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Toronto’s Playoff Predicament

With Boston and Florida looming, the first round will once again be a tough one for Toronto.

As every hockey fan knows, the NHL playoffs haven’t exactly been Toronto’s bread and butter recently. Despite making the postseason for the last seven years, the team only made it out of the first round for the first time in twenty years last season. Sure, they’ve underperformed, but they’ve also had to deal with some really tough competition coming out of the Atlantic Division. Unfortunately, it looks like that’s going to continue in just a few weeks. With a first round series against either Boston or Florida looming, the Maple Leafs are once again in for a tough opening round. Today, we’re breaking down both possible matchups. 

The Bruins

If you have no dog in this fight, this is the first-round matchup you want to see. Despite some incredible series over the past decade, Boston has been Toronto’s playoff kryptonite for longer than any team in the division. The losses have been nothing short of heartbreaking. In 2013, 2018 and 2019, the Bruins ended Toronto’s season in a Game 7. The rivalry that has stemmed from these series has produced some amazing hockey, but until the Maple Leafs can exercise the demons against Boston in the playoffs, the Bs will always have the last laugh. It’s for this reason that some fans of the Leafs might even want to see Boston in a few weeks. For their team to really get over the hump, a victory against the Bruins might be necessary. 

However, the Bruins have clearly had Toronto’s number recently. They’ve won every game this year against the Maple Leafs and are currently riding a seven-game streak that goes back into last year. In these seven losses, the Leafs have managed to score just thirteen goals against Boston’s 25. Because Toronto is a team that relies on the goal scoring abilities of their superstar forwards to win most games, this isn’t a great trend to see if they do get Boston in the first round. The Bruins’ biggest advantage over Toronto is their consistency in net, and they’d certainly be looking to exploit that in a seven-game series. 

Of course, it’s impossible to count out players like Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, but they haven’t exactly proven themselves in the postseason. If they were to go quiet against Boston, I think that would mean a swift exit for the Leafs this year. 

The Panthers

The postseason history with Florida isn’t quite the same, but last year’s defeat at the hands of the Panthers must still be fresh in Toronto’s mind. After beating the Lightning in six games in the opening series last year, the Leafs were dominated in a five-game series against Florida. The scores were close, but had it not been for a 2-1 win in game four, the series would have been a sweep. The Panthers were the Cinderella story of the postseason last year, and although it’ll be tough for them to rekindle that magic again, they might just really be that good this season. At the time of writing this, no team in the NHL has more wins than the Panthers and with another win in the next game, they’ll be back at the top of the Atlantic Division.

Florida doesn’t pose the exact same problems for Toronto as Boston does, but they certainly wouldn’t be fun to see, either. Last year, they grinded teams down in tough, low-scoring playoff hockey behind the phenomenal play of Sergei Bobrovsky. Unfortunately for every other team in the East, Bob seems to be heating up once again right now. Forwards like Matt Tkachuk and Nick Cousins are also seemingly built for playoff hockey, while experienced blueliners like Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour are great on the back end as well. Toronto’s work would certainly be cut out for them in this series. They did, however, get a little tougher over the last ten months and I think that this current roster would be much more equipped to go against Florida than last year’s team. It’s just hard to say if that toughness would be enough. 

At the end of the day…

You have to beat the best to be the best. The current playoff format sure hasn’t helped Toronto’s first round chances over the last decade, but the results would have been the same anyway. They are a very good team. Boston, Tampa Bay and Florida have just been a little better when it matters most over the years. To beat the Bruins and Panthers this year, they’ll need their best in every facet of the game. Ilya Samsonov has looked better, but can he take over the crease in the postseason? Can Auston Matthews step his scoring up when it matters most? Does the team have enough on the blueline to stop the opposition’s attack? Only time will tell, but we can’t wait to find out.

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