The Boston Bruins are winding down a successful 2013-14 NHL regular-season, and are in position for another extended postseason run.
With their victory over the Philadelphia Flyers last week, the Bruins’ wrapped up the best record in the Eastern Conference, and remain likely to earn the Presidents’ Trophy for the most points in the NHL.
Of course, there is a reason why the NHL Playoffs are referred to as the “second season.”
The Presidents’ Trophy only means that a team has home-ice advantage through the playoffs, nothing more. And there is a long road to travel to be crowned an NHL champion.
The bottom of the Eastern Conference standings are unsettled still, and Boston conceivably could draw either the Philadelphia Flyers, the Detroit Red Wings, or the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first-round of the playoffs. Columbus is the most likely opponent, but things could change dramatically over the last few days of the season.
As the Bruins move towards the playoffs next week, there are still a number of nagging questions to answer as they try to get back to – and capture – Lord Stanley’s Cup this spring.
The Bruins have a history of being a physical team in the era of head coach Claude Julien.
In fact, since importing the impressive defenseman Zdeno Chara to man the blue-line, the Bruins have made their mark with their physicality.
Boston sports four strong lines, a franchise defenseman, and a goalie who should win the Vezina Trophy (Tuukka Rask). With muscular forwards like Milan Lucic, a Swedish import in Carl Soderberg, two-way centers Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly, agitator Brad Marchand, and enforcer Shawn Thornton, the Bruins have made their mark by leaving their mark. They provide bruising play as they punish opponents and set the tone for the game/series.
When the Bruins have suffered in the playoffs, is when teams are able to match that physicality by simply negating it.
Last year, in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Chicago Blackhawks not only equaled the Bruins’ physicality, but by canceling it out, they were able to then use their speed as an advantage to Boston. Matter of fact, once Chicago set the tone, it was Boston’s defensemen looking slow and caught behind the play. So, if they don’t harness consistency, Boston’s in for a seesaw series.
The Montreal Canadians have been another team with regular success against the Bruins.
Montreal, like Boston, is a team with big and strong forwards. Unlike smaller teams, the Canadians’ match the hitting and intensity of the Bruins. Once the Bruins’ big forwards establish a sufficient forecheck, Montreal and their stout players come right back and hit just as hard. Like Chicago did last year, if their defensemen get the puck out of the defensive zone in a hurry, they hold formidable leverage.
DEFENSE/THE LAST TWO MINUTES:
It seems odd to say, because Boston ranks third in goals-per-game with 3.15, but the Bruins are not a team that wins with a dynamic offense.
This year is the outlier, as per Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com, the Bruins – unlike previous teams that still managed to make a run in the playoffs and even win a Stanley Cup – have the number-three ranked power-play in the league with a 20.9-percent success rate, scoring 47 goals on 225 opportunities to date.
Even the power-play is a product of the defense.
Boston has young puck-moving defenseman Torey Krug as a mainstay on their first unit, and in addition, captain Chara, at times, lugs his 6-foot-9, 255-pound frame from the blue-line to right on the goalies hip on the power-play, and has played a key role in its success this season.
The Bruins defense is ranked second in the NHL, currently only allowing 2.09 goals-per-game in 80 games to date. However, the defense is a bit thin heading to the playoffs.
Second-best defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has been out with a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee since Dec. 27. And veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid has been out since Jan. 19 with a quad strain, which he re-aggravated during rehab in March.
Without these veterans, more responsibility has fallen in Chara’s lap, and as well as Johnny Boychuk’s. Under their tutelage, the Bruins have been strong on defense with young defensemen Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Krug, and Kevan Miller. They also have experienced blueliners Corey Potter and Andrej Meszaros for depth at defense. The mix of youth, Chara, Boychuk, and the imported veterans has held the line admirably in the second half of the season.
However, the biggest issue on defense for Boston has been the end of periods. This has been nothing new though.
For years, the defense has had mental lapses, or been beaten in the last few minutes of games. And no example could be more relevant than Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the ‘Hawks. Inside of two-minutes to play and trailing by a goal, Chicago struck twice, 17-seconds apart, to win the championship and send Boston home disappointed.
While resting veterans down the stretch, the Bruins have had some disturbing performances on defense at the end of the game. The team suffered through a one goal defeat to Detroit, an overtime loss to Toronto, a shootout loss to Minnesota, and another shootout falter to Winnipeg. These end-of-the-season late game letdowns (sandwiched around the Eastern Conference clinching victory against Philadelphia) have stirred up fears in Boston of similar problems once the playoffs do commence.
Nonetheless, the Bruins are still the best team in the NHL heading into the playoffs.
With those strong lines able to score and guard the net, a defense with added speed and playmaking around stalwarts Chara and Boychuk, an improved power-play, and Rask standing strong in goal, the Bruins are positioned to make a run at the Stanley Cup again.
So long as they stay strong at the end of the periods, close-out games, and continue to play their game by setting the tempo and maintaining their physicality the Bruins should be the team to beat this spring.
Time to bring the pain, Beantown.