Bruins or Maple Leafs – Who Beats Who?

The Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs have developed a rivalry. Both teams are Original Six teams, and both play in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. The teams have met in the postseason 15 times. In the 2013 Playoffs, the Maple Leafs suffered an overtime meltdown loss to the Bruins in Game 7 after leading 4–1 midway through the third period.

The 2018 Playoffs were a repeat of the Bruins’ 2013 Playoff win. Again, the Maple Leafs were leading Game 7 in the third period when the Bruins roared back to score four goals to win 7-4.

The Teams This Season?

This season, the Bruins (36-17-9) have a better record than the Maple Leafs (37-20-4). In addition, of the team’s four meetings, the Bruins have won three, and in those games, have owned the Maple Leafs. Some Maple Leafs fans have even suggested that the team matches up so poorly against the Bruins that another playoff meeting would end in the same embarrassing elimination that happened last season in round one.

Torey Krug, Jaroslav Halak, Andreas Johnsson
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Andreas Johnsson looks for the rebound after taking a shot on Boston Bruins’ Jaroslav Halak, as Torey Krug defends (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Michael Dwyer)

In short, the Bruins have been a thorn in the Maple Leafs’ side and seem to hold a hex over their rivals. The question for Maple Leafs fans is if their Blue and White can beat this season’s Bruins. That question becomes more important as the season progresses, because it looks like both teams might be heading towards another postseason meeting.

Related: Grading the Maple Leafs’ Forwards

This Season’s Bruins

Bruce Cassidy, named Boston’s head coach after Claude Julien was fired in 2017, currently has his team in second place in the Eastern Conference. His team plays with both an edge and with skill. The Bruins have a great top line featuring Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron.

In fact, Marchand (71 points in 61 games), Pastrnak (66 points in 56 games) and Bergeron (56 points in 46 games) are all on more than a point-per-game pace. However, Pastrnak is out with a thumb injury until the end of February, which hurts the team. Fortunately, the team has other players like David Krejci, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk having strong seasons.

The defense is solid, led by Charlie McAvoy and the ageless Zdeno Chara. And both goaltenders, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, are having excellent seasons. Halak has been a great addition this season.

This Season’s Maple Leafs

The current Maple Leafs are led by John Tavares (65 points in 61 games). He’s 28 years old, but he doesn’t look as if he’s lost any of his skills or zest for the game. He’s having a career season. His teammates include elite forwards Auston Matthews (57 points in 47 games) and Mitch Marner (71 points in 61 games). Patrick Marleau remains fairly productive but is on the last legs of his career.

William Nylander is only now beginning to regain his game after a lengthy holdout and a period of depressed production when success ignored him. Nazem Kadri remains one of the best third-line centers in the NHL. Andreas Johnsson (17 goals) and Kasperi Kapanen (18 goals) are having surprisingly good seasons and both can score.

Related – Maple Leafs Stat Leaders: Who’s Up Top?

The defense remains the Maple Leafs’ biggest problem, but it still has an elite player in Morgan Rielly (60 points in 61 games) and a good, but regularly maligned, Jake Gardiner. The recent addition of Jake Muzzin has added a missing piece to the rear guard. Goaltender Frederik Andersen is a top NHL goalie, who somehow plays stronger when facing 40 shots a game than when facing only 20. Finally, Mike Babcock is a strong coach.

How Do the Toronto Maple Leafs Compare to the Bruins?

Both teams have good scoring. However, the Maple Leafs’ scoring is more spread out among its players. The team has nine players with goals in the double-digits. The Bruins have only five. The Maple Leafs have 10 players with more than 25 points, the Bruins have six. In total, the Maple Leafs are third in the NHL in scoring, with 210 goals in 60 games. By contrast, the Bruins are seventh in scoring and have scored 182 goals in 61 games.

Defensively, the Bruins rank third in goals against at 2.39 per-game, the Maple Leafs rank seventh at 2.64. The Bruins rank 12th in shots on goals allowed with 1900, while the Maple Leafs rank 23rd with 2000 shots allowed. The Bruins have taken 121 more shots on goal than they’ve allowed, while the Maple Leafs have given up 42 more shots on goal than they have taken.

Boston Bruins Tuukka Rask Charlie McAvoy San Jose Sharks' Logan Couture Timo Meier
Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and Charlie McAvoy defend against San Jose Sharks’ Logan Couture and Timo Meier (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Both teams have good goaltending. Of the two Bruins goalies, in 31 games, Halak has a .924 save percentage (SV%) and a record of 16-9-4. In 34 games, Rask has a .920 SV% with a record of 20-8-5. Of the Maple Leafs goalies, Andersen has played the bulk of the games (44) and has a .922 SV% with a record of 28-13-3. Backup Garrett Sparks has played 13 games and has a .907 SV% with a 7-4-1 record.

Head-To-Head Match-Ups

Game One: Nov. 10, 2018, Final Score: Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 5-1

In their first meeting since last season’s playoffs, Pastrnak had a hat trick to lead the Bruins over the Maple Leafs in Boston. Andersen didn’t look particularly sharp; the Bruins won the puck battles and their crisp passing allowed them to take over the game early. It wasn’t much of a contest.

Game Two: Nov. 26, 2018, Final Score: Maple Leafs beat the Bruins 4-2

The second meeting of the season was the Marner show. With Matthews out with an injury, Marner showed how talented he is by generating offense and distributing the puck. Pastrnak had two goals, but Marner’s three assists led his team to victory in Toronto. In this game, Kapanen showed he could prosper playing on the Maple Leafs’ top line.

Toronto Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Game Three: Dec. 8, 2018, Final Score: Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 6-3

This game in Boston established the Bruins’ superiority over the Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs were never in the game. The Bruins went up 6-1 in the third, and the Maple Leafs responded only when the game was out of reach. Marchand and Krug led their team with three points each.

Game Four: Jan. 12, 2019, Final Score: Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 3-2

This game was the best of the season series. Both teams played hard and had great goaltending. Almost every goal for each team was tipped or a flutterer. The Maple Leafs were up 2-1, but the Bruins tied it. Late in the second period, the Bruins scored with seconds remaining to take a 3-2 lead. It stood. This game featured replacement goalie, Michael Hutchinson, who filled in when Andersen and Sparks were out with injuries. He was strong in goal but unlucky.

Who Beats Who?

With the Bruins and the Maple Leafs, it might not be a question of which team is better. Instead, the better question is whether the Maple Leafs can beat the Bruins. Both teams are very good; however, the Maple Leafs seem to have a better chance of beating almost any other team in the NHL than the Bruins. Furthermore, there’s nothing in the underlying numbers to suggest Toronto can beat Boston on a regular basis.

Boston Bruins' David Backes
Boston Bruins’ David Backes (42) takes a shot as Toronto Maple Leafs’ Kasperi Kapanen (24) defends during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

There’s a good chance these two teams will meet in this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Maple Leafs simply can’t seem to beat the Bruins when it really counts, and there’s little reason to believe that will change this season. The Bruins consistently disrupt the Maple Leafs’ play and neutralize their players’ on-ice skills. It’s more than comparing players; it’s comparing a team’s attitude and how each team plays. Somehow when these two teams match up, the Bruins’ play carries them to success.

Related: Grading the Maple Leafs’ Backend

Currently, the Maple Leafs haven’t shown the defensive toughness from the top of their lineup to the bottom that would help them beat the Bruins. If that toughness – both physical and mental – is going to manifest itself, it needs to happen soon. If not, as the famous Yogi Berra said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”