Five things Bruins need to do to beat Senators
There are plenty of areas to dissect and items to break down in any playoff series, and Bruins-Senators is no different. Boston was a well-documented 0-3-1 in four games against Ottawa during the regular season, scoring just six goals in the four regular-season games. The B's will also have to deal with the loss of primary puck-mover Torey Krug (lower-body injury), who would have been an important figure against the trap-happy Senators. So with all that in mind and the playoffs about to begin, here are five things that must go right if the Bruins are going to come out on top in a seven-game series against the Senators:
Charlie McAvoy needs to step up immediately
It’s going to be a challenge for the 19-year-old rookie to simply survive in his NHL debut -- during the playoffs, no less -- but he’s going to need to do more than simply survive. As a skilled defenseman with puck-moving ability who finds passing seams in the middle of the ice, and a power-play quarterback who’s a triple-threat with the puck on his stick, McAvoy will need to provide his best Torey Krug impersonation. It won’t be easy, though. He’s only had four games of AHL experience after leaving Boston University, and the chances that he’s ever seen a 1-3-1 trap aren’t very good at all. McAvoy doesn’t lack for confidence, however, and there’s a positive feeling that he's something special, given his performances on big stages. Don’t forget that Krug came out of nowhere to supply offense and puck-moving for the Bruins when they needed it to beat the Rangers in the playoffs four years ago, so why can’t it happen again?
Make it a special-teams battle
Despite the loss of Krug on the power play, the Bruins still have enough talent to do damage against an Ottawa penalty kill that ranked 22nd in the NHL this season. If McAvoy can step up and fill in as a point guy on the PP, all the better for the NHL’s seventh-ranked power play (it scored 21.7 percent of the time during the regular season). Five of the six goals the B’s scored against Ottawa this season were on the power play, so it was effective. So the Bruins -- who have the NHL’s top-ranked penalty kill, as well -- need their special teams to factor into this series, and that means doing whatever it takes to draw penalties against an Ottawa team that wants to sit back and wait for something to happen. Easier said than done, but that’s when agitators like Brad Marchand might have to make their presence felt a little bit.
Tuukka Rask will need to steal a game or two
Nobody is expecting high-scoring affairs, or even particularly compelling attacks, in this series, and that means plenty of pressure on the goaltenders. Rask was 0-3-1 with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in the four regular-season losses to the Senators, and was just okay in those games behind a Bruins defense that allowed too many tips and redirects from the slot area. But Rask has the second-highest save percentage (.936) among goalies with at least 10 playoff games played since 2013, and has customarily risen to the occasion with solid postseason performances. Of course, those numbers came when Rask had vastly better defensive groups -- and overall teams -- in front of him, so he’ll be asked to do much more this time around, even without injured top-4 defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo. The bottom line is the Bruins are going to need the red-hot Rask who posted a .974 save percentage in his final five appearances of the regular season,. The other good news? There are a few more off-days built into this first-round schedule. That should be a benefit to Rask, who sometimes needs a little more rest.
Bruins will need more secondary scoring
Riley Nash and the fourth line has done their part for the Bruins lately, and everybody is expecting that to continue even with the loss of Noel Acciari. But the B’s third line ended the season in a horrific funk. Ryan Spooner ended his season with just one goal and six points in his final 17 games, and seemed to be playing a much more tentative game after returning from a concussion late in the season. Frank Vatrano had zero goals and just two assists in his final 16 games, with an upper-body injury mixed in as well. Vatrano had three or four scoring chances in the first period of Boston’s last loss to Ottawa, but couldn’t pull the trigger on any of them. The Bruins will need Vatrano and Spooner to make good on some of the chances they’ll see against Ottawa’s bottom lines and bottom D-pairings, and give Boston’s top players some offensive back-up if the Bruins are going to end up successful against the stingy Senators.
Brad Marchand must stay disciplined
Brad Marchand is saying all the right things and appears to be doing all the right things headed into the playoffs. Marchand knows discipline is key to success, and that the Bruins will be much better served by drawing Ottawa penalties than landing themselves in the penalty box. The hope is that Marchand got it out of his system when he was suspended for two games for spearing Jake Dotchin in the groin, and he learned a lesson from his time on the sideline . . . which cost him a chance at 40 goals and also $100,000 in lost game checks. Marchand usually only loses it like that once a season, resulting on punishment from the league, but he can also hurt the team with ill-timed penalties. Remember Game 7 against Montreal in 2014, when he got called for unsportsmanlike conduct after snowing Carey Price while stopping in front of the net and the Habs scored on the subsequent power play en route to completing the playoff upset of Boston? So there’s a past history of Marchand costing the Bruins when he steps over that line in the playoffs, and he needs to take special care to not do that. He’s too valuable in all situations for the B's to either spend too much time in the box or get himself suspended during the playoffs. The Bruins needed an engaged, smart, and in-control No. 63 for seven games against Ottawa.