the first season behindthenet.ca began recording the data.

Claude Julien may have a more talented two-way cast to work with, but system-wise the Bruins remain as hard to get off the puck as ever, something that Bergeron’s line in particular is world class at.

That ability to keep the play in the offensive end remains one of the main strengths of Julien’s often patient (some would say boring) style of play.

Edge: Boston

Prediction

While there are troubling signs on both sides of late, the team with more experience, a better record and better underlying numbers is the most reasonable pick. If the Leafs continue to be outchanced to the degree they were down the stretch, they won’t have a hope other than if Reimer can substantially outplay Rask.

While funny things can happen in as small a sample size as a seven-game series, because of the controlled, defensive style the Bruins play and the fact even strength play will be of even more importance, this is one of the worst possible matchups for Toronto.

They’ll likely need a few of their very best games of the season to make it a long series.

Bruins in 5.

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