Maple Leafs Pose Big Challenge for Bruins

Since Jan. 1, the Boston Bruins have been one of the top teams in the NHL. They own a 27-9-3 record and have vaulted up the Eastern Conference standings. They have won 14 of their last 17, with their 41st victory coming Saturday afternoon in a dominating 6-3 win over the New York Islanders.

During their run since Jan. 1, they have two regulation wins over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals and they went 5-1-0 on a six-game road trip earlier this month. At the trade deadline, general manager Don Sweeney addressed his team’s need for a top-four left-shot defenseman by acquiring Hampus Lindholm from the Anaheim Ducks.

Despite all the success the Bruins have had, they face their biggest challenge when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at the TD Garden Tuesday night in what is promising to be an intense battle between two Original Six teams.

Maple Leafs Won First Game Handily

When the two teams played their first game on Nov. 6 at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto won 5-2 and did so in a fairly easy fashion. The only advantage that the Bruins had was outshooting the Maple Leafs, 44-36, including 23 shots in the third period, but Jack Campbell was up to the task making 42 saves, including 22 in the third period alone.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Toronto used two power play goals and two goals each from their big stars, Auston Matthews and John Tavares. Mitch Marner scored the final Maple Leafs’ goal, while Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak scored the Bruins’ goals. In the big picture, the Bruins were a frustrated team that lost that night and they looked like a team looking for their identity. They failed to clear pucks out of their zone which led to power play goals and dug themselves a hole trailing 3-1 entering the third period.

Matthews is tied with Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers with 48 goals and Matthews also has 35 assists. He is making a serious case for the Hart Trophy this season.

Bruins Are a Different Team Now

The Bruins are a different team than the one that the Maple Leafs played back in November and they are playing with a lot more confidence. How much better and how much more confidence are they playing with? Hall summed it up after Saturday’s win over the Islanders.

Related: Bruins Takeaways From Dominating Win Over Islanders

“I think every night we expect a win,” said Hall. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, where we’re playing. It’s a really fun feeling to have. Every line’s contributing, I think you’ve seen a lot of balance with the four lines. Whoever’s hopping over the boards it’s your responsibility to make something good happen, to leave something good for the line that comes after. It’s nice to see pucks go in, you get confidence as a line doing that and all the lines are feeling it that way.”

Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Not only are the Bruins playing with confidence, but they are also getting performances from all four lines recently since coach Bruce Cassidy shuffled them around in late February. Their third line is becoming their most important line with Trent Frederic, Charlie Coyle, and Craig Smith, who have started to produce scoring behind the top-six. In one of the more curious moves at the trade deadline, Sweeney held onto Jake DeBrusk and he has settled in on the first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. The second line of Hall, Erik Haula, and Pastrnak has been producing on almost a nightly basis. On defense, Lindholm in his first two games as a Bruin has looked like the missing piece that was missing the last couple of seasons since Torey Krug left in free agency in October of 2020 for the St. Louis Blues.

Charlie McAvoy has taken over the role as the leader of the blue line, while Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo are forming a good second pair. Connor Clifton has been playing some of the best hockey of his career lately, paired with Derek Forbort. In goal, rookie Jeremy Swayman has quietly taken over between the pipes. Linus Ullmark has been playing just as well as Swayman, but coach Bruce Cassidy has been giving Swayman more of the “bigger games” as of late and he will get the start against the Maple Leafs. Not only are the Bruins’ forwards and defense playing with confidence, but so is the goaltending.

Maple Leafs Trade Deadline Moves Makes Them Deeper and Tougher

With as well as the Bruins have been playing, they are going to face a big test against the Maple Leafs, who acquired defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin from the Arizona Coyotes, as well as veteran defenseman Mark Giordano and forward Colin Blackwell from the Seattle Kraken at the trade deadline to give a talented team more depth for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. This game should be seen as a measuring stick for the Black and Gold against a team that could easily come out of the Eastern Conference in the postseason.

Mark Giordano, Seattle Kraken
Toronto acquired Mark Giordano from the Seattle Kraken at the trade deadline for depth on defense. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“It’s a division rival and it does matter a little more in the standings because of where we are,” Cassidy said. “We haven’t talked a lot at all about the standings, other than moving up in them as the year went on. We’ve been able to accomplish that. Now we’re back in the same area code as the other teams.

“We’ll see how that plays out down the stretch. But we can control what we can control and we’ve done a good job with that. [Tuesday] our focus is outplaying the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

Despite what the standings look like, there is going to be a lot of shuffling over the next month ahead of the playoffs in May. As of now, the Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Lightning are going to be fighting for second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Florida Panthers and head-to-head games are going to carry a lot of weight. This will be the toughest challenge facing the Black and Gold since Jan. 1 and it is going to be interesting to see how the Bruins respond against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

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