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'Obviously, it will be a real challenge': Maple Leafs prepare for Bruins


The Toronto Maple Leafs will face the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs this season for the fourth time in 11 years.

The Bruins, who will have home-ice advantage, have advanced in each of the previous four meetings and went 4-0 against the Maple Leafs this season.

"Obviously, it will be a real challenge, but it will be real special being Original Six, and it has a real history to it," Leafs captain John Tavares said after the matchup was locked in on Tuesday. "Great opportunity for us. It’s a test and we have to be prepared."

Boston missed two opportunities to clinch first place in the Atlantic Division this week, ending their season with back-to-back losses to the Washington Capitals, 2-0 on Monday, and the Ottawa Senators, 3-1 on Tuesday. The Florida Panthers took advantage of Boston's brief skid and secured first place with a 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. The Panthers will face the in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. 

Despite finishing their season with three losses in four games, Bruins captain Brad Marchand said he believes the team will find a new gear come the postseason.

“Regardless of how it went and how we played in any of the periods, come playoff time, there’s so much excitement and adrenaline,” Marchand said. “Guys are so dialled in that it would’ve been nice if we played better tonight, but at the end of the day, we have all week to prepare, and we’ll be excited to get going.”

The Maple Leafs will finish their season on Wednesday against the Lightning, and it remains unclear whether star centre Auston Matthews will play as he pursues his 70th goal of the season. With winger Bobby McMann ruled out and forward Max Domi likely sidelined as well, the Maple Leafs are running low on depth.

“We'll talk about it,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said Tuesday of resting players. “We have 12 healthy forwards.”

The Maple Leafs are winless in their past three games after a red-hot stretch that saw the team pick up six wins in seven games. Toronto went 0-2-2 against the Bruins this season, pushing the first two meetings of the year past regulation before suffering two 4-1 losses to the Bruins in the span of three days in early March.

"Regardless of who we played, it was going to be competitive, and we’re excited for it," Leafs forward Mitch Marner said. "We have one more game. We need to get ready by cleaning up some stuff and then we will shift our focus."

Both teams face a decision to make on their Game 1 starter at goaltender, with the Bruins left to weigh whether to keep their rotation in place. Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have traded starts throughout the season, with neither starting more than one straight game since the start of March. There's little to separate the two, with Swayman finishing the season with a 25-10-8 record with a .916 save percentage and a 2.53 goals-against average to Ullmark's 22-10-7 record with a .915 save percentage and a 2.58 GAA.

After seeing the majority of starts down the stretch it appears Ilya Samsonov, who was waived earlier this season, will once again serve as Toronto's playoff starter. The 27-year-old has a 23-7-8 record this season with a .890 save percentage and a 3.13 goals-against average. Joseph Woll, who had taken over the Leafs net before a high-ankle injury in December sidelined him for over two months, started in Tuesday's loss to the Panthers, dropping his record to 12-11-1 with a .907 save percentage and a 2.94 GAA. The Maple Leafs also have veteran Martin Jones on their roster, who has a 11-7-1 record with a .908 save percentage and a 2.70 GAA, but has started just one game since March 1.

"They play a playoff game year round," Woll said Tuesday of the Bruins. "They're a hard team to play against and they have some big bodies … maybe a bit different look than Florida."

While playoff success has been on the side of the Bruins in recent history, the Maple Leafs advanced to the second round for the first time since 2004 last season, while the Bruins were eliminated in the first round after winning Presidents' Trophy in the regular season. 

The Maple Leafs and Bruins last met in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, when Boston took the series in Game 7 for the second straight year. Just five members of the current Maple Leafs were on that roster, in Matthews, Marner, Tavares, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly. For the Bruins, six players remain on the team from their 2019 run which ended with a Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final.