Bruins

Bruins at the Break: How will B's get past Capitals or Lightning as potential playoff foes?

Bruins at the Break: How will B's get past Capitals or Lightning as potential playoff foes?

The “Bruins at the Break” is a five-part series this week with the B’s on a bye that has examined the first half of the season and how it could potentially impact the remaining 31 games in the second half. Today, we look at the biggest question facing the team: How will they beat the bigger, deeper and stronger Capitals or Lightning in the playoffs?

The Bruins had fortune on their side last spring in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a big, big way.

Both the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning were shockingly out after the first round and, in many ways, those two ousters cleared the path for the Black and Gold to get all the way to the Cup Final once all four No. 1 seeds were eliminated after the quarterfinal round.

The Bruins, of course, couldn’t close the deal in part because they faced a bigger, stronger Blues team after managing to avoid bigger, stronger and deeper teams in Tampa Bay and Washington in the Eastern Conference playoffs. So, eventually, they ran into the same old problem — even though it took four rounds of playoffs to get there.

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Boston would be foolish to assume that kind of lightning is going to strike twice, no pun intended, this spring, and should instead assume it could be facing Tampa or Washington, or even both if the B's advance deep enough into the postseason this time around.

It was the Lightning that dispatched the Bruins in the playoffs a couple of seasons ago in a five-game series that wasn’t all that competitive. It’s the Capitals that have routinely bounced the Bruins around for the better part of five years.

Just prior to the Christmas break, the Bruins got a rare blowout win over the Capitals that was still marred by Washington’s physicality. Once Boston built a strong lead against a Washington team already focused on Christmas vacation, the Capitals spent the rest of the game pounding the smaller B’s until both Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug were knocked out with injuries.

The Bruins have plenty of game-breaking skill and breathtaking two-way play on their top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, but they don’t have fire-breathing, heavy, physical playoff-built forwards such as Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson on their roster. That becomes a real issue translating a Boston team built for the regular season into becoming one in the playoffs capable of imposing its will for two months.

Regardless of whether the Bruins can retain their hold on first place in the Atlantic Division in the regular season's final 31 games, the Lightning are the only team that can catch the Bruins at five points back. Still, the regular season and postseason are two different things, and Tampa Bay has depth up front with their forwards that the Bruins can’t really approach.

It’s part of the reason that two springs ago the Brayden Point line was able to shut down Boston’s Perfection Line while other Lightning players took turns beating the Black and Gold and Tampa’s big defensive corps did the job against the smaller B’s forwards as well.  

This season, the Lightning have four players on pace for 30-plus goals (Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Point and Alex Killorn) and already have seven players in double-digit goals at the midpoint in the season. By comparison, the Bruins have each member of their Perfection Line on a 30-goal pace with five players in double-digit goals as Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci are also on pace for 20-goal seasons.

That kind of scoring depth makes a big difference when it becomes a matchup game in the playoffs, where the Bruins were hopelessly outgunned two seasons ago. They would appear to be the case if these two divisional rivals meet again this postseason.

So what can be done about it?

Well, the first thing the Bruins could do immediately is add a big, fast and productive winger to their top-six who could battle with the big D-men in Tampa and Washington. New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider would be at the top of that list should he become available. He would aid Boston’s designs on getting closer to the net for postseason offense.

Certainly, others such as Kyle Palmieri or Tyler Toffoli wouldn’t be the same kind of impact wingers, but they would still be an upgrade over what the B’s now have, just as Marcus Johansson was a good trade deadline fit for them last spring.

It seems with the promotion of Karson Kuhlman, on the heels of waiving Brett Ritchie and David Backes, the Bruins are instead going the fast, skilled route and that’s just going to lead to them getting pushed far and away from the net as happened last June vs. St. Louis and two years ago against the Lightning.

It’s a pattern and a way to beat the Bruins in the playoffs and it’s going to happen again against one of those bigger, stronger and deeper teams unless management finds a way to address it over the next month. 

That will be the mission for management the next few weeks as these Bruins compare very favorably to the ones that ultimately fell short of their goal the past two seasons.


 

Stanley Cup odds 2020: Bruins are co-betting favorites after schedule reveal

Stanley Cup odds 2020: Bruins are co-betting favorites after schedule reveal

The Boston Bruins' quest for redemption is back on.

The NHL and NHL Players Association officially ratified a Return to Play plan for the 2019-20 season Friday and unveiled a full schedule for the league's round robin and qualifying series, which will lead into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Boston was the top team in the NHL with 100 points when the league paused in March and will play a round-robin tournament with the other top three teams in the Eastern Conference: the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.

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So, where do the Bruins stand among the NHL's top contenders for the Cup? According to DraftKings Sportsbook, right at the top -- along with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Here are 12 teams with better than +3000 odds to win the 2020 Stanley Cup at DraftKings Sportsbook following Friday's schedule release:

Boston Bruins: +650
Tampa Bay Lightning: +650
Colorado Avalanche: +800
Vegas Golden Knights: +800
Washington Capitals: +900
Philadelphia Flyers: +1000
St. Louis Blues: +1100
Dallas Stars: +1500
Pittsburgh Penguins: +1600
Edmonton Oilers: +2300
Toronto Maple Leafs: +2900

The Bruins have their work cut out for them in the round robin format, which they'll begin Aug. 2 against the Flyers. Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia all are among the top six championship contenders, with the Lightning neck-and-neck with the Bruins at +650.

The B's are deep, talented and experienced: They boasted the NHL's best goal differential (plus-53) when the league shut down and are led by a core group of veterans -- Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask -- who know Stanley Cup success and failure.

They also have the NHL's goals leader in David Pastrnak and plenty of motivation after losing Game 7 of last year's Stanley Cup Final on home ice to the St. Louis Blues.

