Here's why the Bruins are going to win the Stanley Cup

Here's why the Bruins are going to win the Stanley Cup

Here’s why the Bruins will win the Stanley Cup this summer in the most unconventional of Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s all about unfinished business when it comes to the Black and Gold.

The Bruins are healthy and rested even if they’re still waiting for a complete roster with the absence of Ondrej Kase, who is still “unfit to participate” after being left behind in Boston last weekend. They were the NHL’s best team when the 2019-20 NHL regular season went on pause and they hit the postseason as the clearcut favorites after winning the President’s Trophy.

They finished the regular season top-5 in just about every imaginable, important team category, they have the NHL’s leading scorer in David Pastrnak and he’s healthy this time around in the postseason, and they have a Vezina Trophy finalist in Tuukka Rask having one of his best seasons.

The Perfection Line is the NHL’s best forward trio and stands highly motivated after falling short when it mattered most against the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago.

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Clearly, they are one of the elite hockey teams in the 24-team postseason tournament, and they are befitted top-seed status as a result. But talent and matchup-wise, they will have their challenges with teams like the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning should they meet up in the later rounds of the playoffs. It should make for some fascinating round robin games where the top seeds will be looking to make big statements against each other before presumably meeting in the do-or-die playoffs a few weeks down the line.

But for the Bruins, the motivation is pretty simple: The window is closing for a Bruins core group that’s getting older and there has been a mission all season to right the wrongs of falling short last postseason. The mantra is “unfinished business” for the Black and Gold and that will keep them focused and urgent when so many distractions surround them in a completely unprecedented Stanley Cup Playoff experience.

If the Bruins can win it all this postseason, it will essentially erase the sting of losing all four home games during the Cup Final last year and that dreadful, hollow Game 7 loss against the Blues where the B’s flatly weren’t good enough. That’s been the message all year for a Bruins group that almost completely returned from last season.  

“These are all brand new experiences with bubble hockey, but still experience is a big part of the playoffs anytime you’re in a series,” said Jake DeBrusk, in an exclusive zoom call with NBC Sports Boston. “We’re excited to play. We want to finish what we started. To get that close last year, we obviously have a lot to prove in these playoffs and prove that we can do it with a similar group. We want to prove that we have the right group to do it. That’s kind of our mission.

“We’re on a mission where there are going to be a lot of things that are going to happen and there are going to be more mental challenges than ever before. You have got to be mature enough in a sense to understand what the ultimate goal is, and no matter what it takes…there are always going to be sacrifices [to win].”

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 years old. Clearly, as we saw versus Columbus on Thursday, it’s going to take some time for the Bruins engine to get churning with three round-robin games left against the other top East seeds to ready themselves for the gauntlet. 

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.  

The B’s will have their challenges in these playoffs with the biggest one likely the aforementioned head-to-head playoff series against teams like Tampa and Washington that routinely give them trouble. It could very well play out that one of those teams is simply better than the B’s over a seven-game series when push comes to shove. That would shock almost nobody when it comes to a Capitals group that has had Boston’s number for nearly a decade.

If anything, though, the experience, the leadership and the sheer mental toughness that a grizzled Bruins group brings into the tournament will be a large advantage over the younger hockey clubs. Just think about the scenarios we’re seeing now: 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 be “unfit to participate” due to positive COVID-19 test results.

It’s going to be a minefield of challenges and adversity with hockey players being tested mentally like never before.  

“I think the message for us hasn’t changed in terms of what our ultimate goal is,” said Bruce Cassidy. “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.”

The biggest advantage the Bruins might have this postseason is the feeling of “unfinished business” that permeates everything they have done for the last 14 months. We’ll begin seeing that play out Sunday against the Flyers in round-robin play in this fascinating Stanley Cup Playoff setting at the bubble in Toronto.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy responds to Tuukka Rask's 'exhibition' remark

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy responds to Tuukka Rask's 'exhibition' remark

Tuukka Rask's comments after the Boston Bruins' Game 2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night rubbed some the wrong way, but head coach Bruce Cassidy wasn't fazed.

Rask raised eyebrows when he said, “To be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey out there. There are no fans, so it’s kind of like playing an exhibition game." That isn't exactly what B's fans want to hear from their goaltender after a playoff loss, but Cassidy downplayed Rask's remarks Friday during a video conference with reporters.

