Toronto Maple Leafs Possible Playoff Match Ups In Round One

Maple Leafs likely to get playoff rematch vs Florida Panthers
Maple Leafs likely to get playoff rematch vs Florida Panthers / Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs Likely To Get Playoff Rematch vs. Florida Panthers

If the playoffs were to start today, the Panthers would be the Leafs first-round matchup. Despite losing to them (mostly due to Sergei Bobrovsky) last year in the second round, this is the better of the two most likely matchups the Maple Leafs could get.

The Leafs still have a regular-season game against the Panthers, but through the first three games of the season series, the Leafs are 2-1 through the first three games and the final game of the season series is the second to last game of the season for the Leafs.

Looking at these two teams from a statistical perspective, the Panthers have the advantage and will be the favourite in the series. The biggest reason is that the Panthers rank third in the NHL in expected goals allowed per game. This stat has been a significant predictor of the eventual Stanley Cup winner, as four of the last five Stanley Cup winners have ranked inside the top five in this stat (via NaturalStatTrick).

The Panthers are also an excellent puck possession team, ranking second in shot attempt percentage and third in shot-on-goal percentage, while the Leafs rank outside the top 10 in both stats. In addition to the statistics, the Panthers have the goaltending advantage going into this matchup. Sergei Bobrovsky has been brilliant again this season, saving the sixth most goals above expected of any goalie and averaging the 15th most goals saved above expected per game.

Despite that, the Maple Leafs are coming into this playoff run in much better form than the Florida Panthers. Over the last 25 days, the Leafs have gone 9-5-1, and in these games, the Maple Leafs have played teams contending for a playoff spot in all but two of those games. On the other hand, the Panthers are 4-7-2 and are 0-6 in games against Eastern Conference teams that have already clinched a playoff spot over that stretch.

Looking more recent goaltending performances, the Leafs also have a slight edge there. Ilya Samsonov will more than likely be the playoff starter and over his last eight starts he has saved 0.46 goals above expected per game, where as Bobrovsky has started to struggle over his last 10 starts for the Panthers allowing 0.39 more goals than expected.

Although the Maple Leafs will be slight underdogs in this series, they can compete with this Panthers team if they can find away to move pucks quick and nullify the Panthers forecheck. The other big key for the Leafs will be staying out of the penalty box.

Since the start of March, the Maple Leafs have been averaging the sixth-highest penalty kill time on ice per game, but the Panthers have been averaging the most per game by more than 1:30 minutes. If the Leafs stay as disciplined as they have been for most of the season, Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs powerplay could take over this series.