Which Playoff Matchup Would Be the Best for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Auston Matthews #34, Toronto Maple Leafs Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Auston Matthews #34, Toronto Maple Leafs Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit in third place in the Atlantic Division. The Atlantic has undoubtedly been the strongest division this year with 4 out of the top 9 teams in the league.

Every fan knows the postseason struggles that have plagued the Leafs for the last decade. The last time the team made the second round of the playoffs was in 2004 — a time when general manager Kyle Dubas was just starting university.

Which team should the Maple Leafs most want to face in the first round?

With just under a month remaining in the regular season, let’s have a look at the possible first-round playoff matchups for the Leafs and determine which matchup would be their best possible outcome.

Tampa Bay Lightning

If the playoffs were to start today, Toronto would be facing off against the Lightning. The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions have had recent struggles but remain a top 5 team in the league standings.

The Lightning’s playoff experience is unquestionable and reigning Conn Smythe winner Andrei Vasilevskiy can steal a game for the Lightning in any given situation.

The Lightning are without Blake Coleman, Tyler Johnson, and Barclay Goodrow who all played a paramount role in their previous playoff success. However, the 2 time defending Cup champions would pose a real threat for the inexperienced Leafs, and avoiding them should be a priority.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers sit atop of the Atlantic Division currently, meaning they will likely face one of the 2 wildcard teams in the East. With the Atlantic being so close, Toronto could easily slide into a wildcard position and end up facing the red-hot Panthers in the first round.

The Panthers are currently the number one offensive team in the NHL, with the most goals for and the highest goal differential. Their recent deadline acquisitions of Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot only strengthen the team and provide more playoff experience.

The Maple Leafs’ last outing against the Panthers was a 5-2 victory in which captain John Tavares netted 2 power play goals. The Leafs face off against the Panthers twice more before the playoffs begin.

The Panthers don’t have a huge amount of playoff experience themselves, but have been an offensive dynamo all year and are probably a team the Leafs would want to avoid come May.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes sit at the top of the Metropolitan Division and were tied with the Panthers for second place in the entire league entering Saturday. The team has been a force all season long and is currently the number 1 ranked defensive team in the league.

The only situation in which Toronto would play the Hurricanes is if they finished in a wild card spot, which is still a possibility considering how tight the Atlantic Division has been all season long.

The Hurricanes acquired ex-Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen in the offseason. Andersen had his struggles with the Leafs, especially in the playoffs, but has arguably been the second-best goaltender in the league for the Hurricanes this season.

The Leafs may know Andersen’s weaknesses, but it would be a challenge to overcome the experienced defense of the Hurricanes come playoff time.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins have had the Leafs number in recent playoff memory.

The monumental Game 7 collapse from Toronto in their 2013 playoff matchup with the Bruins is still something that stings for all Leafs fans. In 2018 and 2019 the Bruins also defeated Toronto in a tough 7-game series.

A recent outing between these 2 teams on March 29th saw the Leafs come away with a 6-4 victory. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner both collected 2 points in the win.

The Bruins have caused Leafs fans much pain in past playoff experiences, but the team has a much different look today without captain Zdeno Chara and star center David Krejci.

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As an on and off team for the majority of this season, the 2022 Bruins could ironically be the Leafs’ best chance of exercising the demons and making it to the second round of the playoffs.