Bruins or Bolts? Leafs will wait to find out first-round foe as stars set to sit out finale

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Toronto’s first-round playoff opponent is still TBA, while a few prominent Maple Leafs will be MIA in their final regular season game against Boston.

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With the Tampa Bay Lightning failing to secure third place in the Atlantic Division and the Bruins still alive after Thursday’s games, it comes down Friday’s final night on the NHL calendar.

But after practice on Thursday, Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe announced several prominent players would skip Game 82.

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Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Jack Campbell and possibly captain John Tavares and maybe one defenceman will sit.

Risk of injury to Matthews or Marner, who wanted a shot at his first 100-point season, out-weighed anything else.

“I get feedback from the medical team, the performance team, but the most important thing is have a conversation with the players,” Keefe said. “Give them our perspective, not so much about the upcoming game but how they’re feeling about their game and do they need to play one more. It’s really about Monday.”

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Marner will have to be content with his own career-best 97 points.

“We have a pretty good awareness of how this year has been and how hard obviously on everyone’s body,” Marner said. “We all discussed that we thought it’s best to need a rest and do the right stuff until the real thing starts.

“It’s definitely tough (to miss a run at 100) but I want to make sure we’re ready to start the playoffs.”

Injured forwards Michael Bunting, Ondrej Kase and defenceman Rasmus Sandin are not playing Friday, meaning rookie Nick Abruzzese likely gets back in, with recalls to the Marlies for Nick Robertson or another forward. Erik Kallgren starts in goal.

Boston’s lineup, here on a back-to-back, will be a bit of a mystery, but the B’s coming all the way up to third place will require them to beat the Leafs and hope Tampa loses Friday to the Islanders.

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“It’s never easy at this point of the season, you start Monday night and you don’t quite know who,” Keefe said. “There’s the high probability that it’s Tampa, but Boston is right there.

“It’s a little bit easier in the sense that we play Boston tomorrow, we have an eye towards them and we’ve played Tampa twice recently. All those things mean we’re preparing just fine.”

The Leafs are putting a lot of stock in home-ice advantage, given they made two southern road trips this month, played just about every second day since March 26 and have two days off on either side of Friday’s game before their ‘second season’ starts.

“I’m not going to lie, that (last one) was a tough trip, as bad as we’ve had all year,” said forward Alex Kerfoot. “Everyone was a little sick, a little tired. To play a couple at home (Detroit on Tuesday and now Boston) and have two days off before playoffs, get our game ramped up, it’s nice.”

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After two series the past two years that were played mostly in Scotiabank, though without fans, the crowd should be a positive factor.

“That’s what make this the most fun time,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “In our room right now, you can already feel the nervous energy, the excitement. That’s what it’s all about.

“(Starting Friday) we have a chance to go out, play hard and play with structure, execute on the power play. That way you can go into (the first series) feeling good. If you go out there and dog it, it doesn’t feel good leaving the rink.

“And that way when we get rolling Monday, we’re in a head space where we’re confident, at home and enjoying the opportunity.  We’re proud of the work we got done, but we’re just getting started.”

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