Five things the Bruins need to accomplish before the playoffs
With three games remaining until the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bruins look pretty certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. They also have a sizeable lead on the Leafs for home-ice advantage in that first-round showdown, so a great deal is already known and has basically been decided for a team that’s earned certainty with a great regular season that’s at 103 points and counting.
With that in mind, here’s a laundry list of five things the Bruins are looking to accomplish ahead of the postseason, which is expected to get going next week on April 11 at TD Garden for all those looking to start making playoff plans:
Where does Johansson fit in?
Find a permanent spot for Marcus Johansson. The Bruins brought Johansson in at the trade deadline presumably to man the right wing on David Krejci’s line, and he’s shown the level of skill and offensive know-how to handle things in that spot. The lung injury that knocked him out four games after arriving has been problematic, though, because it didn’t allow him the natural time to develop chemistry with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, and it also put some hesitation and rust into his game after he’d been playing at a high level right at the trade deadline.
Now Johansson is getting looks on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and he’s also expected to get reps on the third line with Charlie Coyle as well. There isn’t much time for the Bruins to figure out where Johansson fits, and they’re beginning to see that he’s probably better on the left wing rather than the right wing (which puts a crimp on the plans to keep him on the Krejci line). So the challenges are obvious and he hasn’t been great since getting back into the lineup, but the hope is that his game will be back at its top level when the Bruins start the playoffs next week.
Get Tuukka back on track
Get Tuukka Rask straightened out, rested or whatever it’s going to take to get him at peak performance for the playoffs. Don’t tell the Tuukka Rask Fan Club this, but he’s sporting an .883 save percentage during the month of March, which is the worst month he had during this entire season including his awful start to the regular season. Normally the answer would be to rest Rask as he’s made a habit of tailing off at the end of regular seasons in the past, but he’s played only 44 games this season thanks to the sterling work done by Jaroslav Halak as the backup goaltender.
There are also only three games left in the season, so perhaps the best answer is to just hope he plays well in his final appearance during this regular season. Then perhaps that good feeling passes over into the postseason, where Rask has put up a .909 save percentage in each of the last two playoffs, and is way below the career .924 playoff save percentage that so many point to in support of the No. 1 goalie.
Getting back to full strength
Get everybody healthy and ready for the postseason. The Bruins will obviously be without Sean Kuraly (hand) and John Moore (upper body) to start the postseason, but there is a chance to get everybody else healthy and warmed up for the postseason despite all the injuries suffered over the last couple of months. This past weekend was a good example of that as Matt Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller both jumped back into the Bruins lineup, and looked ready to go while shaking off some rust in these last few regular-season games.
Torey Krug and Marcus Johansson returned last week as well, so the Bruins coaching staff is finally getting to mix and match pieces with the Stanley Cup playoffs right around the corner. The real trick will be to get all the returning injured players back up to full efficiency with Johansson as the player that looks like he could use a couple of weeks to get back to full speed.
Make sure to take care of business. This means making certain the Bruins secure home-ice advantage in the first round, finish second in the Atlantic Division and give themselves at the very least the best chance to advance past the first round and Toronto. They aren’t off to a good start accomplishing this goal after dropping both ends of the back-to-back over the weekend against Florida and Detroit, and not playing very well at all while doing it.
All it will take is one more regulation win to finish things off in that regard, so that’s a good explanation as to why the urgency wasn’t there against a couple of also-ran teams. But the Bruins also certainly want to finish on a high note, keep playing at a high level and head into the postseason with some positive momentum. They have three games to do that, but the most important thing is clinching home ice, and that should happen sooner rather than later.
Figure out the third line
The Bruins have endured a lack of production and consistency from their third line all season, and that’s the driving force behind trading for Charlie Coyle ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Coyle has exactly two goals and five points along with a minus-2 rating in 18 games since the trade, so he hasn’t really brought the offensive noise since coming on board. We won’t even bother to do the side-by-side offensive comparison with Ryan Donato, but suffice to say it’s not pretty.
Truth be told, he looked more comfortable playing on the wing with David Krejci than he did driving the third line, but he’ll be in the middle on the third line to start the playoffs. The Bruins need to find a combination that’s going to bring more offense to that line and allow the Bruins to at least approach the kind of forward depth that both Toronto and Tampa Bay are bringing to the table. Maybe that means sliding Marcus Johansson in there, or installing Danton Heinen there permanently. Or maybe it means going all big with David Backes on that line? Whatever it is, Coyle and the third line need to bring it in the postseason to help diversify the offense.