As the playoff push commences the Boston Bruins sit atop the Eastern Conference with a cool 82 points. While Bruins fans can exhale a sigh of relief knowing their spot in the playoffs is pretty much secured, Eastern Conference fans wonder how the playoff picture will shake out. With the Tampa Bay Lightning igniting by winning the last 20 of 23 games, they are a mere 3 points behind the Bruins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. If things play out as they currently stand, the Bruins will play the wild card team with the fewest points, which any hockey fan knows can be ever changing the closer we get to the end of the season. However, if the red-hot Lightning push to the top of the conference, the Big Bad Bruins will most likely play Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Bruins and Leafs are no strangers when it comes to the playoffs. While in early hockey years the Leafs overpowered the Bruins in the playoffs, winning in 1948, 1949, 1951, and 1959, the latter years have gone to Boston. The Bruins have beaten the Leafs in 2013, 2018, and 2019 all in decisive and dramatic Game Sevens. While there has always been a rivalry of sorts between the two, a reignition can be found when looking at the trade that brought Tuukka Rask to Boston. The Maple Leafs drafted Tuukka Rask in 2005. However, before even playing a regular season game, he was traded to the Boston Bruins for Andrew Raycroft. According to an article written by the Toronto Star in 2016, the trade has been deemed once of the worst trades in Maple Leafs franchise history.
Any sort of hockey fan loves a rivalry like this. The physicality of play (I’m thankful as a Bruins fan that Kadri was traded from the Leafs this off-season). The hockey finesse and skill coming from players like David Pastrnak and Auston Matthews, and the deep-seated playoff tension and intensity between both teams. The question currently churning in fans minds right now though is will they see each other in the first round for the third straight year? As an avid hockey fan, part of me is hoping for it. I went to a Bruins/Leafs playoff game in 2018 and TD Garden was absolutely electric. I’ve gone to my fair share of regular season games (and a few post-season) but this was different. It didn’t matter who you were, how old you were, or where you were from. All Bruins fans came together to cheer on the boys in Black and Gold in an amazing fashion. However, the other part of me would much rather play the lower seeded wild card team, since they would be the easier route in securing a first-round win (although we all know upsets happen – sorry Tampa fans).
While it seems the Bruins and Leafs may be destined to play another first round match up as the Lightning don’t seem to want to quit (and the Hockey Gods probably want to see another crazy first round series ending in a close Game 7), keep an eye on injuries. The Lightning’s top two goal scorers, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are day-to-day, as well as two-way forward Anthony Cirelli. Also, defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta are ruled out for at least the next week and a half to two weeks. With the injuries seemingly starting to pile up for the Lightning and the intensity of games rising due to the playoff push, we’ll have to see if injuries hinder Tampa from taking the number one spot from the Bruins. We also can’t discount that if the Bruins top line stays hot (and doesn’t lose their hands) and their defensemen stay healthy, they’ll be a tough bunch to overtake the number one spot in the conference.