The Boston Bruins jumped ahead in their first-round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning Game 1 by the score of 5-1.
While the game started close, an undisciplined third period - mainly from Leafs’ forward Nazem Kadri - helped the Bruins pull away and win comfortably.
Come playoff time, more so than the regular season, coaches like to play the matchup game, which is why home-ice advantage is key when they know the series has the potential to be close.
With the ability to see who your opponent is about to put on the ice before a faceoff, you can put your best defensive pair out there in an attempt to stop their offensive stars. Or, if they are putting their fourth line out there, you can quickly throw back out your top line to give yourself an advantage.
For the Maple Leafs, if they have any chance to win this series, they need Auston Matthews to be at his best. Their best player, he was going to draw a lot of attention from Bruins’ head coach Bruce Cassidy.
Bruins' win match up battle in Game 1
Boston has four-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron to send out against Matthews, along with their top defensive pairing in Zdeno Chara and rookie Charlie McAvoy.
Matthews ended up with 12:01 of time-on-ice while at 5v5 during Game 1. According to Natural Stat Trick, his five most common opponents were not surprising - Chara (9:03 vs Matthews), McAvoy (8:18), Brad Marchand (6:25), David Pastrnak (6:01), and Bergeron (5:58).
The tallest NHL player ever, and winner of the Norris Trophy - given to the league’s best defenseman - back in 2009, Chara was on the ice for a whopping 75% of the time when Matthews was also on, McAvoy another 70%.
If Mike Babcock threw out his star center, Cassidy, in turn, had Chara and McAvoy ready to go in response.
|Auston Matthews||Zdeno Chara (w/o)||Charlie McAvoy (w/o)|
|Corsi-For %||25% (75%)||33% (75%)|
|Scoring Chance %||25%||30%|
|High-Danger Chance %||40%||66.67%|
The matchup worked overwhelmingly in favor of the Bruins too. Matthews possession numbers (32.14 CF%) were already bad, but even worse while Chara was on the ice (25%).
Toronto was playing on their heels the majority of the night, and Matthews didn’t see much playing time in the third thanks to the team being short-handed so much but even when they had the puck they couldn’t generate much.
Matthews was held to just three shots on goal, with just one scoring chance at 5v5. At just 20-years old, Matthews has a rare skill to be able to position himself to get a good shot off, but with the Bruins’ best defensive players out against him, there wasn’t much open space for him to operate.
In the very small sample size that Matthews was able to get out without Chara on the ice, his puck possession numbers were drastically better (75%), and his team owned all the scoring chance opportunities (100 SCF%).
It is going to be hard for the Maple Leafs to get Matthews away from Chara and McAvoy in Game 2 since Boston still gets the last change. If they are going to avoid falling into a 0-2 series deficit, they need to find a way to get their star player some space to create some.
Game 2 matchup to watch
The Bruins dominated the puck possession numbers, owning a 64.29 CF% in Game 1, so finding any Maple Leaf player with a positive mark was going to be hard. Mitch Marner was one of four Leafs to at least finish with a 50 CF%, and of the group he has the best chance to change the tide of the series... especially considering the matchup he was given in Game 1.
Matched up against the Bruins’ second defensive pairing of Torey Krug and Kevan Miller, Marner actually posted favorable metrics. Miller was matched up against Marner for 7:52 of his 11:49 of 5v5 TOI (about 66%), and during that matchup, the dynamic Leaf forward owned the puck possession (54.55 CF%), and scoring and high-danger chances (75 SCF%, 100 HDCF%).
While it may be more difficult to get Matthews going while he’s facing his current opposition, Marner could be the key for the Maple Leafs in Game 2. When Matthews went down with a shoulder injury during the season, it was Marner who really stepped up and was their best player down the stretch.
He may have to be that again if the Maple Leafs are to even the series before heading back to Toronto. Game 2 is on Saturday, with a start time of 8 pm ET and will be nationally televised on NBC.
Who do you think wins the matchup battle in Game 2, Matthews or Chara/McAvoy? Do you think Marner can have a good enough game to counteract the Bruins’ isolating Matthews? Most importantly, can the Maple Leafs tie the series and avoid being down 0-2 heading back to Toronto? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.