Our long-winded preview went up Tuesday morning, and you should all check it out. We break down the matchups line by line and how everything should shake out in Toronto’s first playoff appearance since the release of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.
If there are typos in any of the predictions, blame the email programs we copied and pasted from with the exception of our submission from Oilers Nation HQ. Their picks were sent to us this morning by carrier pigeon and the bloody thing was written in crayon.
Here are the panel picks, starting with Steve Dangle of the Leafs Nation dot com:
Fans have to be happy that the Leafs are back in the playoffs. It’s been a long, crappy wait. That being said, they’re playing the Bruins in Round 1, which is probably the Leafs’ worst case scenario going in. The Capitals are the 3rd seed, and while they have been on fire, they’re still beatable. The Canadiens’ are the 2nd seed, and while they won the Northeast Division and beat the Leafs soundly in their final game of the season, the Leafs completely pumped them twice in this short campaign. Besides, even if the Leafs hadn’t won those games, who doesn’t want to see a Toronto-Montreal tilt? Even the 1st seed Harlem Globetrotters Pittsburgh Penguins have had some trouble against the Leafs this year. But the Bruins. The freakin’ Bruins. That’s who they get.
The Leafs have actually played the Bruins admirably this season. Unlike in the past few seasons, the Leafs haven’t had too much trouble keeping the Bruins out of their net. A lot of that credit belongs to goaltending of course, but it’s a good sign, because in the last couple seasons, they didn’t even get that much. The Leafs offence against the Bruins meanwhile, has been completely suffocated. Hey, have you guys heard that Phil Kessel has had trouble scoring on the Bruins? No ****, Sherlock. That’s why other Leafs need to step it up. Phil Kessel is the Leafs’ best forward. Full stop. But these are no longer the Leafs of 2009 when Kessel was playing on a line with Matt Stajan and Jason Blake. They’ve got Joffrey Lupul. They’re got James van Riemsdyk. They’ve got Nazem Kadri. They’ve got a penalty kill that can actually, y’know, kill penalties. If Phil Kessel can’t score, that won’t be the reason the Leafs didn’t win.
If this thing goes seven games, the Bruins will take it. The Leafs would have to play a perfect game against Boston, and I just don’t see that happening. Not yet. I think the Bruins will take the Leafs in six. Toronto will fight valiantly, and ultimately fall to their “boogeyman.” But in the loss, hopefully the Leafs will make a discovery that a Terran character made when shooting Zerglings in a lab in the original Starcraft. “See? These critters bleed just like anything else.” Of course, that Terran Marine was then eviscerated by Sarah Kerrigan and the swarm mere moments later, but it’s a badass line nonetheless.
Bruins in six.
Jon Steitzer – The Leafs Nation
I really can’t think of any good reason to think the Leafs will win in six. The win and shootout loss in the last two meetings looks encouraging. The fact that the games are no longer a flimsy excuse to watch Mike Komisarek get punched in the face is nice. And the fact that the Bruins have managed to go a pitiful 3-5-2 in their last ten while the Leafs have gone a heroic 5-4-1 down the stretch could be another horrible reason. Really the reason I’m picking the Leafs is simply because I haven’t waited nine years not to pick them, and I want to look a bit more certain about it so I said six games instead of seven. I’m sure after Colton Orr has face-punched Shawn Thornton into oblivion in Game One it will be a cake walk the rest of the way. Right?
Leafs in six.
Sean Gentille – The Sporting News
I wanted to pick the Leafs. I swear. Hockey, and hockey coverage, is better when they’re involved. Reimer is great—that debate is over—and I fully expect him to steal a game or two in this series. But too much other stuff needs to fall into place for Toronto to win four of seven.
They need to continue scoring at an unsustainably high rate. They need Kadri to snap out of whatever mini-funk he’s been in. They need Kessel, great as he’s been, to figure out how to produce against Chara. They need Boston to play as badly as they did down the stretch. They need to hope Carlyle (deliberately or not) plays the right players in the right spots. Is all that impossible? Of course not. It does make it impossible for me to pick them, though.
Bruins in six.
Sarah Connors – Stanley Cup of Chowder
Although the Bruins have struggled more against the Maple Leafs this season than they have in recent history (mostly thanks to James Reimer), the fact of the matter is that the Leafs are the team that the Bruins have usually been able to bust their slumps against. It’s the playoffs, and truly anything can happen – but this Leafs team has very little playoff experience compared to a postseason battle-hardened Bruins roster, who were very likely coasting their way into the playoffs the last two weeks of the season.
With Nathan Horton back in the lineup for game one, the Bruins are pretty much entirely healthy — and the reunited line of Horton, Krejci, and a Milan Lucic who recently has looked like the goal-scoring, tough-to-play-against Lucic of old should give the Leafs fits. If the Patrice Bergeron line can add to this by snapping out of its scoring slump, I wouldn’t bet in the Leafs’ favor.
