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Maple Leafs scorers must stir to have hope against Bruins

Brian Fluharty / Getty Images

It feels strange to question the finishing ability of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Eastern Conference leader in goals, and wonder if they can score enough to take revenge on a playoff foil.

Toronto's 298 goals in the regular season were four off the NHL lead. Sparked by Auston Matthews' flirtation with the 70-goal milestone, the Leafs iced one of the best offenses of their Core Five era. But this strength vaporizes in the postseason. Saturday's disheartening 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins provided the latest example.

Over six regular seasons since John Tavares' celebrated arrival in 2018, the Leafs scored 3.52 goals per game, allowed 2.98, and posted a .645 points percentage. Over 38 playoff outings in that span, they've averaged 2.71 goals, let in 2.95, and won a single series. The Leafs fire the same amount of shots on net at this time of year, but goalies like Boston's Jeremy Swayman tend to swallow them.

Blame's easy to assign. Toronto's expensive stars fade when the playoffs start. Only William Nylander and Morgan Rielly approximate their usual production.

Since Tavares joined the team, Matthews tops the NHL in goals by a wide margin, while only Connor McDavid has dished more primary assists than Mitch Marner. On a per-game basis in the playoffs, those Leafs barely crack the top 20 in either category.

While Nylander missed Game 1 due to an unspecified injury, the remaining Big Four failed to convert a long 4-on-3 power play. Matthews beat Charlie McAvoy and a wandering Swayman to a loose puck but rang it off the near post. After topping out at 69 goals, none of Matthews' 22 shots in Toronto's past three games found twine.

Brian Fluharty / Getty Images

Swayman improved to 4-0 with a .962 save percentage against the 2023-24 Leafs. Though he's hard to beat from distance, his denial rate on high-danger chances this season ranked in the league's pedestrian 52nd percentile, per NHL EDGE. Slot shots can trouble Swayman. That said, his early kick stop thwarted Nick Robertson from close range and let Bruins rookie John Beecher respond with the opening score.

Boston's supporting cast shone Saturday. Jesper Boqvist put the puck on Beecher's tape when the fourth line struck off the rush. Morgan Geekie's screen blocked Ilya Samsonov's view of Jake DeBrusk's first power-play tally. David Pastrnak's muted night (three shots, no goals for a sixth straight game) didn't slow the onslaught.

Brian Fluharty / Getty Images

Series around the NHL are irresistibly dramatic. The Battle of Florida between the Panthers and Lightning starts Sunday. Out west, the Kings will get a third straight crack at the powerhouse Oilers. But nothing compares to Leafs against Bruins. Boston infamously vanquished Toronto in Game 7s in 2013, 2018, and 2019 - once in a blowout and twice by erasing third-period deficits.

Old-timers recall that the Bruins have won six straight playoff matchups with the Leafs going back to 1969. That was shortly after Bobby Orr's NHL debut. If the stars don't score, another opportunity will slip away.

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

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