Game Preview #25 - Leafs vs Bruins

 

With the Toronto Maple Leafs (14-8-2) facing the Boston Bruins (14-7-1) many people are looking for this to be a statement game for the blue and white. Of course the MSM has been drooling over these Bruins for the last three days, siting the two blowout losses the Leafs were dealt earlier this season at the hands of the defending Cup champions. While I agree Boston is definitely a strong and elite team in the NHL, I think those two games are not a proper sample size to use as comparisons.

Consider the first meeting in which the Bruins handily beat the Leafs 6-2. The Leafs were playing their second game of a back to back and third game in four nights. That game was also Jonas Gustavsson's first game of the season, after having sat on the bench for three straight weeks. 

The second encounter between these two teams in which the Bruins blew the Leafs out 7-0, Toronto was once again playing their third game in four nights. On that night the Leafs offered up rookie Ben Scrivens to the Bruins. Scrivens was making his first ever home start on Hockey Night in Canada. Now the Bruins deserve full credit for those two victories, but I think tonight the Leafs will be rested and prepared to show the Bruins that they will not be an easy opponent. 

The Leafs actually dominated the Bruins the second half of last season, going 3-1 against the eventual champs. Boston has been known to struggle against fast, quick strike offenses. At the moment the Leafs are said to be one of the fastest teams in the league, while sitting third overall in goals per game in the league. 

Of course Boston is entering tonight's game as the hottest team in the league having gone 11-0-1 in their last 12 games. The Bruins sit second overall in goals per game, while having the great Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas anchoring the goals against department. The Leafs will need to continue to receive a balanced offensive effort tonight if they are to succeed. Toronto on the other hand is back home after having gone 3-1 on a mini road trip, outscoring the opposition 17-9 in those games. 

With talk of those two previous losses surrounding them the last three days I expect Toronto to come out of the gate strong tonight. Boston thrives on emotion and intensity, so the Leafs need to play a perfect road game at home tonight. No engaging with the Bruins after the scrums. The Leafs were successful last season against the Bruins when Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn set the physical tone of the game, and they will need that again tonight. 

Tim Thomas is expected to get the start for the Bruins. With Thomas having another great season (1.86 gaa and .937 save percentage), the Leafs must create chaos and traffic in front of the reigning Vezina and Conn Smyth winner. Jonas Gustavsson will start for the Leafs. The Monster has gone 5-1 in November playing the best hockey of his NHL career. Both Carl Gunnarsson and David Steckel will return to the lineup after missing Sunday's game against the Ducks. 

Lineups

Leafs

Forwards

Lupul - Bozak - Kessel
Kulemin - Connolly - MacArthur
Frattin  - Colborne  - Crabb
Dupuis - Grabovski - Steckel

Defense

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
Gardiner - Schenn
Liles - Franson

Goalies

Gustavsson
Scrivens

Bruins

Forwards

Lucic - Krejci - Horton
Marchand - Bergeron - Seguin 
Pouliot - Kelly - Peverly 
Paille - Campbell - Thornton

Defense

Chara - Boychuk 
Ference - McQuaid 
Seidenberg - Corvo

Goalies

Thomas
Rask

Players to Watch

Leafs: Jake Gardiner  - The smooth skating freshman defender led the Leafs in icetime on their past road trip. Gardiner has developed a strong chemistry with Luke Schenn. His speed and transition game will be key against the big bad Bruins tonight. Boston may try to kill him, but I doubt their abilities to catch him.

Bruins: Tyler Seguin - With a hat trick against the Leafs in their previous meeting, the Bruins leading scorer will look to punish his hometown team once again.

Game Time: 7:00 at the Air Canada Centre. TV - TSN. Radio - AM640.