May 24th, 2024

Maple Leafs to meet Bruins in playoffs after loss to Panthers: ‘We’ll be ready’

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on April 16, 2024.

Florida Panthers defenceman Dmitry Kulikov (7) and Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Pontus Holmberg (29) battle for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Toronto Maple Leafs will face a familiar foe in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s just not the opponent they expected.

The Leafs are set to meet the Boston Bruins in the opening round after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Panthers settled the Atlantic Division standings.

Florida jumped over Boston to grab the No. 1 seed thanks to the victory coupled with the Bruins’ 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on home ice in their regular-season finale.

“It’ll be a real challenge, but obviously real special to play in that,” Leafs captain John Tavares said of the Original Six matchup. “A lot of history to it. Great opportunity for us. We know it’ll be a real test and we have to be prepared.”

Florida, meanwhile, will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning when the playoffs get started.

Toronto, which blew an early 2-0 lead Tuesday and could have secured a Panthers rematch with a victory over Florida, lost to the Bruins in seven games in the first round in both 2018 and 2019.

“It’s gonna be a competitive matchup,” said Leafs winger Mitch Marner, whose team wraps up its regular-season schedule Wednesday at Tampa. “We’re excited for that and still got one more game left. We wanna make sure we’re ready.

“Clean up some stuff and then we’ll shift the focus over there.”

Toronto has five players remaining – Tavares, Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly – from the team that lost to the Bruins in the 2019 series.

Boston, meanwhile, has six returnees in Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Trent Frederic was a rookie on that squad, but didn’t suit up in the post-season.

“They play a playoff game year round,” said Leafs goaltender Joseph Woll, who faced 41 shots Tuesday. “They’re a hard team to play against and they have some big bodies “¦ maybe a bit different look than Florida.”

The Leafs have lost three straight games for the first time since January. Matthews, meanwhile, has one more crack at becoming just the ninth player in NHL history to score 70 goals Wednesday.

Toronto fell to Florida in a five-game series in the second round last spring in a matchup that saw the Leafs get bullied by the bigger and meaner Panthers, who went on to make a run to the final before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Toronto and its tortured fan base were coming off its first series victory since 2004 last spring before running into a South Florida buzz saw that had upset the record-setting Bruins in the opening round after trailing that series 3-1.

Toronto remade its roster in the off-season – new general manager Brad Treliving wanted to add “snot” to the lineup after replacing the fired Kyle Dubas – with the addition of forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi and Ryan Reaves in free agency.

“Our team is prepared for whoever we were gonna play,” Woll said of the Bruins. “I’m confident in our group and our preparation.

“We’ll be ready.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2024.

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