It’s truly strange that it’s been so long since the Boston Bruins hosted the Atlantic Division rival Toronto Maple Leafs, but then again it’s been a strange, strange couple of years for the entire NHL world getting through the COVID pandemic.
Alas, things have felt more normal this season and more normalcy will commence on Tuesday night with the B’s and Leafs renewing acquaintances at TD Garden.
“It makes it easy to get up for, focus, bring you ‘A’ game and play the right way. They’ve got a lot of firepower,” said Boston Bruins third line center Charlie Coyle. “We have to be ready for them. When the season goes on and you get into the deeper stages and closer to the playoffs, these [big games] are the ones you’re going to get more and more often. So it’s nice to experience it more and more right now.”
It will be 679th meeting overall between the Original Six foes, but amazingly the first in Boston since Oct. 22, 2019, and the first this season where it feels like these two hockey clubs are once again speeding toward a potential first round playoff matchup.
Catching up with an old foe. pic.twitter.com/6epPuK3uHV
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 29, 2022
It certainly helps the Boston Bruins that they’re rolling with a 14-2-1 record over their last 17 games while shooting up the Atlantic Division standings.
“We’ve got them a couple of times down the stretch here, so it will be good,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Two passionate fan bases and they’ve been good hockey games. I think our guys will be excited to play because it was developing into a rivalry.”
It couldn’t come at a more dramatic time either as Toronto and Boston are deadlocked in the division with equal 87 points this season in 65 games played, and the Tampa Bay Lightning just ahead with 88 points in 65 games played.
Auston Matthews is enjoying a Hart Trophy-level season while tied for the NHL lead with Leon Draisaitl with his 48 goals scored, and fifth in the league with 83 points on the season. It continues to be an explosive offense led by Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly among others, but one that the Boston Bruins have traditionally enjoyed good success against as the games rise in importance.
It will interesting, as well, to see how newly acquired defenseman Hampus Lindholm looks in the matchup against the Maple Leafs that Boston will see a lot of down the stretch with playoff position on the line.
“We’re going to get tested in our ability to defend. They’ll come flying at you, their ‘D’ are coming [on the rush] and they’ll go at you one-on-one, drive wide and go to the net. A lot of different elements to their offensive game, including the power play,” said Cassidy. “So that part of it is a great test for us because we pride ourselves in shutting down teams like that. For us it’s about getting pucks back and generating offense, and maybe stress them in an area of the game where they’ve struggled a bit lately. It becomes a bit of a chess match that way. We’ve always had success against Toronto when we’re willing to work to get pucks back, attack and then not give it up so easily.
“I do believe from the blue line back we can generate against that team. We just need to be in the position to do the right things to be able to do that as well.”
The Maple Leafs are third in the NHL with 3.65 goals per game just behind the Panthers and Avalanche, so it’s clear the name of the game is shutting down their attack and exploiting the same old weakness of defense and goaltender that have been there traditionally for Toronto.