The Toronto Maple Leafs will kick off their postseason campaign Wednesday in Boston
Going up against the Boston Bruins, however, may pose some problems for the Leafs.
For starters, they're one of the few teams that match Toronto's gritty, rough-and-tumble style of defensive hockey.
Secondly, the Bruins are a dominant puck possession team, placing second in the league in shots on goal per game. Toronto on the other hand, gives up an average of 32.3 shots on goal per game, good for 27th in the league during the regular season.
Then there's the fact that the Leafs' primary offensive weapon, Phil Kessel, has yet to record a five-on-five goal against his former club.
Yet with the play of James Reimer, the team's much-improved penalty kill, and their depth up front with the likes of Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri, Toronto has more than just one line that can threaten the Bruins.
If the Leafs can play their "A" game night-in, night-out against Boston, they're more than capable of pulling off the upset (keep in mind, this Bruins team finished the 2013 season with an 11-11-3 record after starting 17-3-3).
Here are my game-by-game picks for the upcoming Leafs-Bruins playoff series.
Phil Kessel will look to exorcise his demons against his former team during Toronto's opening playoff series
Like it or not, all eyes will be on Phil Kessel in Game 1 of this Original Six battle.
Despite leading the Leafs in points this season, Kessel didn't register a single one of them against the Bruins in the four games that the team played against their division foes during the regular season.
Then there's the fact that he ducked the media following practice on April 29, creating the typical overblown "controversy" (the Toronto media, everyone):
Leafs dressing room empty except for media awaiting a Kessel sighting twitter.com/markhmasters/s…
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 29, 2013
Kessel declines interview requests
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 29, 2013
The storyline, however, really should be on the fact that this team is returning to the postseason for the first time in a decade, and it should be pumped in its first game back in the dance.
Expect the Leafs to come out firing and use their excellent speed and skill up front, and to play their game defensively, forcing the Bruins to the outside and into bad angle shots.
Prediction: Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Boston Bruins 1. Game-Winner: James van Riemsdyk.
Zdeno Chara will ensure that the Bruins don't lose both of their home games.
As nice as it would be for the Leafs fan inside me to say that the Buds will take both of their games in Boston, the Bruins are a deep team, with a great leader and plenty of playoff experience.
After the Leafs take Game 1, Boston will be looking to clamp down defensively and use its superior possession capabilities to down the Leafs in Game 2, knotting the series at 1-1.
I can see this game being comparable to the final regular-season matchup with the Montreal Canadiens, where the Leafs are up against an opponent that is upset with their previous head-to-head encounter and out for revenge.
Look for the Bruins to badly outshoot the Leafs and carry the momentum back to Toronto.
The game may not be a high-scoring affair (none of the meetings between these two this year have been), but Boston will dominate this game for all intents and purposes.
Prediction: Boston Bruins 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 0. Game-Winner: Tyler Seguin.
Game 3 will be the first playoff game at the Air Canada Centre in the salary cap era.
May 6 will mark another significant day in Toronto Maple Leafs history.
It will be the first-ever home playoff game for the Leafs in the salary cap era.
And my oh my will the Air Canada Centre be rocking.
Thanks to overpriced tickets in the lower bowl, Leafs home games aren't generally raucous affairs. But when the postseason rolls around, even the fans in suits help demonstrate why Toronto is considered one of hockey's premier markets.
With the crowd behind it and a coach who has helped instill a "never give up" attitude, Toronto should rebound and score a big win on home ice.
I'll even go out on a limb and say that Phil Kessel will score the game-winner. Question is, will the Air Canada Centre start chanting "Thank you, Seguin"?
Prediction: Toronto Maple Leafs 2, Boston Bruins 1. Game-Winner: Phil Kessel.
The season series between these two longtime rivals was an extremely tight one, and hockey fans shouldn't expect this playoff series to be any different.
After taking a 2-1 series lead in Game Three, the Leafs will once again have their hands full in Game 4, with the Bruins.
Game 4 with be a true test of the team's mettle, as a second home win could help the Buds build a 3-1 series lead and potentially set up a big upset.
The question is, does this team have the experience to pull out a win and force the Bruins into a corner?
But I see James Reimer standing on his head and stealing one for the Leafs in front of their home crowd.
Prediction: Toronto Maple Leafs 2, Boston Bruins 1 in Overtime. Game-Winner: Tyler Bozak.
Tuukka Rask will look to keep his team in the series in Game 5.
Most people may call me crazy for saying that the Leafs will be leading this series 3-1 through the first four games, but given Boston's lengthy run of mediocre hockey and Toronto's talent and ability to stick with the Bruins, it's certainly a possibility.
That being said, I highly doubt that they can close this one out on the road and take the series in five games.
The Bruins are too experienced and these two teams are too evenly matched for this series to be won by such a decisive number.
Game 5 will be Tuukka Rask's turn to put on a show, while the Bruins will be much more motivated facing elimination.
Prediction: Boston Bruins 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2. Game-Winner: Brad Marchand.
The Leafs will look to close out the series in front of their home crowd.
With the Bruins sending this series back to Toronto with a Game 5 victory, Toronto will have its best chance to close out their opening-round series at home.
Leafs fans will surely be pumped up, as Leafs fans would love to not just make the playoffs, but return to being a team that can win when it reaches the NHL's second season.
Game 6 will see the team's energy guys feed off of the crowd's buzz, and Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri will help lead the team to the second round of the NHL playoffs, each tallying a goal and helping set up a third.
Prediction: Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Boston Bruins 2. Game-Winner: Joffrey Lupul.
Toronto Maple Leafs win the series 4-2.