The Bruins and their fans are obviously familiar with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the Northeast division rivals meet quite often during the regular season. In this lockout shortened season, the Bruins and Leafs met four times with the Bruins taking three of those four from their rivals to the north.
With the Bruins and Maple Leafs ready to kick off their first round Stanley Cup Playoff match-up tomorrow night at TD Garden, we decided to reach out to Maple Leafs Hot Stove, a Toronto Maple Leafs blog, and ask the fellas over there some questions on the upcoming playoff series.
Bruins Daily: Thanks for taking the time out to do this with us. Obviously it’s been a while since the Leafs have made the playoffs, 2004 to be exact. How excited are Leafs fans in Toronto right now that playoff hockey is back in the great city of Toronto?
Maple Leafs Hot Stove: There is a palpable buzz in Toronto right now. To quote my cousin Dan, who lives in LA, “There is no better place on earth than Toronto with nice weather during playoffs. No where.” There are flags everywhere you look, pretty well. Having said that, it still feels like only 50% of fans are on board and there is a lot of room left on this bandwagon. There’s still a lot of fans hearts to win back over. 9 years of no playoffs in “The Centre of the Hockey Universe” is almost impossible to stomach. 1 win in the playoffs would fix that. I’m more attuned to it because I follow the team so closely, but a game day for the Leafs during the playoffs is a special, special thing. If you or any of your readers are half-thinking about doing a road trip to TO for the playoffs—do it.
BD: Thanks to their success against the Canadiens this season, and lack of, against the Bruins, I am sure fans, and even the Leafs themselves wanted a first round date with the Canadiens, but with the play of the Bruins of late, do the Leafs have more confidence now in a series against the Bruins?
MLHS: Fans would have preferred Montreal. We seem to have their number this year, but it’s gone both ways with some lop-sided games. To be honest, there is a faction—a small one—that wants to take on Boston the most. There are a lot brutal story lines not exactly in our favour with regards to Boston. The road to respectability for the franchise runs through the Bruins. We’ve been consistently badly blown out, hadn’t beaten you in what felt like a decade there, were beaten up badly/physically intimidated and basically just over-matched and psyched out by a much better team.
Toronto has a much different look this year and I think it would do wonders if they could exorcise their Bruin demon. Entering the playoffs for the 1st time in 9 years as the underdog probably plays into the Leafs hands a little better. The expectations would’ve been higher vs. the Habs whereas there is no money on Toronto at this point. That’s got to be your narrative if you’re the coach (see: Ice, Miracle On for more details).
BD: I know we are sick of hearing about it here in Boston, and I am sure you feel the same in Toronto, but Phil Kessel’s struggles against the Bruins have to be mentioned. Kessel has yet to score five-on-five against the Bruins since being traded out of Boston with just three power play goals in total, does Kessel finally score even strength against the Bruins in this series?
MLHS: I think he does. It’ll probably happen at home when Carlyle can get his match-ups and Kessel away from Chara. Chara has Kessel figured out. Some of this has to come down to Kessel, too. Ovechkin can command the same amount of coverage as Kessel and frequently crosses over on wings and avoids coverage from other team’s top defenceman as much as he can. Kessel needs to play Chara harder. Period.
BD. Nazem Kadri has been exactly what the Maple Leafs had hoped for when they drafted Kadri with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 entry draft. Does Kadri have enough to take the series over offensively and help the Leafs move on to the second round?
MLHS: Kadri’s been electric this year. Prorated, he’d be on pace for 75pts. He was on a Calder Cup worthy AHL team and put up a point a game. He put up 2 pts a game in the playoffs in the OHL and went a point a game in the World Juniors. He likes his big games and is a tremendously competitive kid who likes the puck on his stick in the big moments. I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen that Kadri is going to be the Leafs top performer against Boston. JVR could be another. Kadri slips out of some of the top defensive matchups and can have his way with other teams. That’s not going to be the case for him against Boston. Lupul on his line makes for a dangerous duo.
BD: Obviously the playoffs are a whole new ball game, but it’s especially the case for goalies. The Bruins have been famous recently for making average to above-average goalies look like the second coming of Patrick Roy, —see Brandon Holtby in last year’s playoffs. James Reimer has been very good for the Leafs this season, how does he handle the pressure of playing net in the Leafs first playoff series since 2004?
MLHS: He’s a bit of a wildcard, I think. He’s played brilliantly for us this year and has been one of the better goalies in the league. He has a really grounded way about him where it seems he’s just happy to be paid to play hockey and to be in the NHL playing for the Leafs. He’s a super happy-go-lucky player and it seems that nothing phases him.
BD: As I am sure you know, figuring out which Bruins will show up each night is a guessing game, and a difficult one at that. Of the Bruins forwards which one scares you the most?
MLHS: A healthy, mean Lucic strikes the fear of god into most the league, to be honest. He’s a super heavyweight/wrecking ball/30 goal scorer. They barely even exist in the NHL and we’re all to familiar with their impact, especially (See: Clark, Wendel for more details).
BD: Defensively the Bruins have been shaky this season. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are as good as they come, but after that it gets scary on the Bruins blue line. Who should the Bruins be afraid of the most in the Leafs lineup?
MLHS: Normally you say Kessel without flinching, right? Toronto’s got a good team; they’re particularly strong on the wing. Kadri will be good. Lupul has been so hot when healthy, it’s crazy. Almost scoring at will, it seems. JVR had a great playoffs 2 years ago. We hope he can find that playoff form again. Dion has been a rock for the team. I expect he’ll be *the* warrior for the team. Cody Franson is another.
BD: In 31 career games against the Bruins, Mikhail Grabovski has been a certified Bruins killer with 14 goals and five assists. How do the Bruins stop this guy?
MLHS: Apparently, all you have to do is look at him this year. He’s been flat out awful, been placed in a purely defensive role and has been nursing some sort of weird stomach injury. If Grabovski could get clicking, this is a 3 line club that can come at you in waves. As it stands, we’re basically a two-line offensive club with the Kessel/Bozak/JVR and Kulemin/Kadri/Lupul lines. Grabovski’s 3 points against the Bruins represent 19% of his total points this season – that’s obviously both a good and a bad thing.
BD: The last time Tuukka Rask was the go-to-guy in net for the playoffs, the Bruins, and Rask blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers. Rask has been one the top goalies in the league this season, what do the Maple Leafs have to do to get Rask off his game, and take four of seven from the Bruins?
MLHS: He looks, to an outsider’s view, like he’s a hot head of sorts. I think a heavy dosage of net presence and a little bit of accidental-on-purpose contact with Rask could rattle him.
BD: Lastly, who wins the series and in how many games?
MLHS: How do I answer this? Leafs in 7.