Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - The return to the playoffs for the Toronto
Maple Leafs will be a short one. That's the opinion, at least, of virtually
every hockey analyst and expert on both sides of the border.
But while it's no secret the Boston Bruins, who have home ice advantage in
their Eastern Conference quarterfinal that gets underway Wednesday, are the
consensus pick to win the series, no one should count the Leafs out as a team
which might pull off a surprise and upset the big, bad Bruins.
Here are three reasons why the Leafs could be celebrating a trip to Round 2 in
a couple of weeks:
1. THE BRUINS CAN'T FIND THE SWITCH
The Bruins didn't exactly end the regular season on a high note, winning just
two of their last nine games (2-5-2), which included falling to the Ottawa
Senators in their finale - a game that cost them the Northeast Division title.
If they fall behind early in the series against the Leafs, they might not have
the ability to just turn the switch and find their game.
The Bruins know they're the favored team in this series and they also know
they've had the Leafs' number over the past couple of seasons. They probably
also know, or at least feel, they're destined to win this series.
But if the Leafs can experience some early success and steal one of the first
two games at the TD Garden, they might get the Bruins doubting themselves,
which is something they probably haven't done at any point in the last couple
of seasons when facing the Leafs.
2. REIMER OUT-DUELS RASK
Toronto netminder James Reimer had an up-and-down regular season, but he showed
he was capable of putting together lengthy win streaks. It's conceivable he
could go on another one of those strong runs right at the outset of this
Reimer also was very good against the Bruins this season despite only winning
one of three starts against Boston (1-1-1). He allowed just five goals on 96
shots, finishing with a 1.63 goals against average and .948 save percentage in
the season series.
Boston's Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, didn't exactly close out the regular season at
the top of his game. In fact, he only managed to win two of his last seven
Just like the rest of his team, if he can't find a way to get back to playing
at his peak performance quickly, then it could open the door for the Leafs to
win this series.
3. KESSEL DELIVERS
No player on either team goes into the playoffs hotter than the 25-year-old
Kessel, who closed out the regular season riding a five-game point streak
(netting four goals and nine points). When you look at his overall body of work
this season, it's hard not to suggest Kessel is arguably the best player
offensively on either team as well.
Kessel produced over a point per game this season for the first time in his
career and was easily the most consistent Leafs' forward all season long. Since
the end of January, he has not gone more than two consecutive games without
recording a point.
While the playoffs are a much different animal compared to the regular season,
there's nothing at this time that would suggest Kessel's game would suddenly go
into the tank.
Some will undoubtedly point to Kessel's historic struggles against his old team
since departing from Beantown - he has just three goals and nine points in 22
games against Boston and none in four games this season - but it's also worth
mentioning Kessel has been a noted playoff producer in the past as well.
He has nine goals and 15 points in 15 career playoff games, all with the Bruins
albeit this is his first trip back in four years.
If Kessel can recapture some of his past playoff magic, that might just be
enough to spark the Leafs to pull off the big upset.
The Sports Network