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.