Bruins ready to face Leafs in playoff opener
BOSTON -- Canadian city.
Original Six rival.
Bad blood recently, and dating back to the beginnings of the league.
It's not the Montreal Canadiens that the Bruins are preparing to face in the first round of the NHL playoffs, but the Boston players are counting on a tense and tough series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It's two of the biggest hockey markets going at it," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said after the team's regular-season finale, a 4-2 loss to Ottawa that left Boston with the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and a matchup with Toronto.
"Maybe not as classic a rivalry as a Montreal-Boston, or Toronto-Montreal I guess, but I think whenever you have two Original Six teams going at it and they haven't been in it for a while, so I know they're going to be pretty jacked up, up there."
The Bruins and Maple Leafs open their best-of-seven first-round playoff series in Boston on Wednesday night, with Game 2 on Saturday. The series will shift to Toronto for games on next Monday and Wednesday.
It will be the first postseason meeting of the Original Six rivals since 1974. A lot has happened since then to add energy to the rivalry, notably the trade of Phil Kessel to Toronto for draft picks that became Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.
Seguin has emerged into one of the Bruins' top scorers, and the Boston fans have mocked Toronto with a chant of "Thank you, Kessel!"
"I already looked at my phone and had more text messages than usual," said Seguin, a native of the Toronto area. "Definitely the town is going to be excited, but I think we will be as well."
The Bruins and Maple Leafs were frequent opponents in the Original Six days and before, meeting 10 times in the playoffs from 1933-58; Toronto won eight of those series. Boston has fared better in the more modern era, beating the Leafs all three times they met from 1969-74.
But they haven't met since then, in part because Toronto spent much of the ‘80s and ‘90s in the other conference. The Leafs moved back to the Northeast Division in 1998-99, but they haven't made the playoffs since 2004.
Now they're back.
"I think it's going to be a real emotional and physical series, and we got to play them heavy like we can," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Monday in a conference call with reporters.
"It's a passionate country for hockey. We've had those series with the Canadian teams. They've been very emotional in the Canadian cities. The media coverage becomes huge. It also, it's exciting, and it's exciting for the players to be part of it."
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