BOSTON – The Bruins are bracing for the most physically challenging series of the playoffs as they ready for the Stanley Cup Final starting Monday night against the St. Louis Blues.
Certainly they had a bruising six-game series with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round of the postseason, and Michael Ferland was a one-man wrecking ball for the Carolina Hurricanes in the super brief conference final.
But the B’s are expecting more of what they’ve seen against the Blues over the last 5-10 years: Smash-mouth hockey with plenty of hard hitting, plenty of nastiness and a whole lot of heavy play in the danger areas as the two big, strong hockey teams engage in a battle of wills over what’s expected to be a long series.
Certainly guys like Brayden Schenn, Pat Maroon and 6-foot-6 Colton Parayko are going to be throwing big hits throughout the series, but there are only three players under 6-feet tall on the entire Blues roster. Even a superstar like Vladimir Tarasenko isn’t going to shy away from the playoff intensity contact, and that actually might be one of the big separating factors between St. Louis and any other team Boston has faced in the postseason.
That’s what Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was prepping his team for as Boston spends their final idle weekend prior to the Cup Final craziness getting going at the start of next week.
“I think [St. Louis] is more consistently physical. Columbus it was more with some lines. Carolina was the same way. [The Blues] are more that line after line they’ll just keep finishing checks. They’re probably the most physical [team] that we’ve seen based on the people we’ve talked to, what we’ve watched and the small sample size of two games played against them. That’s what I expect. Even their scoring line, [Jaden] Schwartz, [Brayden] Schenn and [Vladimir] Tarasenko, they’ll be more physical than [Cam] Atkinson, [Artemi] Panarin and whoever [Columbus] rotated in at center. So it’s a little more every shift you need to be prepared to get finished, so you’ve got be ready, you’ve got to be aware and you’ve got to be agile with the smaller [defensemen] moving before they get you in their sights.
“You need to be able take some of those [big hits]. It’s inevitable. We saw that with [Matt Grzelcyk] where he took some big hits and bounced back. We do have some tough guys back there, but you don’t want to put yourself in that position too much.”
It should be exhausting for a couple of well-rested teams, and even better it will be entertaining to the hockey fans out there looking for a great playoff series with Lord Stanley’s spoils going to the winner. It’s also a style of play that bigger, stronger players like Brandon Carlo are looking forward to based on their preferred style of play. It could be a very good thing for 42-year-old Zdeno Chara as well if the playoff series is based on toughness and winning battles rather than a speed track all over the ice as it was at times against the Maple Leafs in the first round.
“With the past [playoff] series and especially the Columbus series, it’s worked out that way with the physicality of the game. That was a fun series [against Columbus]. It was a blast,” said Carlo. “It was one of the series where you really felt a sense of accomplishment after you got through that one. As long as we do the things we need to do and push back, or never even push back but maybe be the aggressors with the physicality between the whistles…it’s going to work well in our favor.”
Some of it will be about throwing the first punch as Carlo mentioned, and some of it will be about using their skill and playmaking, and their historically good playoff PP, to make the Blues pay if they got too aggressive playing the body.
Certainly the Bruins are preparing for a battle in this final playoff series against the Blues. In order to hoist the Cup the B’s know they’re going to have to be as hard-nosed and strong on the puck, in the battle areas and in the war of wills as they’ve been at any point in this two-month postseason run, and rightfully so at this time of year.
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