If Boston can avenge that loss, it will be the first team since the 2008-09 Penguins win a Cup after losing in the Cup Final the previous season. It appears the oddsmakers like their chances.

Why the Bruins are the team to beat for this unprecedented Stanley Cup

Why the Bruins are the team to beat for this unprecedented Stanley Cup

There’s nothing theoretical about it now. 

The NHL is coming back. That means the Boston Bruins, along with 23 other teams, will play meaningful hockey games less than a month from now. Credit the NHL and the NHLPA for using their vast experience, collaborative efforts and a sense of urgency to get the season back on track, as the NHL now has the best chance of any of the pro sports leagues of actually navigating and surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It’s a set of circumstances that could financially crush any pro sports league that didn’t properly prepare and the pandemic is already uncovering cracks in the foundation for sports like Major League Baseball and the NFL as they struggle to execute their plans.

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The natural question when it comes to the Bruins is exactly how they are going to fare against the competition. Many view them as a favorite after winning the President’s Trophy during the regular season and standing as the only club with 100 points when the regular season paused back in mid-March. The Black and Gold had the No. 1 seed already wrapped up for the entirety of the postseason and they ranked in the top-5 in every discernible category across the board, showing their all-around skill, their worthiness and the sheer motivation to right last season’s wrong against the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final. 

Some believe the Bruins might be at a disadvantage because they are the fourth-oldest team (average roster age: 28.5 years old) in the league with key players like Zdeno Chara (43 years old), Patrice Bergeron (34 years old), David Krejci (34 years old), Brad Marchand (32 years old) and Tuukka Rask (33 years old) all on the wrong side of 30. Clearly it’s going to take a bit to get the engine going for the Bruins and now they have two weeks of camp, one exhibition game and three round-robin games against the other top East seeds to ready themselves for the gauntlet run. 

By comparison, teams like the Avalanche, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, the Rangers and Maple Leafs are all at least two years younger on average with young legs that will bounce back more quickly.  

It’s an assumption around the hockey world that it’s going to take older legs longer to get churning at full speed after a four month layoff from skating and playing, and that led Marchand to deduce a few months ago that “older teams are going to struggle” in the return to play format. 

The B’s will have their challenges in these playoffs, but the biggest ones would probably be head-to-head playoff series against teams like Tampa and Washington that pose challenges whenever they play them. It could very well play out that one of those teams simply proves to be better than the B’s over a seven-game series. That would shock nobody when it comes to a Capitals group that has had Boston’s number for almost 10 years.  

If anything, though, the experience, the leadership and the sheer mental toughness that a grizzled team like the Bruins bring into the tournament is going to be a large advantage over the younger player groups. Just think about the scenarios we’ll see in August and September: Empty arenas, living in total isolation for the first five weeks’ worth of games before players can meet up with their families in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final and pushing on through while players might suddenly drop out of lineups due to positive COVID-19 test results.

It’s going to be a minefield of challenges and adversity where hockey players are going to be tested like never before.  

“I think the message for us hasn’t changed in terms of what our ultimate goal is,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said during a Zoom call with reporters in late June. “Our unfinished business is to be Stanley Cup champions. But inside that message will be a lot of the unknown and how we have to be prepared to deal with that as it comes at us. 

“That’s going to be the message. I think the mental toughness part is going to determine who ends up raising that trophy at the end of the day, and that’s where I like our chances.”

It’s going to be a wildly unpredictable and unprecedented set of challenges that these 24 teams are going to have to deal with headed into the tournament. Meanwhile, the Bruins have a long-established leadership group in Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron that’s seen and played on through pretty much everything in their almost 40 years of playing experience. 

“I’m hoping that leadership plays a big role. Once everybody is together and knowing Bergeron, Chara, Tuukka, Torey (Krug) and Brad, those guys are going to get the others [going],” Bruins President Cam Neely said during a Zoom call with Bruins reporters back in May. “The others know what to expect from that leadership group, they know what to expect from themselves and they know what to expect from the coaching staff. My hope is that they will recognize that we are going from a training camp, in essence, right to the playoffs.

“That’s unusual as we all know, and I’m hoping that the experience of having it ramp up that quickly that the guys can lean on the older players for a little bit of comfort. They don’t necessarily have the experience [of this exact situation], but more being able to get yourselves ready to go in a short period of time.”

There have been unparalleled highs for this B’s core group like winning three Game 7s on the way to hoisting the Cup in Vancouver in 2011. 

And there have been painful lows like losing last year’s Game 7 to the Blues on home ice or imploding in Game 6 against the Blackhawks in 2013 after giving up two goals in 17 seconds in the third period. Or Bergeron sitting out nearly the entire 2007-08 regular season after suffering a nasty concussion at the hands of Flyers defenseman Randy Jones.

Or these Bruins players blowing a 3-0 lead in a seven game series against the Flyers back in the second round of the 2010 playoffs.  

The Bruins know about soul-searching adversity, they run a compassionate and tight NHL dressing room. This current core group also understands that their window to compete for Stanley Cups is no longer infinite.  

In a climate where there is so much unknown to an almost intimidating degree and where some teams might simply submit to the pressure surrounding them while playing amidst a global pandemic, here’s a simple hockey truth: The Bruins might have the exact right kind of collective mental toughness and experience level to compartmentalize things unlike any other team in the entire league. There is no substitute for real-life experience during a time of crisis, and the Bruins have that over every team in the NHL at this point. 

With an expectation that this might be the most challenging Stanley Cup of all-time to win in early October, the Bruins should be the favorites based on the experience, the mental toughness, the leadership and -- oh yeah, being a pretty darn good hockey team on top of it all.