When the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins on the final day of the regular season, I was disappointed we weren't going to see a Leafs/Habs first round matchup. That said, getting to see the Toronto try to match-up against Boston might be the next best thing. This is perhaps one of the easiest first round series to breakdown and there's no question in my mind which side has the decided edge.
If you're a stat-geek, you'll know that the Leafs have dramatically overachieved in this shortened season. Not only has Reimer played well above his head, but the team's shooting percentage is also abnormally high. The result is a 1030 PDO rating, tied with Pittsburgh for the best in the league. Now which of these teams do you think is more likely going to regress to the mean? If this was a regular NHL season, I'd have fun betting against Toronto down the stretch, but due to the lockout I'll have to settle for the here and now.
There seems to be a lot of alarm about Boston in the hockey world right now thanks to their uninspiring play in the final games of the season, but let's not lose sight of the fact that they are 54.35% possession team. That is good for 4th in the league. In contrast, Toronto only maintain possession 44.1% of the time. I'm sorry, but if you don't have the puck, you are not going to sustain long-term success. The Bruins are favored by oddsmakers in this series, but I think the gap should be even wider.
The interesting thing about the Leafs forwards when you put them through the advanced stats meat grinder is how many of them are used in a similar role. Coach Carlyle chooses to use Kulemin, McClement, and Grabovski against the tougher competition and they most often sent on the ice in defensive situations. McClement is a nice penalty killer, but the other two aren't going to be shutdown types anytime soon. On the back end, all they really have to thwart the opposition are Gunnarsson and Phaneuf.
Boston has much more versatility to play with. After Kelly, they often put out Bergeron and Peverely against other teams top guns in the defensive zone. This trio compliments the likes of Lucic, Krecji, Seguin, Jagr, and Marchand quite well. Team defense and transitioning to offense is a huge strength of this club, and when opposing teams do manage to get through that layer they must contend with the likes of Chara, Boychuk, and Seidenberg. With Hamilton getting rest in the final week of the season, he also has a chance to make a big contribution in his first taste of playoff action. And don't worry too much about Lucic unless he slumps the entire series. Much like Richards in LA, guys like Lucic were built for playoff hockey, not the regular season.
Being outmatched is one thing, but now Toronto must go face to face with the team that robbed them on the trade floor as well. Kessel is a good player, but the Bruins got Seguin and Hamilton out of that trade. Do you think the Boston crowd is going to let them forget it anytime soon? Heck, I'd rather have Seguin over Kessel straight up, but throw in a future blueline stud like Hamilton too?
The Toronto press will likely give the Leafs a pass since it's the first time they've made the playoffs in a decade, but let's not kid ourselves - this market is hoping for a cup run and will start planning the parade route if they manage to snatch a lead in this series.
In the end, the pressure and madness in Toronto will be too much for the Leafs. I'd be shocked if Reimer continued his improbable season to out-duel Rask. In order to win a best of seven, the Leafs will have to overcome dramatic odds. I'm prepared to eat my words if they pull off the upset, but logic suggests otherwise. Bank the Bruins and don't look back. They should win this in six games or less.
Prediction: Boston -1.5 games for the series (+100).