Published On: Thu, Apr 12th, 2018

3 keys for the Maple Leafs to beat the Bruins

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Despite finishing with a franchise-record 105 points – tied for the third most in the Eastern Conference – the Toronto Maple Leafs come into their first-round series with the Boston Bruins as the underdog.

That’s because the Bruins finished with the fourth-best record in the entire league, and were easily the NHL’s best team in the second half of the season – even with a glut of injuries.

With that being said, the Leafs have the talent and the ability to go toe to toe with the Bruins, but in order to come out on top, the following will need to take place:

1. Agitate Marchand

Everyone knows Brad Marchand is not only the league’s best super-pest, but also one of the game’s best overall players. Yet, there’s a way the Leafs can neutralize him.

They need to agitate him, specifically by giving him a taste of his own medicine. Marchand himself will stir the pot, but in every post-whistle scrum, the Leafs need to get up in his face and do whatever it takes to get him thinking about revenge, rather than scoring goals. While the Buds aren’t known as a physical team, they do have players like Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, and Leo Komarov who can drive opponents up a wall.

Marchand plays with a ton of emotion – and it’s part of what makes him great – but he’s also very undisciplined because of it, as evidenced by his 329 penalty minutes over the past four seasons (302 games). He hasn’t toned it down in the playoffs, either, with 87 PIMs in 72 career postseason games.

If the Leafs can get Marchand to take stupid penalties, not only will it leave one of Boston’s best players – if not its very best – in the box rather than on the ice, but it will also allow Toronto’s second-ranked power play to go to work.

2. Zaitsev has to be better

To say Nikita Zaitsev endured a sophomore slump would be a massive understatement:

Stat 16-17 17-18
GP 82 60
PTS 36 13
PIMs 38 31
+/- -22 +8
TK 33 21
GV 58 76
CF% rel -1.8 -4.1

The Leafs will likely try to get their top defensive pairing of Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey out against Boston’s top line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak as much as possible, but when Boston’s at home and has the last change, Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner will see their fair share of time against the NHL’s best trio.

As a right-handed shot, Zaitsev will see a heavy dose of Marchand, a left winger. He doesn’t need to rack up points, but he certainly needs to be better with and without the puck in his own end. Simply put, if Zaitsev plays like he did in the regular season, it could be a short series.

3. Andersen must outplay Rask

Goaltending is key in every playoff series, but between two streaky netminders, it seems especially important in this matchup.

Both Frederik Andersen and Tuukka Rask got off to shaky starts this season, but played exceptionally well through the middle portion of the schedule. However, both stumbled down the stretch – in their last 15 games, Anderson posted an .899 save percentage, while Rask was at .906.

Given how prolific both offenses are, whichever goaltender carries their poor play into the postseason could get shelled. The Leafs are capable of winning by scores of 5-4 and 6-5 – even though those games make Mike Babcock lose his hair – so Andersen doesn’t necessarily have to stand on his head … he just needs to be better than Rask.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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