And really? Any team that lets Chris Bourque score on them doesn’t deserve to win a playoff series.
Bruins in six.
Gus Katsaros – McKeen’s Hockey
Former Leafs Nation scout Gus Katsaros wrote up what it is the Leafs will need to do to win the series. Judging by his prediction, I’m guessing he doesn’t think the team will actually do it:
Limit zone entry and force the Bruins to dump the puck deep into the Leafs zone. The Leafs would then need do a ‘quick up’ with a ‘Wheel’ formation out of the zone on the opposite side with support options for quick passes to move it out. The effect limits the Bruins forecheck and negates the physical game that’s supposed to grind out Toronto. This play also counterbalances some potential mismatches of lines, to a small degree.
There’s a drawback since there’s a need for a third man high (F3) in the offensive zone to get back and create the ‘lock’ on the wing so the Bruins are forced to dump it into the zone.
If the Leafs do get trapped in the defensive zone with pressure, they should have three players in down low coverage (two engaging active puck and third to pounce on turnover and initiate the transition.) Toronto somewhat selectively does this now, but it’s unpolished.
The key here is a passively attentive player in the mid zone (top of the face off circle to face off dot) in the way to limit passes to the points and intercepts/tips out of the zone for attempts. The Bruins don’t cycle much and they like to use that point play while converging to the net, to which they are very effective.
Limited forechecking pressure in the offensive zone and force the Bruins to rush the puck up ice with their less mobile defense while clogging the neutral zone. Aside from Chara (who has slowed down doing this) their blueline lacks a true puck rusher.
If Toronto can force/hurry passes and try to make them as long as possible, interceptions create scoring chances and good coverage forces turnovers in neutral zone or high in the defensive zone. The result is a regroup and quick attack with Bruins scrambling at their blueline to engage in formation. Regrouping removes the risks associated with a controlled breakout from deep in the Leafs zone.
This last piece is not so much a tactic as it is the result of solid coverage, but they can use their speedy forwards in counters that will likely draw penalties. If the Leafs are effective creating neutral zone turnovers, quick breaks the opposite way will force Bruins to scramble and could lead to penalty trouble.
Bruins in five.
Fellow Nations’ writers…
Jason Gregor – Oilers Nation
This isn’t a great matchup for the Leafs. They’ll never say it, but I’m sure they would have preferred to play the Habs, as would have all the bigwigs in the Ivory Towers at CBC, but the Leafs now face the stingy Boston Bruins. The Bruins don’t wow you with their skill, they just grind teams down. This will be a great test for Kadri and Kessel to see if they can produce vs. a very good Boston D-corps. The Leafs have been opportunistic all season, and they only way they will beat the Bruins is if they continue to score often despite continually being outshot. I give the Bruins the edge in goaltending and on defence. I think the forwards are a saw off, and the Leafs enter the series with an advantage on special teams. However, I will take the Bruins. They are too big, too strong and too good defensively.
Bruins in six.
Kent Wilson – Flames Nation
I think the Leafs are fundamentally the weakest team in the play-offs this year. A hot streak plus the shortened season is what got them into the dance and there’s a solid chance that over a full 82-game schedule they would have fallen out of contention by year’s end again.
On the other hand, the Bruins are one of the strongest clubs in the East if not the NHL. They have perhaps the best two-way center in the game currently (Patrice Bergeron), depth at all positions and strong goaltending. Their underlying numbers were top-5 in the league and they beat up on the Leafs all year to boot.
Anything can happen in a 7-game series, but I consider the Bruins heavy favorites in this one.
Bruins in five.
Dimitri Filipovic – Canucks Army
While my prediction surely won’t sit well with the readers of this site, I can live with that because, well, this isn’t a popularity contest. Despite your inclination to believe that I’m a “hater”, let me assure you that I’m not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I was glad to see the Leafs win games this year and earn a playoff berth, because I recognize that it’s good for hockey.
The feel good story for the blue ‘n’ white ends here though, in a hasty manner. I spent some time preparing for these series by looking at the numbers, and I really can’t find any piece of evidence that would lead me to believe that the Leafs won’t get smoked by the Bruins in the first round. Simply put, the B’s do nearly everything significantly better than their opposition. They were a substantially better possession team all season, their goaltender is better, and with the additions of Jagr and Soderberg (to go along with a returning Nathan Horton) their set of forwards are as good as it gets.
When it comes to the NHL playoffs, anything is possible. And that’s why I’ll concede that it’s definitely possible the Leafs steal a game in this series where James Reimer steals a game. But I feel like picking a 5-game series in this situation is such a stock opinion. The Bruins will inevitably step on their throats, and if it takes an extra game for them to do so, I can live with that.
If I were a Leafs fan I’d worry less about playoff beards, and more about the big broom headed my way.
Bruins in four.