By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I would not have tried to calm you down had the Bruins gagged away their home-ice advantage over the Maple Leafs.
It really is that important to the Black and Gold's postseason hopes.
Especially against an opening-round opponent with as much firepower as this year's John Tavares-bolstered Leafs squad.
See, the B's best weapon is the fact that their roster is headlined by the best three-zone, one-two punch the game has to offer in center Patrice Bergeron and winger Brad Marchand. And this group -- especially with David Pastrnak on the right side -- has straight-up eviscerated Mike Babcock's squad over the last two seasons.
In 131:17 minutes of five-on-five play since the start of last season (and including postseason play), the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio has outshot the Maple Leafs 90-61, controlled possession at close to 62 percent, controlled shots at 60.1 percent, and outscored Toronto 11-5. Include their lethal power-play damage inflicted upon Freddie Andersen and Co. and the Bruins have outscored Toronto 16-7 (16-7!) with 63-37-88 on the ice together over the last two seasons.
You know Bruce Cassidy just straight-up licks his lips when he has the benefit of last change against a Toronto defense that still regularly trots the 38-year-old Ron Hainsey out as a top-pairing defenseman.
Hainsey, by the way, has been on the ice for 27 of the last 53 the B's have pummeled into Toronto's cage. Oh, and those numbers get even better: Over the last two seasons, the Bergeron Line has outshot the Toronto top-pairing of Hainsey and Morgan Rielly at a 51-29 clip, doubled 'em up in goals 6-3, and have controlled possession at 64.6 percent in 69:19 of even-strength action.
Keep in mind this has been Babcock's most trustworthy line of defense against Bergeron's line. And they simply and routinely drown against the best Boston has to offer.
Give the Bruins the benefit of last change four times in a seven-game series and you may see a repeat of last year's first-round series, which saw the Bergeron Line combine for nine goals in seven games (with Bergeron in and out of the lineup, no less). Especially as the addition of top-four defenseman Jake Muzzin hasn't exactly changed the Maple Leafs' fortunes in the d-zone, with the Leafs surrendering 32.8 shots per 60 minutes (the eighth-most in the NHL) of action since acquiring Muzzin. That's not all on Muzzin, of course, as the Leafs have some injuries towards the bottom of their defensive grouping, but it's clear that the Leafs still have issues with their defensive depth (and aptitude).
But the benefit of last change doesn't just benefit Bergeron and the B's in the offensive zone.
It also allows the Bruins to stick the game's best two-way center on either Auston Matthews or Tavares.
Now, it's no secret that Bergeron has made Matthews straight-up vanish in recent TD Garden head-to-heads. Injuries to both players prevented them from going against one another in Boston this season, but in their last five meetings in Boston, Matthews has totaled just one assist and a minus-3 rating. When matched up against Bergeron directly, the B's have dominated Matthews at even strength, four goals to one, and have controlled possession at over 63 percent.
Bergeron's line has also won the possession and scoring war against Tavares and his linemates in two head-to-heads, one at TD Garden and one in Toronto, which only helps Cassidy map out of his matchups throughout the series.
The 33-year-old Bergeron's ability to match up against either line gives Cassidy (and assistant coach Kevin Dean) an obvious advantage when it comes to his defensive deployment as well.
They could go for a super-load of sorts with Bergeron and 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara out there, which seems promising, as the Leafs have not scored a goal on 44 shots in 90:32 of even-strength action against Bergeron-Chara in 15 games since the start of the Matthews Era. Or they could simply put the Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo pairing out there with Bergeron's line (a common five-man unit for the B's this season) and allow Chara and Charlie McAvoy to focus on their own matchup, be it against Matthews or Tavares.
Spreading that defensive strength is perhaps the best (only?) way the Bruins can neutralize Toronto's scoring depth, as this Boston team isn't necessarily built for a run-and-gun kind of series, at least when you look at their third-line uncertainty.
And yes, it gets even better for the home-friendly Bruins: David Krejci, the straw that's anything-but-coincidentally stirred the dirty water drink in both of Boston's runs to the final round of the postseason in both 2011 and 2013, is back. He's actually playing what you could argue is the best hockey of his entire career. And at the age of 32.
And if that Krejci and Jake DeBrusk combo can get going like they have in recent weeks, Boston has yet another line that can create some d-zone, possession problems for the Leafs. (Krejci, mind you, has been a point-per-game player against the Leafs over the last two seasons, and had three helpers in Boston's Game 7 win last April.)
You could also see Krejci take on more of a three-zone role for the Bruins, too, especially with Sean Kuraly (a key bottom-sixer and the team's only left-handed center) expected to miss at least half of the team's first-round series due to his hand injury.
But perhaps most importantly, the Bruins are entering the final two games of the season with a 29-8-3 record at home this season. That's good for the second-most home wins among all Eastern Conference playoff teams. And the B's possess a plus-43 goal differential on Garden ice, which ranks as the second-best mark among any team's home-cooking this year.
And last but not least, the Bruins will always have the divine intervention that comes with a Bruins-Leafs Game 7 in Boston, if necessary.