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March Madness is setting in across the nation. But even while sports fans are experiencing their annual college basketball craze (including myself; I’ve got Gonzaga winning the national championship), there’s still plenty of “madness” in the NHL to enjoy as we hit the middle of March. The 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs are only a month away and soon we’ll be watching the best teams in the NHL battle it out for a chance at the Cup. It doesn’t get any better than that.
As far as the Boston Bruins are concerned, it’s increasingly likely that the rivalry between Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs is going to be renewed in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins are second in the Atlantic Division at 43-16-8 with 94 points, while the Leafs are 40-22-7 with 87 points. If these two rivals end up clashing in the playoffs, it will be the 15th playoff meeting between them. Toronto leads the series with 8 wins.
The Last Meeting
The last time the Bruins and Leafs met in the postseason was in the opening round of the 2013 playoffs. That series had plenty of drama. Any playoff hockey series that goes the full seven games is a blessing to fans, but the finale of this series was a special treat.
After allowing the Leafs to come back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a seventh game, the Bruins fell behind 4-1 in the third period at the TD Garden. Things couldn’t have looked bleaker for Boston, who was just two years removed from its Stanley Cup victory in 2011.
Nathan Horton sparked the comeback with a goal nearly halfway through the period. Down by two with their backs against the wall, the Bruins then scored two goals in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game 4-4; the second goal scored by longtime Bs favorite Patrice Bergeron.
In the overtime period, Bergeron was again the hero. He netted the game-winner at 6:05 into the extra period, completing the Game 7 comeback and delivering one of the biggest heart-breakers of all time to Leafs fans. It was the last playoff appearance for the Leafs until last season.
If they get a chance for a rematch against the Bruins in April, you can bet Maple Leafs fans will be going into the series with revenge on their minds.
No Love Lost Between the Two Cities
It’s no secret; sports fans in Boston and Toronto aren’t going to be having Christmas dinner together anytime soon. The two cities are division rivals in three of the four major sports, including the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball, and the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors of the NBA. Only the NFL is missing out on the action with no teams north of the border.
While the anticipation of a Bruins-Leafs series is building, the rivalry between the two cities has been escalating in basketball for the past few seasons and there’s a legitimate chance the Celtics and Raptors square off in the upcoming NBA playoffs. It would be a fantastic storyline if these two cities do battle in the playoffs of two major sports in the same summer.
And who knows? Maybe an October showdown between the Red Sox and Blue Jays is in the cards as well.
Building Towards the Playoffs
It may be exciting to think about the possibility of renewing the Boston-Toronto rivalry in the playoffs, but there is still a month remaining in the regular season. The Bruins have 15 games remaining, and the most ideal situation for them would be to chase down the conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the East.
The Bs are six points behind the Lightning so it’s not out of the question, but at this point, they are playing to keep pace. They are dealing with a handful of injuries to key players, including Charlie McAvoy (sprained MCL) and Brad Marchand (upper body injury, listed as day-to-day), and have also been the victims of inconsistent goaltending this season. Catching the Lightning would be a stretch.
Barring a catastrophic collapse by the Bolts or Leafs, a wild winning streak by the Bruins to finish the regular season, or a late-season surge by Toronto to overcome Boston in the standings, it’s most likely going to be the Bruins hosting the Maple Leafs in the opening round. A rivalry between two hardcore hockey cities will be renewed in the playoffs for the first time in five years. If it’s anything like the last meeting, it will be another series for the ages.