By Patrick Donnelly
With round one against Ottawa starting Wednesday night, fan speculation is running wild as the Bruins return to the playoffs. Will they go far? Will they lose early? Who knows? Anything can happen, it’s the playoffs.
Here’s five reasons the Bruins will go far:
- The Matchup
Superficially, the Bruins don’t have much of a hope against the Sens as they have gone 0-3-1 in the season series. However, the Bruins have more talent up front than the Senators do. Simply put: Patrice Bergeron > Kyle Turris, David Krejci > Derick Brassard, David Pastrnak > Mark Stone/Bobby Ryan, Brad Marchand > Mike Hoffman (albeit not completely healthy), Dominic Moore > Chris Kelly. The Bruins, on paper, have far more talent in the forward core than the Senators do. Tuukka Rask is also arguably better than Craig Anderson, although Anderson was better in the regular season, Rask has proven he can get it done when called upon.
- David Krejci
A proven playoff performer, David Krejci has been dominant in the postseason throughout his career. During the Cup run in 2011, Krejci led the league with 23 points in 25 playoff games (12 G, 11 A). During the failed Cup run of 2013, Krejci once again led the league with 26 points in 22 games (9 G, 17 A). The 30 year-old Czech has 77 points overall in 93 total playoff games. Krejci has come through in the clutch time after time and has been a huge part of the Bruins post-season success in recent memory. With Patrice Bergeron hitting his stride, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak dominating, Krejci must continue his hot streak and be a key contributor like he has been in years passed.
- Tuukka Rask
Another playoff performer, Rask has the ability to steal a series against some of the best teams and players around the league. After a just “okay” series against Toronto in 2013, Rask went on a tear and essentially carried the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final, completely shutting down Pittsburgh along the way. Rask has also been very solid against Ottawa in his career, sporting a record of 8-7-4 with a 2.34 GAA and a .921 save percentage. Rask’s career playoff statistics stand at a .930 save percentage and a 2.11 GAA with a record of 28-19. Rask is also a big reason of why the Bruins are even in the playoffs as he was phenomenal in the first half of the season and was unbelievable in the final two weeks (5-0-1 with a 0.75 GAA and a .972 save percentage and of the season in spite of the mid-year slump he dealt with.
- Potential Matchups After Ottawa
If the Bruins get passed Ottawa they would face either Montreal or the Rangers. I have said on record numerous times saying I would take Montreal in the playoffs any day of the week. First, the Bruins’ track record against the Rangers the past few years doesn’t bode well for them going down the stretch, but, if Montreal gets passed New York (which it probably will), the matchup favors the Bruins. The Bruins have gone 2-2 against the Habs this year, aside from an embarrassing regulation loss at home in October, the Bruins have largely dominated the Habs. The other loss was a tight contest that the Bruins should have had in all honesty; however, the two wins (one in overtime) saw Boston own the Canadiens for the most part. The B’s lead Montreal in several key statistical categories, including goals per game.
- Charlie McAvoy
Yup, the savior is here. McAvoy signed his three-year ELC on Monday morning and joined the big club for practice, wearing #73 and skating alongside John-Michael Liles on the third defensive pairing. McAvoy will make his NHL debut in Game 1 on Wednesday night. The former Terrier needs no introduction as we as fans have been salivating at the chance to see him play in Boston for the better part of a year. With Torey Krug likely out for the series and maybe more, McAvoy could fill the offensive gap that will be left. The right-shot defenseman also has the skating skill and the ability to move the puck up the ice that could be the x-factor for the Bruins in figuring out how to crack Ottawa’s 1-3-1 forecheck and neutral zone in Krug’s absence.
Here’s five reasons the Bruins won’t make noise:
The Bruins will be without Krug for the series and will miss Brandon Carlo for at least Game 1. So that means Charlie McAvoy will be thrown straight into the fire and guys like Liles, Adam McQuaid, and Kevan Miller will see far more minutes than they should in all reality. With both Krug and Carlo out, Zdeno Chara will have to log more minutes than he should as well, so fatigue could be a factor as the series pushes forward. Up front, Frank Vatrano is also not 100%, and Matt Beleskey is still fighting what has plagued him all season long.
- Lack of Depth Scoring
Outside of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, Drew Stafford, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, and Dominic Moore, no one has really provided much complementary production as of late. This is nothing new as this issue has plagued the Bruins all year long. The top guys must continue their torrid pace, or the bottom nine must contribute if there is a cold spell in the near future. Jimmy Hayes has been non-existent as well as Matt Beleskey. Frank Vatrano has been inconsistent and Ryan Spooner has played better since Bruce Cassidy came in, but he still hasn’t put up the points he should have. David Backes hasn’t been bad by any means, but he can certainly be far better than he has been.
- Tuukka Rask
Although Rask has proven he can come up big in big moments, he has also had his issues in the past. The last series the B’s played in the playoffs, 2014 against Montreal, Rask was not anything special. Another instance would be back in 2010 when the Bruins famously blew a 3-0 lead before it was cool, Rask crumbled just as the rest of the team did. Many fans will also point to some of the bigger regular season games over the past few years, most notably last year against Ottawa in the season finale, and a few weeks ago against the Islanders when Rask was unable to play due to injury or illness.
The Bruins have several players on the roster who have little to no playoff experience, including David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, Frank Vatrano, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller (only 11 games), Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Noel Acciari, Joe Morrow, Sean Kuraly, Tim Schaller, Riley Nash, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson. It should be noted; however, that Morrow, Schaller, Kuraly, and possibly JFK won’t see much ice or even a game in the series, but nonetheless they are still inexperienced in the playoffs.
- The 1-3-1
Ah, yes, the bane of the Bruins’ existence this season. Ottawa’s main goal with the 1-3-1 system is to bottle up the neutral zone, so opposing teams have difficulty entering the attacking zone and setting up a consistent forecheck. Cracking the 1-3-1 will be especially tough without Torey Krug, who would be a key cog in trying to solve this frustrating system. Also, the 1-3-1 makes for an incredibly low-scoring and boring on-ice product as it is hard for teams to get into a good flow in the game and it could prove difficult to stay focused during the course of play. The last time the B’s faced the 1-3-1 in the playoffs was in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals against Guy Boucher’s Tampa Bay Lightning and the Bruins were able to solve the system by breaking it down into a series of 2-on-1’s off the rush, so if the Bruins can manage that they could pull it off; however; they are yet to accomplish that this season.
The Bruins will need a lot of things to go right to make a deep run. On paper, things look equally good and bad for the B’s and their hopes as the playoffs loom. Statistics and on-paper looks can tell people a lot of things, but when the playoffs start, that all is thrown away and each team starts fresh. An 8 seed can beat the President’s Trophy winners, any series can go to seven games, nothing is set in stone (unlike the NBA, but I digress). Anything can happen this time of year. Expect the unexpected. The Bruins open Round One on Wednesday night at 7:00 in Ottawa. Get ready; playoff hockey is back in Boston.