BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Bruins may have found just the solution to their playoff slump: A first-round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Bruins haven’t lost a playoff series to Toronto since 1959, winning six straight series that have helped extend their Original Six rival’s Stanley Cup drought to more than half of a century. Boston won all four regular-season matchups with the Leafs during the regular season — all motivation, no doubt, for Toronto to turn things around.

“I think just with the history we’ve had with them recently, they’re probably our biggest rival now over the last decade,” Bruins captain Brad Marchand said Thursday as the team began practicing for the Saturday’s series opener.

“It definitely brings the emotion and the intensity up for the fans. It’s a lot of fun to play,” he said. “It’s always extremely competitive. You never know which way the series is going to go. But that’s what you want and what you love about hockey.”

Although the outcomes have been one-sided, the Bruins have had to work for their victories.

Boston also won back-to-back seven-game series in 2018 and ’19. In their first-round matchup in 2013, the Bruins rallied from a three-goal, third-period deficit in Game 7 and won in overtime.

“Completely new game and a new season,” Auston Matthews, one of five Toronto holdovers from the last matchup five years ago, told the Canadian Press after the regular season-ending loss to Tampa. “Do our due diligence and make sure that we’re recovering and ready.”

The lopsided history raised questions about whether the Bruins engineered a matchup with the Leafs by losing three of their last four games of the season. That dropped Boston out of first place in the Atlantic Division — and a potential matchup with the more dangerous Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bruins haven’t advanced in the playoffs since 2021 — despite setting NHL records for points and wins last season.

Marchand thinks it would be foolish to underestimate Toronto.

“Nothing you do in the season has any bearing on what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “You start getting caught up in the past, whether it’s good or bad, it’s going to affect your play. You need to stay in the moment, playoffs time.”SCORING THREAT

Matthews is turning his attention to the playoffs after falling short of his bid for 70 goals, going scoreless in back-to-back losses to end the season and finishing with 69.

“The most important thing is the team and the team’s success, making sure I’m pulling my weight as a leader on this team and help the team win,” he said. “That’s where my focus is at.”

Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said he doesn’t measure Matthews’ contribution in goals.

“I know there’s been a lot of focus on him reaching 70 goals; you kind of lose sight of how well he’s played,” Keefe said. “It wasn’t meant to be, and that’s OK. Sixty-nine is an unbelievable season.”GOAL SQUADS

The Bruins aren’t saying who will start in net, though indications are that they will at least begin by rotating Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.

“Our goalies know what the plan is,” general manager Don Sweeney said. “They know what their strengths are for our hockey club and how much we rely on them. And performance and results will dictate some of this. But we know what the plan is going in. And we’re comfortable with it.”

The Bruins goalies have alternated this season, except when injuries necessitated an adjustment. Swayman, who played three of the four games against Toronto, was 25-10-8 overall in 43 starts with a 2.53 goals-against average and Ullmark was 22-10-7 in 39 starts, allowing 2.57 goals per game.

Ullmark was the playoff starter last year, when he won the Vezina Trophy after leading the Bruins to a record-setting regular season. But after he allowed six goals in 32 shots in a Game 6 loss to Florida, Swayman started — and lost — the first-round clincher.

“We’re very confident in our goaltending,” Sweeney said. “I think it’s been a strength of our hockey club, certainly the past two years.”STUMBLING TO THE FINISH

Both teams finished up the regular season on losing streaks.

While Boston lost three of its last four, Toronto dropped four straight to finish third in the Atlantic, seven points behind the Bruins and still four points better than Tampa Bay.

“Definitely not how we want to be playing going into the post-season,” Matthews said. “I don’t think we can just think we’re going to turn it on.”

Toronto is hoping to build on last year’s postseason, when it beat Tampa in six games to advance for the first time since 2004. The Bruins are hoping to forget last year, when they set NHL records with 65 wins and 135 points but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Florida.

“Looking back, we definitely looked at going on a long run and preparing for a long run,” Marchand said. “Looking day to day, it’s definitely a lesson we can learn and build upon.”



(Copyright (c) 2024 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox