Wednesday Night Hockey: Will Leafs get out of first round this year?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The biggest question surrounding the Maple Leafs this year is not whether or not they’ll make the playoffs, it’s more about them getting out of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Because of the current playoff format in the NHL, we have a pretty good idea that the Leafs will take on the Boston Bruins in the first round. That’s a pretty terrible “reward” for the team with the third-most amount of points in the Eastern Conference right now. Of course, there’s still a chance that the Leafs could make up four-point gap between themselves and the Bruins. That would allow them to get home-ice advantage in the first round, which would go a long way in helping their odds of winning the series.

Last season, the Leafs and Bruins squared off in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bruins had home-ice advantage in that series and they eventually won it in seven games. In 2017, the Leafs dropped their first-round series to the Washington Capitals in six games. Between 2014 and 2016, Toronto didn’t even get a sniff of the postseason.

If we look back at 2013, they lost a first-round matchup to the Bruins in seven games. As you probably remember, Game 7 was played at TD Garden in Boston.

The last time they got out of the first round was back in 2003-04, when Pat Quinn was their head coach. And as we all know, they haven’t wont a Stanley Cup since 1967.

Even the biggest Leafs hater has to admit that this team has the talent on their roster to do damage in the playoffs. If healthy, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and the rest of the team have the offensive firepower to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league. There’s still some question marks surrounding their defense, but Morgan Reilly and Jake Muzzin are solid pieces on the back end.

The most interesting battle between the Bruins and Leafs would come between the pipes. Can Frederik Andersen outlast Tuukka Rask in a seven-game series? Andersen has shown that he’s more than capable of stealing games for the Leafs when they aren’t at their best. Can he do it on the biggest stage? We’ll find out in just a few weeks.

So what happens if the Leafs don’t get out of the first round? Is their sweeping changes? Is Mike Babcock on the hot seat? We’ll worry about that if they fail, again, in April, but you’d have to think that everyone in place will get a little more time to finish building the team.

On the flip side, how can any team that lost in the first round last year add John Tavares and not make any further than they did the previous season?

It should be a very interesting spring in Toronto.

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Jeremy Roenick (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’analyst) will have the call from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.