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“I didn’t speak to him after his comments. Tuukka, I think the Boston media knows him well enough — he answers his questions the way he feels,” Cassidy said. “It is a unique environment, but to me, there’s playoff intensity on the ice. You’ve just gotta control what you can control when you’re a player. In my situation, as a coach, the way I look at it, at the end of the day, they’re gonna hand out the Stanley Cup this year. So we’ve gotta play our best hockey if we want to be that team.

"That was our goal at the start of the year. We didn’t anticipate it would end up in an environment like this, but here it is, right? You play the hand you’re dealt, and you prepare yourself — and in my case prepare the team — in this case, for Game 3, to play our best hockey game and that’s what my focus is on right now, plain and simple. That’s what we’re gonna do tonight and puck drop tomorrow at noon, we’re gonna put our best foot forward.”

While Rask's comments may have been off-putting, they weren't unfounded. The NHL's bubble environment is unlike anything these players have experienced before. Matching the level of playoff intensity that's in the arena when fans are in attendance is virtually impossible.

Regardless, Rask and the B's will have to be on their game if they're to regain the series lead on Saturday. Puck drop for Game 3 vs. the Hurricanes is set for 12 p.m. ET. on NBC.

Bruce Cassidy says Bruins will be making changes for Game 3; Is it Jack Studnicka time?

Bruce Cassidy says Bruins will be making changes for Game 3; Is it Jack Studnicka time?

The Bruins are expecting to make some lineup adjustments headed into Game 3 after the Hurricanes evened the series 1-1 apiece in Thursday night’s 3-2 loss in the Toronto bubble at Scotiabank Arena.

Bruce Cassidy said the B’s have some banged-up players that will also have to be factored in as well, but it sounded like he was looking to go a little smaller and faster with his group to counteract some of the speed and aggressive pressure that the Hurricanes are throwing at them.

“We’ve thought it through. There are always day-to-day bumps and bruises, but we’ll be making changes both at forward and at [defense]. Some of that is getting some energy in the lineup and changing the look of our forward group,” said Bruce Cassidy of his Game 3 lineup vs. the Hurricanes.

“Overall [Anders Bjork] did what he could with his skill set to help that line. Nobody is going to replace Pastrnak, but if guys can go in there and complement Bergeron and Marchand and help them create some offense, then they’ve done a good thing. [Bjork] may not go back there, but I don’t think that’s why we feel a goal short [in Game 2].”

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Cassidy said he “anticipates” that Rask will start Game 3 on Saturday at noontime and that David Pastrnak “could possibly play” as a game-time decision after he didn’t practice on Friday with small optional group.

Ideally, the B’s would like to have Pastrnak be able to test out the injury in practice ahead of trying to give it a go in a game, but they won’t get that chance with a noontime start on Saturday after the 24-year-old Pasta didn’t skate on Friday.

“There were some good goals and good saves, but in those one-goal games each goalie needs to make one more save along the way [if they hope to win],” said Cassidy of Rask, who has a “meh” .899 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average in two games vs. Carolina.

“We didn’t get it and they did, and the opposite was true the game before. I think [Rask’s] game can grow like all of our games. The goalie position is probably a tougher one to get up to speed with not a lot of room for error.

“All of the goalies coming back are all in that same position. Hopefully he’ll be better [in Game 3] and we’ll be better in front of him.”

The bet here as far as the lineup changes go? One would expect that Nick Ritchie would be coming out after he was a non-factor in Game 2 with just 10:45 of ice time, and Jeremy Lauzon as well after playing just 13:16 of ice time and taking an early undisciplined penalty chasing after Carolina players after a clean hit laid on Karson Kuhlman.

If Pastrnak can’t play Game 3 and the speedy, responsible Kuhlman stays in the lineup that could open up a chance for rookie Jack Studnicka to play right wing on either the first or third line with Anders Bjork swinging over to his natural left wing side.

Studnicka is the only player the Bruins have among their current reserves that could really make a significant offensive impact with the kind of upside where the 21-year-old could be a difference-maker in a possible one-goal game. So it would make sense that the kid gets the call if the Bruins are looking for energy and a little offense with Pastrnak’s skill set potentially missing from the Game 3 lineup. 

Studnicka played in the first game of the round robin and didn't do much beyond some nice hustle plays on the back-check, but it's pretty clear he has top-6 skill and goal-scoring abilities. 

On defense, it might be time for Cliffy Hockey and Connor Clifton after he played a gritty, agitating game in the round-robin finale against the Washington Capitals. Clifton could play a role similar to the one that Haydn Fleury has played very well for the Hurricanes as a D-man that’s been unafraid to stir things up physically against the Bruins.