Bruins-Maple Leafs preview, pick: Toronto's depth will be the difference


Let's get this out of the way: There are only a few players on the 2017-18 Toronto Maple Leafs who were also members of the 2013 Leafs team that surrendered a 4-1 lead, gave up two goals in 31 seconds and then lost in overtime in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins.

Different coach. Different era. For the love of Kessel, sweet Auston Matthews was just 15 at the time. Don't spatter him with those entrails!

That Leafs team was fortunate to make the playoffs, and the franchise wouldn't do so again until last season. This Leafs team (49-26-7) is loaded up front, and just trying to make the best of it on the back end. But it's certainly closer to breaking the drought since 1967 than any Toronto team in recent memory.

The Bruins (50-20-12) also have designs on the Stanley Cup, thanks to some dominant stretches this season and a seemingly perfect balance of veterans and youth. But will they live to regret that Game 82 loss that slotted them against the Leafs instead of giving them the Atlantic Division title?

First line. The Bruins' top line of Patrice Bergeron (30 goals, 33 assists, 63 points), Brad Marchand (34-51-85 in 68 games) and David Pastrnak (35-45-80) came back down to earth a bit in the latter part of the season, but still produced 27 goals and a plus-10 goal differential at even strength for the season. When it's on, it's the best line in hockey. But the Leafs' top trio of Auston Matthews (34-29-63), William Nylander (20-41-61) and Zach Hyman (15-25-40) is in the conversation, too, producing 44 goals in 59 games at even strength. This is closer than it would be in comparison to about 28 other teams in this league for the Bruins. Advantage: Bruins.

Depth. The Bruins are waiting to get trade deadline acquisition Rick Nash (3-3-6 in 11 games with the Bruins) back from injury, with the expectation he'll be reunited with center David Krejci (17-27-44) and winger Jake DeBrusk (16-27-43). That would bump the explosive young Ryan Donato to play with Danton Heinen (16-31-47) and either David Backes (14-19-33) or Riley Nash (15-26-41). The Leafs' second line of Nazem Kadri (32-32-55), Patrick Marleau (27-20-47) and Mitch Marner (22-47-69) has a plus-5 goal differential, while Tyler Bozak (11-32-43), James van Riemsdyk (36-18-54) and Connor Brown (14-14-28) had a 5.63 relative Corsi for percentage on a team with two other darn good lines. That's not even mentioning Leo Komarov, Tomas Plekanec and Andreas Johnsson -- although I guess we just did! Advantage: Leafs.

Defense. Zdeno Chara (7-17-24) and Charlie McAvoy (7-25-32) are the best pairing of crusty veteran and beloved young star since "Men In Black," with a plus-14 goal differential at even strength. Torey Krug (14-45-59) will likely pair with either Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller after the injury to Brandon Carlo, with Matt Grzelcyk getting the other partner. The Leafs have witnessed Morgan Rielly (6-46-52) blossom into a top NHL defenseman, which is essential given how much ice time Ron Hainsey gets beside him. Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner (5-47-52) give up more than they gain at even strength. Travis Dermott, meanwhile, was like a midseason tourniquet on Roman Polak. Advantage: Bruins.

Goaltending. Tuukka Rask may one day have the full confidence of Bruins fans, but that day hasn't arrived quite yet. He has a .924 even-strength save percentage in 53 starts, winning 34 of them. His postseason save percentage? That would be .928. Frederik Andersen sees more shots than a Daytona Beach bar, but had a .921 even-strength save percentage in the regular season. He had a .915 save percentage and a 2.41 goals-against average in the Leafs' playoff series loss to the Capitals last season. Advantage: Bruins.

Special teams. The Bruins were fourth in the NHL on the power play (23.5 percent) and third on the penalty kill (83.7). The Leafs were second on the power play (25.0) but 11th (81.4) on the penalty kill. The Leafs were better staying out of the box (231 times short-handed, 25th in the league) while the Bruins were ninth in power-play opportunities (259). Advantage: Bruins.

Coaching. Bruce Cassidy would probably have a Jack Adams within his reach were it not for a certain coach of a certain Western Conference team that didn't exist before this season. He's been great for the Bruins, especially in deploying the younger players in his lineup. Mike Babcock, meanwhile, won the Stanley Cup in 2008. Advantage: Leafs.

Health. The biggest loss for the Bruins is defenseman Brandon Carlo, a solid defensive defenseman who skated 19:14 per game this season. Otherwise, it's the Nashes (Rick and Riley) on the mend before the playoffs. The Leafs are healthy. Well, not counting Nathan Horton and Joffrey Lupul, obviously. Advantage: Even.

Series pick: Maple Leafs in 6.