Digging into Boston and Toronto’s season series

The Leafs and Bruins played each other four times this season, which is generally a big enough sample size to draw some conclusions about how the two teams stack up head-to-head.

Nov. 10, 2018: 5-1 Bruins

At a quick glance, it looks like the Leafs got rolled over by the Bruins in their first meeting of the season at the Boston Garden back in November. But digging a little deeper tells a different tale. Toronto was without both William Nylander, who hadn’t yet signed a contract, and Auston Matthews, who was dealing with his early-season shoulder injury.

Despite missing two of their best forwards, the Leafs played the Bruins to a standstill. The two teams split even-strength shot attempts down the middle 43 to 43, and the Bruins barely edged the Leafs six to five in terms of high danger scoring chances. Another important thing to note is that backup goalie Garret Sparks played for the Leafs in this game, allowing five goals on 34 shots.

Nov. 26, 2018: 4-2 Leafs

Still without Nylander and Matthews, the Leafs edged out the Bruins for a 4-2 win at Scotiabank Arena. This game really shows the importance of Freddy Andersen to the success of the Leafs. While Sparks got tagged for five goals in the previous game, Andersen stood on his head, stopping 38 of 40 shots in the win.

Much like the previous match, the underlying numbers suggest a tightly-contested game. The Bruins edged out the Leafs 63 to 57 in terms of even strength shot attempts and the high danger chances at even strength were split right down the middle.

It’s also important to note that the Bruins were without Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Charlie McAvoy in this game. The Bruins were icing a wildly undermanned lineup, as Connor Clifton played the second-most minutes of any player on the team.

Dec. 8, 2018: 6-3 Bruins

A week-and-a-half later, the two teams met again at the Boston Garden for probably the wildest game of the season series. Despite still not having either Chara or Bergeron in the lineup, the Bruins spanked the Leafs 6-3. This game also featured a couple of brawls, as Nazem Kadri took on Brandon Carlo, Zach Hyman fought Matt Grzelcyk, and Ron Hainsey dropped the gloves with Chris Wagner.

The game was tight in the first two periods, though the Leafs couldn’t get anything past Jaroslav Halak and Andersen struggled. The Leafs would score three goals in garbage time in the third period with the Bruins playing a sit-back-and-wait shell, but this game certainly didn’t flatter them at all.

It’s important to also note that Nylander and Matthews were both in the lineup for the Leafs this game. Matthews scored a goal and an assist, buy Nylander was noticeably rusty.

Jan. 12, 2019: 3-2 Bruins

This was the only game of the season played at full strength. Matthews and Nylander were both playing for the Leafs and the Bruins had worked past all of the injuries to Chara, Bergeron, and McAvoy. The only things missing, I guess, was each team’s pre-deadline acquisitions. The Leafs didn’t yet have Jake Muzzin on the blueline and the Bruins didn’t have Charlie Coyle or Marcus Johansson up front. Still, this is as close as we can get to a real look at the true head-to-head matchup between these two teams.

The Bruins edged out a 3-2 win despite the fact Toronto outshot them heavily. The Leafs fired 30 shot attempts towards the Bruins’ net in the first period but couldn’t get anything by Tuukka Rask. They also had 15 high danger chances to Boston’s nine, but, again, Rask was excellent.

Feb 7, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) in the pregame warmup against the Nashville Predators at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

What does it all mean?

As I said above, while four games in a season series should be enough to give us a good idea of how these teams stack up head-to-head, we only really have one example of the two teams playing each other at full strength. The Leafs had to navigate playing without Matthews and Nylander and the Bruins went through injuries to Chara, Bergeron, and McAvoy. The two teams have also added key players to their lineup since their last meeting in January.

Anyways, what we can garner from the four-game season series is that this is going to be tight and a lot of it is going to come down to goaltending. The Leafs got dropped in the first game thanks to poor play from Garret Sparks. They rebounded in the next game and won thanks to excellent play from Andersen. Andersen struggled in the third game and the Bruins won and then Rask stood on his head and Boston won the finale.