Panthers leapfrog Bruins, locking in a Leafs/Bruins Round 1 matchup

Mike Armenti
April 16, 2024  (10:15 PM)

David Pastrnak letting his hair flow during warmups
Photo credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In a shocking turn of events, Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs will not play the Florida Panthers in Round 1 of the Playoffs. Instead, the Leafs will meet the Boston Bruins.

Coming into Tuesday's set of games, the Leafs and Panthers appeared all but destined to meet when Round 1 kicked off on Saturday. However, a loss from the Bruins and a win from the Panthers over the Leafs means that the Panthers have won the Atlantic Division and will face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Bruins will draw the Leafs in Round 1.
This whole situation seemed highly unlikely after the Leafs had taken a 2-0 first period lead over the Panthers. However, after Carter Verhaeghe scored to cut the lead time one at the beginning of the second period, it was just the catalyst the Cats needed to pull off the comeback, scoring 4 goals and outshooting the Leafs 31-4 in the second frame, leading up to the eventual win. Meanwhile, the Bruins took on the lowly Ottawa Senators, suffering an unfortunate and unexpected defeat, setting up their surprise 1st round meeting with Toronto.
It's been a number of years since the Leafs and Bruins have met in the postseason and a lot has changed since their last meeting. For starters, Nazem Kadri is no longer a Leaf, Mike Babcock is no longer the coach and Frederik Andersen is now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. On Boston's end, there's no more Bruce Cassidy behind the bench, no Patrice Bergeron to dismantle the Leafs' game plan in all 3 zones and no Zdeno Chara to do what only Zdeno Chara can do, and Brad Marchand wearing the "C" for Boston. Still, it does seem fitting that, if the Leafs do finally go on a run, they go through Boston to do it.
Auston Matthews has evolved since the last time these two teams met in the playoffs. Not only is he a much more dynamic and dangerous goalscorer now, after banking two 60+ goal seasons, but he has been able to better develop his two-way game. Ironically enough, Patrice Bergeron was the one who made the Selke Trophy famous and now Matthews may end up being a frontrunner for the award now that Bergeron has hung up his skates.
Really, when you look at it, the Leafs were going to have to go through a really good team one way or another in Round 1, but with how dominant Florida has been defensively this season, maybe it's a blessing in disguise that the Leafs have drawn the Bruins. Time will tell.
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Panthers leapfrog Bruins, locking in a Leafs/Bruins Round 1 matchup

What will the result of the Leafs/Bruins first round series be?

Leafs in 482.2 %
Bruins in 4225.9 %
Leafs in 5, 6 or 724465.9 %
Bruins in 5, 6 or 79625.9 %
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