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The Bruins will square off against the Toronto Maple Leafs this Thursday in Boston to kick off Boston’s run at the Cup. And I can’t help but be just a little disappointed here, considering that the B’s had a chance to clinch the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with a win this past Sunday… at home… against an eliminated Florida Panthers team playing the second game of a back-to-back. An elite team seals the deal in that spot, and the lack of energy and desperation in that game makes me slightly concerned about whether or not the Bruins are ready to get up for upcoming playoff games, despite how well Boston has played this entire season.

Slightly concerned. Only slightly.

The Bruins are still the 2 seed, and if healthy should be able to get past Toronto in the opening round. It’s going to be a grind though, from start to finish. I have a hard time picturing this series taking less than six games given how well these two teams match up. Toronto may not have the goaltending or forward depth that Boston has, but good lord do they have firepower up front. Between Auston Matthews, Willie Nylander, Mitch Marner, James van Riemsdyk, and Nazem Kadri, it’s no surprise this team finished 3rd in the NHL in goals per game and 2nd in power play percentage. If the Bruins want to win this series, they are going to have to withstand an offensive onslaught. The story of this series will boil down to Tuukka and the defense of Boston vs. Toronto’s top two forward lines.

With that said, I’m taking the Bruins in 6 games. Toronto’s offense will get the better of Boston in a couple games, but overall I think the Bruins are too deep and too balanced across the board to lose the series. The first line will roll, the fourth line will bring the energy, and I think Tuukka will continue his solid (although not spectacular) play.

But again, it won’t be anything close to a cakewalk. There are three key things that the Bruins will need to do in order to ensure a spot in the second round of the playoffs:

Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy need to step up huge.

The Bruins may very well need to rely on a 41 year old and a 20 year old to play 25-30 minutes a night if they want to win this series. Their to-do list is long: shut down Matthews, JVR, and the other top forwards of Toronto, kill penalties (sometimes the full 2 minutes, and anchor the power play (mostly for McAvoy). Their play will largely dictate how things will go for the Bruins- if they struggle, if Chara looks his age and McAvoy is rusty coming off a lengthy absence, than the Bruins better hope to score at least 3 or 4 goals a night to make up the difference. But if they can contain Toronto’s attack (JUST contain, not shutdown) then the Bruins have a much easier hill to climb in this round.

Tuukka Rask needs to steal a game.

If you look at his stats, it’s safe to say Rask had a good season between the pipes for Boston this year: 34-14-5, 2.36 GAA, .917 Sv%. I would describe his play thus far (and for most of his career) as solid- makes a ton of positional stops, plays well behind a defense that plays well, but can struggle at times behind a defense that falters. And with the offense that Toronto is bringing to the table, the defense for the Bruins will likely falter more than once or twice in this series. And Tuukka will need to pick them up when it does. Dive, flop, harness his inner Tim Thomas, I don’t care. Tuukka will need to rob at least one game for the Bruins if they want to move on, as I don’t think the defense can be airtight the duration of the series.

The Bruins will need better starts.

Boston hasn’t scored the first goal in a game in over two weeks. And we all know that limping out of the gate does not often lead to success in playoff hockey. The Bruins will face a Maple Leafs squad that boasted the best first-period goal differential in the NHL in the regular season, so they better figure out whatever it is they need to figure out, or else they may find themselves playing from behind early on. So eat your Wheaties. Listen to Kurt Russell’s “Herb Brooks speech” from Miracle. Whatever it takes. Find a way to neutralize Toronto’s fast starts to games. If they can, it’s one lesson weapon the Maple Leafs will have going for them.

So like I said- I think it’s Bruins in 6. Agree? Disagree? Let’s hear it.

(Also P.S.: The NHL playoffs could be the best sports product going these days. It’s a beautiful time of year, one that I am very excited to enjoy once again. Shout out to the B’s for giving us a hell of a hockey season so far.)

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