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There are many differences between this year’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the ones who lost a first-round playoff series to the Boston Bruins in 2018, but if the Leafs manage to prevail this time around, the one people may talk about is John Tavares.

A year ago, with the still-developing Auston Matthews as their number-one centre and Nazem Kadri getting himself suspended in the first game of the series for a head shot, the Leafs did not have an answer for the best playoff line in the NHL. The Bruins trio of centre Patrice Bergeron and wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak torched the Leafs over seven games.

Now they might but it comes with a price. Leafs head coach Mike Babcock assigned the role of shutdown line to his best scoring line – Tavares and wingers Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman.

This may seem an odd way to do things but it is not out of the ordinary for Babcock and the Leafs. Tavares, Marner and Hyman often found themselves playing against the opposition’s best line this season, once the exclusive job of Kadri and whoever Babcock had him playing with.

This is not to say Kadri will not still be used against Bergeron when the series starts Thursday in Boston. It just may not happen right away, especially with the Bruins having the home advantage of last change in the first two games.

“I think the biggest thing is [the Bruins] get to decide [the matchup] on the road,” Babcock said Tuesday. “And then after we watch two games we'll have a better handle on it and I'll answer your question.”

In other words, Babcock will try to get the Tavares line out against Bergeron and company (plus defenceman Zdeno Chara) as much as he can while Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy may try to match up with the Matthews line. This, too, makes Kadri and linemates Patrick Marleau and William Nylander key figures because they will have to pick up any scoring slack caused by checking stalemates.

Over the seven games of last year’s series, Marner was the best Leafs skater with nine points against the Bruins. He knows full well what Bergeron, Pastrnak and Marchand can do to opponents.

“No matter where the puck is, no matter how dead the play looks, there is always something that they can do with it,” Marner said. “It’s kind of crazy but it’s kind of the same with their power play.

“The puck looks like it’s dead, nothing’s going to happen and next thing you know, one of them is back-door with the tap-in. Just make sure you compete all over the ice, don’t give up on pucks, don’t give them time and space.”

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Tavares says the best way to handle the shutdown role when you’re also considered an offensive contributor is with lots of patience.

“You’re going to probably feel there’s a lot of shifts that maybe a lot doesn’t get accomplished but it’s obviously a chess match in a way,” he said. “At this time of year there’s just not much time and space.

“You’re seeing how hard it is to get quality opportunities and you don’t want to be forcing the issue, playing the low-percentage plays or giving them high-quality opportunities without having to really work for them. [Do] not try think too much about producing or shutting down. I think you just want to go out there and play.”

Any time Marchand is involved in a high-profile game there is likely to be a sideshow. Last year it was his habit of licking opponents’ faces. But Marner says he knows what to do now in the face of any provocation.

“Just let him do whatever he wants after the whistle,” Marner said. “We all know he's going to try to get under our skin, that's nothing new there. Just, as a team, stay calm with each other. We know what we've got to do to be successful and that's making sure we're not getting in the [penalty] box. That team thrives off the power play.

“For us, it's just making sure, when he's on the ice, play him hard. He's a great player, he's got a lot of skill, he can make plays.”

Tavares noted this is just his fourth playoff series in his 10 NHL seasons but Marner and the rest of his teammates have no doubt he can handle the pressure that comes with the Bergeron assignment.

“He's played a long time. He's played in all the big tournaments, Olympics, world [championships], all that kind of stuff,” Marner said.

“He’s been playing against star players for the majority of his life. I think he knows how to be successful and that’s being on the defensive side of the puck, taking care of your D-zone first and letting the offence come to him.”