The Maple Leafs open the playoffs in Boston, Wednesday night. Perhaps you’ve heard.
The Leafs success will largely be determined by how they answer these ten questions.
What’s Tyler Bozak’s status?
Bozak expects to play after a full practice Tuesday. “We’ll see how I feel in the morning but all signs are leaning to I’ll be ready to go,” he said. Bozak’s season confounds stats freaks who look at a scant 16 assists for a player who gets first-line minutes but his importance as a face-off artist can’t be overstated. Without Bozak, who won 52.6 per cent of his draws, the Leafs would be dominated by Patrice Bergeron, the best face-off man in the league (62.1 per cent). That would swing the special teams advantage toward the Bruins.
Can the Leafs keep Milan Lucic in check?
The six-foot-four, 220-pound Lucic has struggled to a seven-goal season and was scratched 11 games ago. Keeping him out of the crease will go a long way in determining the Leafs success. Look for Lucic to spend a lot of time with Dion Phaneuf.
Can Leo Komarov battle Brad Marchant to a standstill?
It’s a tall order for Komarov. Marchant is the Bruins igniter and, with 18 goals, 36 points and a plus 23, their best offensive player. But Komarov leads the Leafs in hitting most nights. While he is nowhere near as accomplished offensively as Marchant (Komarov has scored a scant four goals and recorded just nine points in his rookie NHL season), he is coach Randy Carlyle’s best answer to Marchant.
Did this season’s home-and-home change the dynamic between the two clubs?
When Toronto beat Boston 3-2 at ACC March 23 it marked the Leafs first win over the Bs in nine tries. Abused by the bigger Bruins in recent years, the Leafs lost in a shootout two nights later but the Bruins mystique was dissipated. “We felt good about the way we played them this season,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. The Bruins won the previous two games 1-0 and 4-2.
Who will win the battle of the crease?
Reimer has never played an NHL post-season game. Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask hasn’t played in the post season since 2009-2010 and his playoff numbers, 7-6, .912 save percentage, 2.61 goals against are poorer than his regular season stats.
Can Mikhail Grabovski put a lamentable season behind him?
Grabovski scored only nine goals this season and hasn’t looked sharp. A hunger for balanced scoring led Leafs coach Randy Carlyle to try Joffrey Lupul beside Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. “We realize Lupes has had a positive impact on whatever line he is on,” Carlyle said. “We think Grabovski has a skill set and a level of play that we haven’t touched yet.”
Can the Leafs find a way to negate six-foot-nine Zdeno Chara?
Good luck with that. At 36, Chara’s minutes remain lofty but his ability to handle Phil Kessel has gone a long way in explaining the Bruins’ longstanding dominance of the Leafs. Carlyle has a theory on how to negate Chara. “Drive the puck deep, force him to make stop-and-go decisions and move the puck off him,” he said. Watch for Chara’s 25 minutes a night to be stretched.
Can Nazem Kadri bounce back?
While he recorded 44 points in 48 games, Kadri has scored just once in the 12 games since his hat trick against the Ottawa Senators. Paired with offensively able but snakebit players in Clarke MacArthur (two goals in his last 20 games) and Matt Frattin (zero for his last 15 games), Kadri needs to regain his offence.
Can Phil Kessel end his string of ineffectiveness against Boston?
Kessel, a former Bruin, has just three goals, all on the power play, in 22 games against Boston. The need for scoring throughout the lineup is compounded unless Kessel can revive his fortunes against the Bruins.
Can the Leafs overcome the Bruins edge in experience?
That’s the biggest question of all. The Bruins still have 16 of the skaters who won a Cup for them two years ago. The Leafs are largely untested but a green Washington Capitals team nonetheless beat Boston in the Game 7 of their playoff last year.