If past results are any indication, the first playoff berth in nine years for the Toronto Maple Leafs could be short-lived. Toronto opens its first postseason since 2004 on Wednesday when it visits the Boston Bruins, who have dominated the Maple Leafs in recent seasons. Toronto has three wins in its last 15 trips to Boston (3-10-2) dating back to 2008, and snapped an eight-game losing skid against the Bruins with a 3-2 home victory on March 23. The Maple Leafs finished the season series 1-2-1 against Boston, which is playing in its sixth consecutive postseason.
Boston had its fourth Northeast Division title in five years its grasp but stumbled down the stretch, finishing 2-5-2 in its last nine contests to drop a point behind the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins are looking to avenge a first-round upset by the Washington Capitals last year after winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. David Krejci, who led Boston in scoring on their cup run with 23 points, struggled in April with only five points in 14 games while trade-deadline acquisition Jaromir Jagr led the Bruins with nine points since his arrival. Nazem Kadri is the only Toronto player who has managed consistent scoring against Boston, with seven points in eight career contests.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, CNBC, NESN
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (26-17-5): Phil Kessel, who has matured into a top-10 scorer in the league since arriving in Toronto from the Bruins, has 14 points in 14 career playoff games - all with Boston. Kessel finished the season with 10 goals (18 points) in April, including four tallies over his final three games, but has struggled against his old team, recording just three goals and nine points in 22 contests. Kessel left Monday’s practice without speaking to the media, raising concerns about his accountability heading into the series. Tyler Bozak, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, skated on a line with Kessel and James van Riemsdyk in practice and told reporters he expects to play on Wednesday. Van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul each bring 39 games of playoff experience to the roster, although Lupul has not played a playoff game since 2009.
ABOUT THE BRUINS (28-14-6): Boston enters the playoffs without 2011 Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas for the first time in three seasons. Tuukka Rask - Toronto’s first-round pick in 2005 who was traded to the Bruins for Andrew Raycroft - will start his first postseason games since 2010, when he started 13 as a rookie. “I would expect [Rask] to have success,” Boston GM Peter Chiarelli told reporters during a conference call Monday, “he’s a competitive kid and he’s got some experience under his belt.” Rask will need to be sharp if his team continues its offensive struggles. Milan Lucic scored two goals in his final 16 contests and will need to produce more if Nathan Horton is unable to return from an upper-body injury that kept him out of the team’s last five games. The 41-year-old Jagr has been battling the flu but should be ready for Wednesday, adding 180 games of playoff experience to Boston’s roster.
* Bruins are 2-7 in their last nine.
* Bruins are 5-0 in last five games against Toronto in Boston.
* The home team is 4-1 in the last five meetings.
* The over is 12-4 in the last 16 meetings in Boston.
1. The last playoff meeting between these Original Six rivals occurred in 1974, when a Bruins team led by future Hall-of-Famer Bobby Orr defeated Toronto in five games in the conference semifinals.
2. Maple Leafs starting netminder James Reimer has never played a playoff game at a pro level higher than the ECHL, where he started eight games with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2008.
3. This is the first season that both of the first-round picks involved in the Kessel trade are playing regular roles with Boston. Tyler Seguin finished the season with 16 goals and 32 points, while rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton recorded 16 points.
New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (-234, 5.5)
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma refused to provide a direct answer to the most obvious question. Bylsma wouldn't divulge his hand on the status of captain Sidney Crosby as his top-seeded Penguins host the eighth-seeded New York Islanders in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series on Wednesday. "Our lineup is a game-day decision," Bylsma told reporters following Tuesday's afternoon practice before citing the issue of medical clearance during a television interview later in the day on the NBC Sports Network.
Crosby has been sidelined since March 30 after a deflected shot resulted in a broken jaw. Pittsburgh lost its next two games before winning eight of its next 10 to finish the season. The Penguins will face the upstart Islanders, who went 8-1-4 to conclude the campaign and are making their first postseason appearance since 2007. Like most teams, New York struggled against the Penguins - posting a 4-1 win on Jan. 29 before dropping the final four contests of the regular-season set.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports, TSN, MSG-Plus, ROOT
ABOUT THE ISLANDERS (24-17-7): For New York to pull off the upset, John Tavares will need to step up his game against the Penguins. Although his 28 goals trailed only Washington's Alex Ovechkin (32) and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos (29), Tavares had just one in five contests against Pittsburgh this season. He did finish on a tear, however, scoring four times in his final five games.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (36-12-0): While Crosby's status is in question, James Neal certainly left little doubt once he returned to the ice. After missing eight games with a concussion, Neal recorded a hat trick and added an assist as Pittsburgh cruised to an 8-3 triumph over Carolina in the regular-season finale on Saturday. Reigning Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin, who scored a goal and set up two others, admitted on Tuesday that he feels fine after being plagued by an upper-body injury. Defenseman Brooks Orpik (lower-body injury) skated by himself prior to Tuesday's practice and will be a game-time decision.
