A 19th century author couldn’t have written it better himself. Two cities, two teams, on a collision course since June 2006. That’s when The B’s came out winners in lop-sided trade #1. They sent Andrew Raycroft over the border for the rights to a guy named Tuukka Rask. Oops. Three years later, the Leafs tried to right the ship by Sending over three draft picks for unwanted Phil Kessel. ”Thank you Kessel”, now rings out everytime Toronto squares off against Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton in Boston as reminders of lopsided trade #2. Until now, the only vengeance Toronto has been able to enact is duping the B’s into taking Thomas Kaberle along for the 2011 Cup run. Apparently, bags don’t fly free.
Now comes the first true test of those seemingly ill-fated moves. Bruins fans know that the B’s went on to win the Cup in 2011, but Rask and Seguin only played minor roles on that squad, while Hamilton wasn’t even drafted yet. Kessel meantime, has given the Leafs a face to build around in recent years. A true sniper with the potential to boost his squad at anytime. With Kessel, the Leafs have stuck with young talents like Tyler Bozak and Nzaem Kadri, while adding goal scorer James Van Riemsdyk.
Toronto is a team on the rise, reaching the playoffs for the first time in 8 seasons and building on it’s youth. The Bruins meanwhile, seem to be struggling a bit with their identity, which is not a new problem for this club. After a hot start, they’ve slid to .500 hockey since March 1st. They’ve lost their oomph and just can’t seem to get it back in gear. It’s reminiscent of 2009-10 when they came in as heavy favorites, stumbled their way through the season to a 6th place finish, and then simply out-grinded a Buffalo team that sat back on it’s heels. This series could go largely the same way, with the B’s pulling it together enough to knock off the up-start Leafs. Or the B’s could continue their downward spiral towards playoff obscurity.
On paper, this team has the tools to compete for a long run. Seventeen of these guys hoisted the cup together just 2 years ago. They know how to do it. But mentally, something is off. These guys are beaten before they even step into the rink. They can’t hold focus for a full 60 minutes. In their last three “big win” games (Buffalo and Pittsburgh after the Marathon Bombings, and Ottawa for the division) the Bruins have come up painfully short.
The key to this series is for the B’s to get the jump early. The Bruins need to come out firing to a roaring crowd and not let up on the accelerator. For many of the Leafs, this will be their first playoff experience and the adrenaline will be pumping hard. Sometimes, too much of that can be a detriment. The B’s need to pounce on that emotion and inexperience and exploit it in the form of odd-man rushes and power plays. Even unsuccessful power plays will still keep the Leafs scorers off the ice. A 2-0 start will carry a lot of weight when facing a hyped crowd in Game 3 at the Air Canada Centre. A split up north makes for good odds of a series win in Game 5 and a little rest for these weary B’s.
First Round Prediction: It pains me to go here, but, the B’s just seem so hapless lately, I’m not sure they have it in them this year. As this series wears on, Peter Chiarelli will be keeping an eye towards summer and the moves needed to reload while this team still has a great core. The Leafs could pull one out, but don’t expect them to move past the second round.
Leafs in 5 games.