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The Leafs are shipping up to TBD (probably Boston): First thoughts on round two
By Jon Steitzer9 months ago
The second round. It feels good to be talking about it. It feels even better to be excited about it. The Leafs making it through the first round suddenly makes it feel like absolutely anything is possible again. There will be a fresh start of eight teams where anything could happen and equal parts of talent, endurance, and luck will be factoring into the next few weeks the same way as they had an impact on the first round.
For now, some initial thoughts on the second round…
Somehow the Leafs are the team waiting to find out their opponent
It seems everyone was ready to write off the Panthers and assume that the Bruins would be the well rested team heading into round two waiting to see which of the Lightning or Leafs made it out of the first round. The Leafs won’t have an incredibly long stretch of time off and with the Panthers/Bruins playing tonight it is likely to be a Tuesday night start to the series as it also lines up perfectly for getting a Toronto game on Saturday night.
A nice thing to do is pretend that it doesn’t matter who the Leafs get in the next round, but obviously, there is a big difference between the two teams. The Bruins are the record setting season champs that have an established history of making the playoffs hell for Toronto. Combine that with the Leafs having a 1-2-1 record against the Bruins it’s not a stretch to say they’d prefer facing the Panthers who they went 3-0-1 against this season. (Not to put too fine a point on it but the Leafs held Tkachuk to one point this season.)
The Slay the Dragon narrative is fun but so is playing in the Conference Finals and even if the Bruins are a little banged up at the moment, Florida represents the best path to the next round.
Resets for Lafferty, Holl, and others
The first round wasn’t great for the Leafs fourth line but somehow it was even worse for Justin Holl. If it wasn’t for Justin Holl being bad at a historic level the fourth line would have definitely drawn more heat than it did or at least caught that heat sooner. Throw in players like Michael Bunting who really wanted to redeem himself in Game 6 it will be interesting to see what Sheldon Keefe does for Game One. Toronto had half a season to prepare for facing the Tampa Bay Lightning, they’ve got three days to figure out what they want to do against the Panthers or Bruins.
Interestingly enough Lafferty was decent against the Bruins, but not the Panthers. Aston-Reese was the opposite and would be stronger against Florida.
On defense, the story is somewhat similar. Timothy Liljegren had a bad time against Boston this year, while Justin Holl was leaned into and played well enough.
And when it comes to Bunting, he was better against Boston than Florida but we should be past the foolishness that keeps him out of the lineup.
The opponent shouldn’t dictate the strategy too much
When it comes to a team like the Panthers it should be fairly obvious that the Leafs doing what they’ve done all year is likely the best course of action for them. They’ve seen playing their game work in the first round against the Lightning, and it’s worked for them four times against the Panthers in the regular season as well. Leaning into what works best seems like a pretty good idea and not reinventing the wheel on three days’ notice makes a lot of sense.
To that same extent, the Leafs are probably best steering into what has worked best for them this year and in the first round when they face the Bruins as well.
There wasn’t a single team in the NHL that had even two regulation wins against the Bruins this year, so Toronto picking up one win and pushing Boston to overtime in another would give them the best record against Boston with the exception of the Panthers or the Senators.
3 of the 4 games were one goal games so in the spirit of that foregoing reinventing the wheel to start the series seems like it makes sense as well.
Kyle Dubas is still a Leaf?
So the mission heading into the year was that Kyle Dubas had to prove he could get the Leafs out of the first round and we can now say mission accomplished. There was also the matter of Kyle Dubas giving the Leafs the most competitive team possible after that hurdle was passed and the Leafs roster looks ready to go no matter who they face. The fact that he’ll be heading into next season with cap space, still owning a first round pick, and having established some buy-in from Auston Matthews and William Nylander for their next contracts, it seems safe to say that if Kyle should be back as long as he wants it and if there is a voice in the Leafs organization that doesn’t want him back, perhaps the focus needs to be on whether or not they are the best fit for the Leafs.
It’s just one model and far from perfect, but the Leafs are presently the Eastern Conference team with the best Stanley Cup odds, so at least someone even sees Toronto as the favourite over Boston too. It is hard work to get to that point and the Leafs continuing with the consistent and reasoned approach of Dubas would make a ton of sense. Of course, we still won’t see a contract extension mid-playoffs unless they actually had something drafted and ready to go once the Leafs made it past the first round, but it’s far more likely we’ll still be waiting to see on Kyle’s status.
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