Game 1 preview: Tavares line needs to elevate as Nylander is a mystery

Photo credit:Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
6 days ago
We’re past the point of preamble, you don’t need us to tell you that the Toronto Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins series is an immovable object clashing against an unstoppable force. This is the marquee first-round series with no due apologies to the rest of the league, a marquee tilt between two Original Six teams in critical junctures of their respective timelines.
The puck hasn’t even dropped yet and the Maple Leafs have enveloped themselves in paranoia disguised as gamesmanship, particularly as it relates to William Nylander. Nylander did not participate in Friday’s practice, nor did he join the team for Saturday’s optional skate. Toronto’s star winger played in all 82 games, recording a career-best 40 goals and 98 points and was never listed on the injury report.
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe refused to be transparent with reporters Friday, stating that he was under orders from general manager Brad Treliving not to provide daily injury updates throughout the playoffs. If Nylander is genuinely hurt, the Maple Leafs should have just disclosed this in the first place, the Bruins aren’t going to change their lineup because No. 88 is out, but they will aim feast on Toronto’s third line if he misses Game 1 — Toronto’s spread offense has placed Nylander on the team’s third line while receiving overflow minutes.
The Athletic’s Chris Johnston reported that Nylander woke up in discomfort on Thursday, the update that speaks to why Nylander’s status changed abruptly. It changes Toronto’s calculus if he’s out for any period of time and Keefe should likely experiment with giving Marner overflow minutes and a few double shifts.
Boston is likely going to start Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy together, with the idea of deploying its two star defensemen against Toronto’s top line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Auston Matthews and Max Domi. Bertuzzi-Matthews-Domi have scorched opponents throughout the latter stages of the season and Boston will try to erase Matthews’ MVP-level production from the outset.
It’s now incumbent on John Tavares and Mitch Marner to step up in Game 1. Bobby McMann, who has featured on this line, has not participated in practice and missed the final two games of the regular season after suffering a lower-body injury on April 14. Matthew Knies will likely join Tavares and Marner in the top-six and if they’re getting the Brad Marchand line, it’s also an exercise for Tavares to best his counterpart. Marchand torched the Maple Leafs’ in transition this season, while completely agitating and inciting the team to the point of light embarrassment. Tavares doesn’t need any additional motivation, but with Nylander’s status in jeopardy, this is where real leadership is required. Marner is an all-world playmaker too and if Boston is fixated on the Matthews’ line, both Marner and Tavares have to best Marchand and Charlie Coyle, respectively.
We’ll have a lot more to analyze after Saturday’s game. At this point, both teams are just going out and playing their games. Boston swept the season series as David Pastrnak got pretty much every look he wanted in each of the four contests and the threat of his omni-present shot affords opportunities for Pavel Zacha and Danton Heinen to unlock their offense. Neither starting goaltender has been confirmed, although Ilya Samsonov is Toronto’s projected starter while Boston can roll out either Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark with confidence.
Let the games begin!

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