These Atlantic Division franchises played a thrilling seven-game series last season (as well as 2013), and Boston emerged victorious with a Game 7 win at TD Garden. That's where this season's first-round matchup will start on Thursday.
The Bruins, Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning finished the regular season with three of the top five records in the NHL(championship rings), and yet two of them are guaranteed be eliminated before the Eastern Conference finals. The league's divisional playoff format has drawn a lot of criticism in recent years, but this season saw an increase in that frustration. So much so that Lightning captain Steven Stamkos even stood up for the Bruins and Leafs when explaining the issues he has with the current format.
The Bruins have the talent, depth and experience needed to reach the Stanley Cup Final, where they haven't been since 2013. The road to the SCF won't be easy, and if the Bruins do make it that far, their two toughest opponents of the playoffs could come in the first two rounds.
Most of the top Stanley Cup contenders are in the Eastern Conference, but that doesn't mean the Western Conference series will lack drama and intrigue. The West is wide open, with no clear favorite poised to claim the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. This scenario should make for awesome action out West.