Today's Free Picks for
NHL Series Price
Series begins Thursday, April 11th.
Posted on April 9th, before the 1st game of this series.
7:05 PM EST. Much ado has been made about Toronto’s weak defense and how that’s a massive problem coming into this series against Boston. Then there’s Toronto’s recent playoff and regular season history against the Bruins that has this market trusting the B’s more than they trust Toronto. Coming down the stretch, specifically in the last eight weeks of the season, it’s hard to erase from one’s mind the Leafs constantly giving up five, six or seven goals in a game. Analytically speaking, at least on the defensive end, give the Bruins a big edge during the regular season also. However, to suggest or think that Toronto has no chance here is beyond ludicrous. The Maple Leafs took the Bruins to seven games last year and this year they have John Tavares and a year’s more experience. Furthermore, the Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak line wreaked havoc on the Leafs a year ago, combining for an eye-popping 30 points in the first round and that’s extremely unlikely to happen again.
The Maple Leafs are not going to be free-wheeling it during these playoffs like they were during the regular season. This is a team that was having fun all year but there were dozens of games where they looked unbeatable. As Mike Babcock put it, “When your sweater is flapping, it feels good but it’s just not real. It is just not living in the real world. The real world is coming right away here. No time. No space”. Of course he was referring to the playoffs and we’re strongly suggesting that Toronto will be a different team this time of year this time around than they were in the last year’s playoffs or during the regular season.
We understand that the Bruins will get production from their top line. It is arguably the most dangerous line in hockey but when you throw in what that line can do defensively too, the trio is without question the best all-around line in the NHL. However, after that, production and talent drops off significantly. In terms of forward depth, give the Maple Leafs a big edge. What you are going to hear or read about most from a media that says what everyone else says is that Boston has a big edge on defense. There is no question that Toronto’s big flaw is their defense corps but frankly, Boston’s defense doesn’t scare us in the least, not for a second. Seriously, what is so good about Boston’s defense? Zdeno Chara is 42-years-old and still averages 21:05 of ice time. He’s slower and worse than ever before. Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug are decent with Brandon Carlo rounding out the top four. Kevan Miller will miss the opening round of the playoffs because of a lower-body injury suffered in the final week of the regular season. Miller brings a level of physicality that the Bruins will miss. Boston’s D-corps has a propensity for getting lit up and is vulnerable against teams with a lot of speed. The defensive unit is often responsible for poor coverage even when it can catch opposing wingers.
From an offensive perspective, the Leafs had one of the top point-producing defenders in the league in Morgan Rielly, who had 72 points in 82 games. Acquiring Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings was a significant move, but it still didn’t fix the defensive zone issues that have plagued the Maple Leafs all season. Veteran Ron Hainsey has seen better days, but head coach Mike Babcock still likes to use the 38-year-old quite regularly (he averaged over 20 minutes per game). The good news for Toronto, is that Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott are back from injury but perhaps most importantly is that Muzzin has his name on the cup will share his valuable experience of what it takes to get it done in the playoffs.
The media will also drill it into your head that the B’s have a big edge in goal with proven playoff performer Tuukka Rask. Rask’s playoff pedigree is that in 65 career playoff games he has a .924 save percentage to go along with a 2.25 goals-against average. Backing him up is Jaroslav Halak. We’ll give the Bruins an edge in backup goaltenders by process of elimination only. If you bet on Boston, you don’t want to see Halak. That said, nobody is immune to regression and Rask has been shaky/inconsistent all year. Rask struggled down the stretch, too, as he won just one of his last four games and allowed at least three goals or more in all three of those defeats. Rask finished the year with a 27-13-5 record with a 2.48 goals-against-average and a .912 save percentage this season. That was worse than Freddy Andersen. Andersen finished the regular season with a 36-16-7 record with a 2.77 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage this season. Goaltending could decide this series, thus Andersen has to be as good as Boston’s duo and that’s not asking for a miracle. It’s a very reasonable assumption that he can/will be.
Finally, the media will drill it into your heads that the Bruins have a psychological edge over Toronto and a experience edge too. To that we say “FOOEY!!”. Toronto has great players. They can roll out three lines that all can score and even their fourth line can produce. They have incredible depth too. Experience? The Maple Leafs experienced losing to Washington two years ago and to Boston last year. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, et all will now play in their third straight playoff series and have the playoff experience needed to know how to win because losing did not feel good. The old adage is that you have to lose before you win and the Leafs have paid their dues. Of course the Maple Leafs will be better. John Tavares is playing for a team that can win for the first time in his career and he’ll be uber-motivated. Kadri is a great defender that doesn’t even have to score to be effective. Nylander joined the team late in the season but his game is starting to peak. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman, Patrick Marleau, Connor Brown and Kasperi Kapanen round out the deepest forward group in the NHL. There is an old hockey playoff adage that says if goaltending doesn’t decide a series, depth will and in that regard, give a big edge to Toronto. Now throw in a price on the Maple Leafs and we know exactly what to do.
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Toronto +125 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.50)