Let’s be real: Bruce Cassidy’s Bruins were not the Bruins the last time they went head-to-head with the Maple Leafs.
In fact, their last head-to-head, a Nov. 6 showdown at ScotiaBank Arena, was just the Black and Gold’s ninth game of the season. Limited by a maddeningly slow schedule and countless new faces trying to figure out where they fit, the Bruins were an incomplete mess back then. Nothing below their top line set in anything even resembling stone. It was a borderline positive if the lines that started that night were the same lines that ended that night. That meeting also coincided with what was an early-season heater for the Maple Leafs, as their 5-2 victory over the Bruins marked their fifth straight victory.
Now? Well, the Bruins are clicking on all cylinders, and have elevated themselves from postseason threat to postseason contender. And a Tuesday night rematch with the Maple Leafs is the latest test in front of the Bruins.
“I think our players will be excited to play because it was developing into a rivalry that hopefully gets up and running again now that we’re back in the same division,” Cassidy said. “They should be good to go. It will be a good test.”
The Bruins passed their last test with a grind-it-out win over the Lightning last week at TD Garden. This marked the B’s second straight win over the Lightning (it was the first time they had done that since a four-game win streak from 2017 through 2018), and they did it without Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins then built off that with a blowout victory over the Islanders, and though the 2022 Islanders aren’t exactly what you’d consider top-tier competition, the B’s approach was absolutely relentless. It was a sign of a team that’s hitting their stride at the right time, and ready to play any style in front of them.
This is also a true measuring stick game for the Bruins in the sense that a victory propels the Bruins over the Leafs for third place (at least) in the Atlantic Division. A Boston win and Toronto loss, coupled with a Lightning loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday, could push the Bruins all the way to second in the Atlantic by the night’s end.
But perhaps the most interesting of all when it comes to tonight’s game comes in net with B’s netminder Jeremy Swayman.
Boston’s star of the second half, Tuesday will mark Swayman’s first career start against the Maple Leafs. The Leafs hammered Linus Ullmark for four goals on 35 shots in the previous matchup between the sides, giving the Leafs a positive to build off with their first post-Tuukka meeting with the Bruins.
But if Swayman could even come close to matching what Rask did to the Leafs over his career — Rask posted 19 wins and a .926 save percentage in 29 career regular-season meetings with Toronto and also won all three playoff series with the Maple Leafs — then the Bruins will be in great shape when it comes an edge over the Leafs. Especially with the Leafs unable to find any sort of stability in net with Jack Campbell, who was at one point in the Vezina conversation this season, falling out of frame and the team turning to Petr Mrazek and Erik Kallgren as potential fixes. (Mrazek, who has four wins but an .888 save percentage in nine career games against the Bruins, will get the call for Tuesday’s game at TD Garden.)
“I think we’re all a little bit curious, kind of like going into Tampa earlier [when we] saw them last week, getting familiar with them again,” Cassidy said. “Toronto’s the same thing. We’ve got them a couple times down the stretch here. It will be good.”
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has been covering the Bruins since 2010, and has been a member of the Boston chapter of the PHWA since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.