After picking the Colorado Avalanche to overcome the Winnipeg Jets in six games, let’s move on to our next Canadian team’s first-round matchup. I ranked the inconsistent Maple Leafs fourth out of four Canadian contenders in January. Months later, NHL playoffs are here and the Maple Leafs will face off with a familiar foe who they have yet to overcome.

The NHL Playoffs have given us Maple Leafs vs Bruins again, five years after Boston defeated Toronto in seven games en route to a Stanley Cup finals appearance. It’s well known that Boston has historically had Toronto’s number in the playoffs. They also won all four meetings between the two teams during the regular season. Can Toronto finally overcome their original playoff demon, avenging losses in 2013, 2018 and 2019?

NHL Playoffs – Maple Leafs vs Bruins – The Matchup

In game 81 against Florida, Toronto played the second and third periods as if they had zero interest in playing the Panthers in round one. As a result, they get a Bruins team that had a fantastic season despite losing their top two centers to retirement. Last year, Boston faltered in the playoffs, blowing a 3-1 lead to Florida after having one of the most prolific regular seasons in modern history. Is that a sign of things to come, or just a blip for a team that has grown used to success in the postseason? On the other hand, can Toronto build on last year’s breakthrough, or are they bound for another first-round disappointment? Let’s break it down.


The Bruins have two goalies starting-caliber goalies. For a stretch this season, the Maple Leafs had zero. Therefore, Boston should have the advantage in the net. However, when you look at Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark’s postseason records, neither have much experience or success in the NHL playoffs. They have both appeared in only eight playoff games, with three postseason wins a piece. Neither of them has been able to take the Bruins on a playoff run.

Ullmark’s playoff stats are particularly ugly, with a .888 save percentage and 3.54 GAA. Last postseason, the Bruins overplayed a struggling Ullmark for six games and then put Swayman in an unenviable position by starting him in game seven. Will they manage the rotation differently this year? Boston’s goaltending situation will be a fascinating storyline, especially if the starter struggles early in the series.

Conversely, it’s clear who the starter will be for the Maple Leafs. After a wildly inconsistent season, Ilya Samsonov has done enough to establish himself as the playoff starter, especially with Joseph Woll in poor form since returning from injury. Ilya Samsonov outplayed countryman Andrei Vasilevsky to help Toronto win their first playoff series in 19 years in last year’s playoffs. At his best, Samsonov has proven that he can lead a team to a playoff series victory, unlike the Bruins goaltenders. Whether he can find and maintain that level of play is the single biggest x-factor in this series.


Defence is a strength for Boston and a clear area of concern for Toronto. The Bruins’ top four, headlined by Charlie McAvoy, is much stronger than the Maple Leafs. Their team defence has been solid once again, which has helped make their goaltenders’ lives easier. Boston is spoiled with two top-level two-way defencemen in McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm. The Bruins are projected to pair them together, likely to match up with the Auston Matthews line.

If there is any weakness in their defence core it’s their third pairing, which will likely be a rotation of Kevin Shattenkirk, Andrew Peeke and Parker Wotherspoon. Shattenkirk, a Stanley Cup winner in 2021, has been solid for the Bruins this year. Still, if the Leafs can get him and either partner in the right matchups, they’ll have to take advantage.

Despite a wealth of depth, Toronto’s defence only has two clear top-four defencemen. There are questions on who to pair with Morgan Rielly and Jake McCabe and who will be the odd man out. After a solid start to his second stint as a Maple Leaf, Ilya Lyubushkin struggled down the stretch. Can he be trusted alongside Rielly, who thrives with a dependable defensive partner? Similarly, how will Simon Benoit fare in a key shutdown role alongside Jake McCabe? Benoit and McCabe have been the Maple Leafs’ go-to shut-down pair with TJ Brodie’s uncharacteristic struggles. Whether that pair is good enough to shut down David Pastrnak and company is questionable at best.

Brodie is projected to be out of the lineup to start the series, with Joel Edmundson and Timothy Liljegren rounding out the Leafs’ defence. The Leafs got bigger and meaner at the trade deadline by adding Edmundson and Lyubushkin, but they didn’t add a clear top-four talent. The Leafs need massive performances from their defencemen to hang with a deep Bruins team. The Maples Leafs penalty kill, which tied for 22nd league-wide at 76.9% is another huge area of concern. Discipline will be key to keeping a dangerous Bruins powerplay off the ice.


If there’s one area of advantage for the Maple Leafs in this series it’s the forwards. Beyond Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, the Bruins lack stars up front. Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle have done an admirable job filling Boston’s top-six center roles after the loss of Bergeron and Krejci to retirement. However, that should be an advantage for Toronto. If the Leafs are going to win this series, Auston Matthews and John Tavares need to take advantage of Boston’s inferiority at the center position.

Beyond the stars, Boston has some useful players on the wing, including Jake Debrusk, Danton Heinen and Trent Frederic. If these players can contribute, the Bruins will be a tough team to beat. The battle of the depth scorers will be another important factor in this series.

For Toronto, their highly-paid stars need to shine for them to upset the Bruins. They cannot afford measly production from the core four as we saw in last year’s loss to Florida. Auston Matthews had an incredible season, but he’s yet to have a signature playoff run. It’s time for Matthews to will this Leafs team on a playoff run, as we have seen from other stars in recent years. Contributions from Marner, Nylander and Tavares will also be key to give the Leafs a chance. David Pastrnak shined against the Leafs in the regular season meetings, while Matthews and company were quiet. If that trend continues, this series won’t be close.

Toronto will also count on Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi to produce offensively. A year ago, Bertuzzi led the Bruins in playoff scoring. Domi had a solid postseason for Dallas, going to the conference finals. When Bert and Domi chip in, Toronto’s top six are extremely dangerous. Some depth scoring from players such as Bobby McMann and Matthew Knies would be a huge boost from Toronto’s bottom six.

NHL Playoffs – Maple Leafs vs Bruins – Prediction

This is a difficult prediction to make. I’m expecting an extremely tight series, and have been going back and forth on who wins in game seven while fighting my own bias. Boston is a more well-rounded team and well-coached team. The Maple Leafs will need their stars to shine, paired with some mighty performances from their goalie and depth players. Ultimately I think it’s time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to slay the dragon, winning game seven at TD Garden in Boston.

Leafs in seven.