Winner to determine Lightning opponent, time of game 1
One spot remains for the semi-final round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. After tonight, one of the NHL’s best teams will be out and the survivor will face the Tampa Bay Lightning. Game Seven is already the most exciting phrase in hockey, but despite only being a first round series, tonight’s Game Seven will be a touch more special.
It features two of the NHL’s most decorated franchises and two teams in different organizational statuses. The Boston Bruins are recent Stanley Cup Champions and for a portion of the season, favorites for the Cup this year. They lean on their top line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand, but also feature remarkable forward depth with David Krejci, Danton Heinen, Noel Acciari, and recent pickup Ryan Donato. All can score, all can skate, and all can give the Leafs fits.
Their blue line is anchored by Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy, wildly different players who embody the Bruins perfectly. Chara symbolizes the strength and size that has always defined Bruins hockey, dating back to Eddie Shore. McAvoy symbolizes the American and Collegiate pipelines to young skill and excitement the Bruins have developed in recent years. Depth like Matt Grzelyck, Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid give Boston plenty to work with on the backend.
And backing up the Bruins in net is Tuuka Rask, whom Toronto gifted to Boston for Andrew Raycroft back in 2005, a move that still haunts the Leafs’ franchise. Rask has his name on the Stanley Cup and on the Vezina Trophy and promises to be the same, reliable Tuuka on home ice.
While Boston has seen recent success, the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the least successful teams in the expansion era. They’ve not won a playoff series in 13 years, and famously lost their last playoff Game Seven against Boston in 2013. Despite the bad history, the new generation of Leafs carries themselves with swagger and confidence that only skilled youth can bring. Auston Matthews won the Calder Trophy last year and helped Toronto put a scare into the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals. This year, he has cemented himself as a superstar in the league and the face of the Leafs. While he’s not been at his best this series, Matthews still draws the brunt of likely Selke winner Patrice Bergeron’s defensive time. William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Tyler Bozak, and James van Riemsdyk have picked up the scoring in Matthews’ slump and kept the Leafs humming along. Veterans Patrick Marleau has provided guile and experience and Nazm Kadri returned from suspension with a bang for Games Five and Six. The forwards promise to give Boston more problems in the final game.
The Leafs’ blue line has never been a strength, but they can still burn Boston. Nikita Zaitsev, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner can all skate both ways and jump into the offensive play. They can play their own end, but they’ve all made mistakes in their own end. Ron Hainsey and Roman Polak play tough, but both lack the speed to keep with some of Boston’s top skaters. They make up for it with veteran guile and good stick work, but if Boston has any advantage, it’s on the blue line.
While the blue line is suspect, Toronto has the luxury of a high quality goaltender. Frederick Anderson has been spectacular since Game Three, and has recorded 40, 42, and 32 save wins to propel the Leafs to victory. If he’s on, Boston will have a hard time pulling out a victory.
Boston has the advantage of playing infront of a packed house at TD Garden with some of the loudest fans in all of sports. But Toronto has the emotion of representing their city after Monday’s terrible terrorist attack. They carried the heart of their city on their sleeves in Game Six and played their best game of the series. They’ll be prepared for Game Seven.
Boston is the more decorated team. They’ve won the Stanley Cup, Rask has a Vezina, Chara has a Norris, and Bergeron has four Selkes and is in line to win his record fifth this summer. Chara and Bergeron are both future Hall of Famers who will have their numbers retired after they’re done playing and have led the Bruins to success. They lead a hungry troop of talented players that can win the Stanley Cup this season.
Toronto is new on the playoff stage, but capable of winning. Matthews is a superstar. Nylander, Marner, Marleau, and Anderson are all capable of being heroes. And the team represents a city that needs a hero and a franchise that is being reborn.
The game will not only determine the Lightning’s conference semifinal opponent, but the timing of game 1. If the Bruins win, game 1 will be Saturday at 3:00. If the Maple Leafs win, the game will take place at 8:00 on Saturday, as Saturday is of course Hockey Night In Canada.
Who will win? No idea. Game Seven is a different beast. The puck drops at 7:30. Don’t miss it.