Published January 13, 2015
The return to the playoffs for the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a short one. That's the opinion, at least, of virtually every hockey analyst and expert on both sides of the border.
But while it's no secret the Boston Bruins, who have home ice advantage in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal that gets underway Wednesday, are the consensus pick to win the series, no one should count the Leafs out as a team which might pull off a surprise and upset the big, bad Bruins.
Here are three reasons why the Leafs could be celebrating a trip to Round 2 in a couple of weeks:
1. THE BRUINS CAN'T FIND THE SWITCH
The Bruins didn't exactly end the regular season on a high note, winning just two of their last nine games (2-5-2), which included falling to the Ottawa Senators in their finale - a game that cost them the Northeast Division title. If they fall behind early in the series against the Leafs, they might not have the ability to just turn the switch and find their game.
The Bruins know they're the favored team in this series and they also know they've had the Leafs' number over the past couple of seasons. They probably also know, or at least feel, they're destined to win this series.
But if the Leafs can experience some early success and steal one of the first two games at the TD Garden, they might get the Bruins doubting themselves, which is something they probably haven't done at any point in the last couple of seasons when facing the Leafs.
2. REIMER OUT-DUELS RASK
Toronto netminder James Reimer had an up-and-down regular season, but he showed he was capable of putting together lengthy win streaks. It's conceivable he could go on another one of those strong runs right at the outset of this series.
Reimer also was very good against the Bruins this season despite only winning one of three starts against Boston (1-1-1). He allowed just five goals on 96 shots, finishing with a 1.63 goals against average and .948 save percentage in the season series.
Boston's Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, didn't exactly close out the regular season at the top of his game. In fact, he only managed to win two of his last seven starts (2-4-1).
Just like the rest of his team, if he can't find a way to get back to playing at his peak performance quickly, then it could open the door for the Leafs to win this series.
3. KESSEL DELIVERS
No player on either team goes into the playoffs hotter than the 25-year-old Kessel, who closed out the regular season riding a five-game point streak (netting four goals and nine points). When you look at his overall body of work this season, it's hard not to suggest Kessel is arguably the best player offensively on either team as well.
Kessel produced over a point per game this season for the first time in his career and was easily the most consistent Leafs' forward all season long. Since the end of January, he has not gone more than two consecutive games without recording a point.
While the playoffs are a much different animal compared to the regular season, there's nothing at this time that would suggest Kessel's game would suddenly go into the tank.
Some will undoubtedly point to Kessel's historic struggles against his old team since departing from Beantown - he has just three goals and nine points in 22 games against Boston and none in four games this season - but it's also worth mentioning Kessel has been a noted playoff producer in the past as well.
He has nine goals and 15 points in 15 career playoff games, all with the Bruins albeit this is his first trip back in four years.
If Kessel can recapture some of his past playoff magic, that might just be enough to spark the Leafs to pull off the big upset.