* Islanders are 5-21 in last 27 in Pittsburgh.
* Penguins are 7-1 in their last eight games against on three or more days rest.
* Penguins are 23-7 in last 30 against Islanders.
1. Pittsburgh boasts the league's second-best power play (24.7 percent) while New York has shown skill with the man advantage as well (19.9 percent, 11th-best in the NHL).
2. The Islanders have won all three postseason meetings with the Penguins - winning in seven games in both 1975 and 1993 and five games in 1982.
3. Pittsburgh LW Brenden Morrow collected six goals and eight assists in 15 games with his new team. Morrow was acquired from Dallas on March 24.San Jose Sharks vs. Vancouver Canucks (-133, 5)
The San Jose Sharks stumbled over the last week of the regular season and were forced to settle for sixth place in the Western Conference. They'll attempt to right the ship when they visit the Northwest Division champion Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Wednesday. San Jose's roller-coaster season took another dip when it lost three of its final four contests. But the Sharks are facing a team against which it had great success as they swept the three-game season series, outscoring the Canucks 10-5 in the process.
Third-seeded Vancouver also enter the postseason in a slump, losing four of its last six contests (2-3-1) and each of its last two. The 7-2 setback in Edmonton in the season finale was especially disheartening as the Oilers broke open a tie game with five goals in a 3:35 span late in the third period. The Canucks played their final two contests without Cory Schneider, who is sidelined with an undisclosed injury. San Jose and Vancouver are meeting for just the second time in the postseason. The Canucks needed only five games to get past the Sharks in the 2011 conference finals but lost to the Boston Bruins in the championship round.
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, CSN California (San Jose)
ABOUT THE SHARKS (25-16-7): San Jose has made the playoffs each of the last nine seasons but has yet to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Sharks have reached the conference finals three times, yet have not won more than two games in the round. The five-game loss to Vancouver brings back some tough memories for Antti Niemi, who shared the league lead with 24 victories. "We lost two years ago and remembering those games, they were a little lucky, they got a few lucky goals," Niemi said. "Hopefully, we'll get a few bounces this time." Brent Burns' shift from defense to forward was a smashing success, as the 28-year-old registered all 20 of his points in 24 games after the switch. "Obviously, it's been going well, but playing with (Joe Thornton), he has such good vision on the ice, and (T.J.) Galiardi, we really found good chemistry," Burns said. "(Galiardi is) fast, he gets it in deep, and I think it's been going well. I have a lot of fun."
ABOUT THE CANUCKS (26-15-7): Schneider, who played all three regular-season games against the Sharks, participated in practice Monday. While coach Alain Vigneault only would describe the netminder's physical problem as a "body injury," Schneider was unable to disclose his ailment. "Going into the playoffs, our team has taken a firm stance on not discussing injuries, not disclosing anything about them," Schneider told reporters. "So I hate to be vague and not very specific for you guys, but that's just our team policy right now." Defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who returned from a lower-body injury for the season finale, felt Saturday's game against Edmonton was a good test for the playoffs. "It's always good to get into game situations and feel that pressure on the forecheck and make some plays and make some hits, take some hits," he said. "It served its purpose."
* Sharks are 7-1 in their last eight vs. a team with a winning record.
* Canucks are 8-1 in their last nine home games.
* Sharks are 4-1 in the last five meetings.
* Under is 5-1-2 in the last eight meetings.
1. Vancouver's loss to Anaheim in its final home game ended its eight-game winning streak at Rogers Arena.
2. Canucks D Christopher Tanev remains out indefinitely with a leg injury, while Sharks D Jason Demers is not expected to play Wednesday due to a foot injury.
3. Eight of the last 10 meetings between the teams have been one-goal decisions, with two ending in overtime and two more in shootouts. Six of those eight contests finished with a 3-2 score.