The Toronto Maple Leafs will face the Boston Bruins again in the playoffs this year! How do I know this? Because the Hockey Gods for some reason have chosen the Leafs and by association Leaf fans to be pushed to every mental and physical extreme before we all can taste victory. Now I don’t blame those Leafs fans who are completely jaded and treat the Bruins like the boogie man, especially given the last two playoff series. However, when thinking of the likeliness of playing the Bruins again this April, I can’t help but remember a quote from one of my favourite movie series “Rocky”. Rocky Balboa famously tells his son “It ain’t about hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward… THAT’S HOW WINNING IS DONE!”. A lot can be taken from this quote and applied to the narrative that hangs over another potential playoff series involving these two teams.
People forget that the Washington Capitals went 10 years of regular season dominance followed by post-season failures before they finally won the Stanley Cup. From 2007/2008 to 2016/2017, the Capitals averaged 104.8 points (Pro Rated 2012/2013 Lockout Shortened Season from 57 Points in 48 games to an 82-game schedule). In that span they won 3 Presidents’ Trophies but could never make the conference final.
To make things even more freaky when relating the Capitals’ playoff struggles to the Leafs, they lost to the Penguins 3 times before finally beating them in the 2018 Playoffs on their way to a Stanley Cup. One series loss was in 2009 with a completely different core than the Capitals ended up having when they lost to the Penguins in 2016 and 2017. Eerily familiar to the Leafs woes versus the Bruins in 2013, and then again in the 2018 and 2019 playoffs. The point to take away from this is to “trust the process”, and don’t veer off the path that the Leafs management staff have created.
Whether you want to believe it or not and trust me when I say this that these first 10 regular season games have given me reasons to not believe it…this version of the Toronto Maple Leafs CAN beat the Boston Bruins! At every position this team is better, and even though their record might not show it yet, I believe this teams true potential will start to come through very soon. Specifically, I think once everyone’s healthy this team has never been more prepared depth-wise to defeat the Bruins. Here is how I would match lines against the Bruins, assuming everyone is healthy in April 2020:
Line 1 (match vs Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak): Hyman – Tavares – Marner & Muzzin – Barrie
Line 2 (match vs Debrusk-Krejci-Ritchie): Johnsson – Matthews – Nylander & Reilly – Ceci
Line 3 (match vs Heinen-Coyle-Backes): Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Kapanen & Dermott – Holl
Line 4 (match vs Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner): Moore – Gauthier/Shore – Shore/Timashov
We lost Kadri down the middle but the emergence of Kerfoot and the drastic improvement of Gauthier along with Nick Shore have given the coaching staff more faith in giving the 4th line more D-Zone starts to allow our skilled Top 6 forwards start in the O-Zone. This team has never been deeper at the wing position thanks to the emergence of Mikheyev, Moore and Timashov. The same can be said for our defence core, with Holl’s confidence increasing his value to this team on the 3rd pair has been terrific, especially once Dermott comes back to full health.
I realize that this start is far from perfect and the effort of this team needs to be more consistent, starting with the teams newly re-signed RFAs in Matthews and Marner. But I implore Leafs Nation to keep believing in this team and take solace in the fact that other teams have gone through this same path and have come out victorious.