Marchand TOR series Game 1 SAT BUG

BOSTON – Forget Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens. 

For Brad Marchand, right now, it’s all about Bruins-Toronto Maple Leafs. 

“You see the excitement they have all throughout Canada when they’re in playoffs,” Marchand said Thursday. “Makes it a lot of fun to play them. And I think, just with the history we’ve had with them recently, they’re probably our biggest rival right now over the last decade. 

“They’ve probably surpassed Montreal and any other team with kind of where our rivalry’s gone, just because we’ve both been so competitive with each other, and we’ve had a few playoff series. It definitely brings the emotion, the intensity, up in the games and the excitement for the fans. 

“It’s a lot of fun to play them.”

The Bruins and Maple Leafs will renew their rivalry in their first round series, which starts Saturday at TD Garden (8 p.m. ET; TBS, truTV, MAX, SN, CBC, TVAS). They’ll be familiar opponents. 

Over the past 11 seasons, the Bruins have faced the Maple Leafs four times in the postseason, starting with the epic 2013 matchup in the first round. That resulted in an all-time instant classic, the Game 7 in which the Bruins were down 4-1 in the third period and came roaring back for an overtime win that helped propel them to the Stanely Cup Final. 

That would prove to be the model and, in the intervening years, the Bruins have beaten them in each of the three subsequent series, including going to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2018 and 2019. 

Which could easily be where this series is going. 

“Offensively they’re a gifted hockey club,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Thursday. “They present a lot of challenges down around the netfront area. We’re going to have to be really sharp there. We’re a pretty good team defensively when we stick to what our principles are. So I expect it to be a tight series overall.”

But if anyone knows the Maple Leafs -- and what to expect -- it’s Marchand. In his career, he’s played 146 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, 11th most of any active player. Twenty-one of those games have come against the Maple Leafs, games in which Marchand has 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists).

“They’re always extremely competitive,” Marchand said. “You never know which way the series is going to go. But that’s what you want. That’s what you love about hockey is the competition aspect. They’re real competitors over there, especially the way they’re built right now. So it’s going to be a lot of fun, and that’s what playoffs is about. It’s about the best teams going head-to-head.”

But even though the history favors the Bruins -- including having won each of the past six playoff matchups, dating back to the NHL’s expansion era in 1967-68 and each of the four regular-season games in 2023-24 -- Marchand is throwing that out the window.

“That means nothing,” he said. 

The Maple Leafs bring the No. 2 offense in the NHL into their series, having scored 3.63 goals per game. They were led by Auston Matthews and his 69 goals this season, a new record for him and for the franchise. 

“You have to be hard on a guy like that and limit his time and space with the puck,” forward Charlie Coyle said. “He’s really good at getting in position to receive the puck and he’s got linemates who can put it right on his tape for him. You’ve just got to know where he is, especially in our D zone. He likes to loop away after cycling it and kind of find that sweet spot coming down Broadway there in the middle. It’s not just a one-person job.”

Nor is Matthews their only threat. 

“They have a lot of great players, skill players, who play hard and can be very dangerous around the net and create scoring opportunities,” forward Charlie Coyle said. “You’ve just got to be aware of who’s out there and who you’re against, who you’re matched up against, and play hard. Also, too, we’ve got to focus on our game and what we do well and when we do that, we trust each other and have that belief in each other, we’re a pretty good hockey team.”

Especially against the Maple Leafs. 

Marchand, who grew up in Halifax loving the Maple Leafs, still gets a thrill to see their alumni walking around Scotiabank Arena in the playoffs. And it’s even more special to be on the ice with them, to be competing against them -- even more so when the Bruins keep winning. 

But that certainly doesn’t mean this series will be easy. 

“They’ll be a [heck] of a challenge,” Marchand said.