The Leafs and the Big, Bad Bear
Is Toronto for real? For once, yeah, they are. If you happen to disagree with this sentence you must be from Montreal or Boston. The thing is that the Northeast division was just beastly this year. You have to respect any team that can make the playoffs in a division this tough. Four teams from one division is impressive. The best part about all of this is that none of them really like each other, which will make for some entertaining post-season play.
So, Toronto does a 360 on us this year, and the biggest reason why? Goaltending. You know before Brian Burke left he had faith in his goalies and it turned out to be a legit reason. While much of the hockey world was expecting to see Luongo more than just visit the hockey Mecca, Burke would not pull the trigger, and not doing so might have cost him his job. The good news is that the team he created is winning- and winning big.
Their goaltending is without a doubt the biggest “it” factor for the team’s success.
Last year Toronto was giving up about 3.15 goals per game, while this year they finished with 2.7 goals against. This is not as solid as their competition, but this is okay because they also scored more goals too. Phil Kessel has just turned into a stud. He’s not a one-trick pony any longer, and some Toronto fans have even noted his dedication to back checking, though I am not completely sold on that just yet. What I am sold on is the great young core that is being led by Nazem Kadri, a kid who can be a millionaire if he had a dollar for every bad thing that was said about him over the last few years in the media. JVR, Lupul, Phaneuf, and Franson are all key parts to this fast-paced offense.
Now, with the above group as a whole they are scoring a bit more goals this year, but that goal against differential, droping to 2.7 a game, is HUGE; without it Toronto is still soaking itself wet in a pub with a bit of rye and ice.
So, more scoring and giving up fewer goals against equals winning. It really does not take a Don Cherry to figure this formula out. The bad thing for the Toronto faithful is that they get to play a team that has been using this formula for sometime now to not only win a cup, but dominate Toronto for the last few years.
Big Boston Bear is always hungry it seems that winning is the only thing that satisfies it. It almost seemed a fairy tale when Boston found Tim Thomas and it was certainly not fair that when Thomas left Boston and they still had a stellar goaltender in Tukka Rask. This guy is extremely competitive and plays with passion. It is nice to watch, and the fact is that he is one Helluva goalie helps too. Boston finished 3rd in the league in goals against, but their offense was only 13th, and this is really what this series is all about, right?
Number 6 overall offense of Toronto is going up against 3rd best Boston Defense, and Bostons 13th best offense is coming up against 17th best Toronto defense.
If you believe in numbers, I guess you would have Boston pegged as the winner. I do happen to be a believer to an extent and the numbers favor Boston, and looking at the numbers closely you get a sense that Boston’s players under-performed this year. That coupled with stupendous defense, could end up being really bad news for the Leafs. BUT, and this is a big BUT, Toronto did not just lay down and take it from Beantown this year. They stayed competitive in their losses and I see much of the same going on in this series.
Toronto is making Don Cherry proud with their high speed puck pursuit and are really becoming a team with a strong back bone that will not be pushed around. In the four matches this year, these two teams had four fights and I can see this bad blood will only continue to grow. Boston will try as they usually do to bully the opposition, and in Toronto there is hardly anyone who is going to just sit and take it.
I am drooling just thinking about this series.
But who has an edge? Well, Toronto has improved their penalty kill and overall defensive game. Will the nerves give in a bit to a Maple Leafs team that lacks playoffs experience and get swallowed up by the Big Bear? How will the Toronto goalies hold up in a playoff atmosphere when both of them have exactly zero playoff experience? Or will Toronto pull off another unlikely win with a playoff rookie goalie just like the Capitals did last year?
I think that Boston offense is better than what we have seen so far. They have a lot of dynamic players that are also very clutch. Lucic and Seguin had awful years and can clearly play better than they have this year. If they stay on the ice instead of in the penalty box, Boston has all the tools to win another cup and really challenge Penguins, never mind Toronto. Tukka Rask is the better goalie here, Boston has the better defense, and in my eyes a more dependable core up front. The faceoff circle could be a crucial match-up that Boston has a fairly big advantage in. As a team they finished at 56% over Toronto’s 50% even.
Boston will win and it will be a quick series, but a tight one. Toronto will earn its first taste of the playoffs and build on it. Size, experience, defense, and goaltending all favor Boston and the city is emotionally behind the Bruins like never before. Boston takes this in five.
Sorry Phil, Boston is still the better team.
Here’s what our other writers think:
Mitchell Tierney: Bruins in 6. It will be both a tough and interesting series as in many ways these two teams are the same. But Boston still plays their game better than Toronto.
Russell McKenzie: Boston may not have roared into the playoffs, but they should be able to handle the Toronto goaltenders readily enough. Boston in 5.
Ben Kerr: Boston in 5. The Bruins are just too much for the Leafs. Playoff experience and Chara shutting down Kessel has the Bruins take it.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 7 p.m. Toronto at Boston CNBC, CBC, RDS
Saturday, May 4, 2013 7 p.m. Toronto at Boston CNBC, CBC, RDS
Monday, May 6, 2013 7 p.m. Boston at Toronto NHLN-US, CBC, RDS
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 7 p.m. BOSTON AT TORONTO NHLN-US, CBC, RDS
*Friday, May 10, 2013 7 P.M. TORONTO AT BOSTON CBC, RDS
*Sunday, May 12, 2013 TBD BOSTON AT TORONTO CBC, RDS
*Monday, May 13, 2013 TBD TORONTO AT BOSTON CBC, RDS
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photo credit: hockeyblogadventure.com, CC