NHL Tale of the Tape: How do Bruins & Blue Jackets stack up?
BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins will go into their second-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets with a whole different approach than Round One against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and with good reason. The B’s played Columbus three times in the final six weeks of the regular season, so their opponent will be much fresher in their minds than the Leafs were going into the playoffs. The Blue Jackets also feature a bigger, more physical lineup that will create battle-grounds all over the ice and require the Bruins to really roll up their sleeves. They’ll also do it with some pretty impressive high-end skill in guys like Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin, and a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in Sergei Bobrovsky as well.
So it goes without saying the B’s will head into the second round paying proper respect to their Columbus opponent.
“They’ve got a lot of skill. [Matt] Duchene is skilled. [Artemi] Panarin is skilled. [Cam] Atkinson is skilled. There’s a lot of Marner/Nylander/Kapanen-ish skill on the wings,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think they‘re a mix of both. I think they are much more bottom-heavy than Toronto is in [the physicality] department. But they still have a lot of skill. They will tilt a little physical than Toronto did.”
With a bit more of a rough-and-tumble series expected against the Blue Jackets, here’s how we see the series breaking down with a prediction the Bruins will take it in six games:
The Bruins have one of the best trios in the NHL with David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand (4 goals, 9 points in seven games), but it remains to be seen how much they’re going to play together. But with the bottom-6 coming off a Game 7 where they provided all of the offensive firepower sparked by a healthy Sean Kuraly, the Bruins should be operating with all lines rolling and ready to go.
Certainly the Blue Jackets have their own offensive giddy-up with Matt Duchene (3 goals, 7 points in four games) exploding in the first-round series against Tampa, and Artemi Panarin (2 goals, 5 points in four games) always a danger to score. But the Bruins have more high-end star power on their roster than the Blue Jackets do, and that should play out in Boston’s favor if Bergeron and Pastrnak look a little healthier than they did in the first round against Toronto.
This is a big area where the Blue Jackets could gain an advantage. The Bruins are obviously solid on the back end with 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara leading the way, and both Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo turning into strong young defenders with growing postseason experience. Carlo, in particular, was very good at the end of the Toronto series. And of course Torey Krug looked better at the end of the first round as well, and could be a factor on the PP.
But Columbus has two young, stud, All-Star caliber D-men in Zach Werenski (1 goal, 5 points in four games) and Seth Jones (2 goals, 4 points in four games) who can play close to 30 minutes a night, and they have the potential to dominate playoff games at both ends. Their D-men aren’t quite as notable behind the big two-some, but they are good enough with Jones and Werenski at the top.
Edge: Blue Jackets
Tuukka Rask is coming off a very good first-round series against the Maple Leafs. Sure, there were a couple of soft goals mixed in there, but he finished with a .924 save percentage and on a high note, stopping 32 shots in Game 7 while leading Boston into the next round. The Bruins have to hope that the Big Game Rask they saw in the first round carries over into the second because he’s going to have trouble matching with Sergei Bobrovsky.
The Russian goaltender is one of the best in the NHL and can take over the series all by himself if he’s dialed in. Bobrovsky was awesome with a .932 save percentage and a 2.01 goals against average vs. Tampa in the first-round sweep, but he has had his troubles with the Bruins over the years. Boston has to hope that some of the regular-season goals they’ve scored against “Bob” carry over into the playoffs or that Bobrovsky feels some pressure with the Blue Jackets deeper than they’ve ever been in the playoffs before. But this should be an advantage for Columbus.
Edge: Blue Jackets
The Bruins' power play became a big factor in the first round with the Bruins going 7-for-17 against the Leafs' penalty kill. That’s got to be a scary proposition for the Blue Jackets knowing that the Bruins top PP unit never truly got going in that first round, and they certainly could have been even better on the man advantage at times in the series. Interestingly enough, though, Columbus had the second-best PK in the league this season and will make a formidable special teams foe for the Black and Gold.
This could be where the series is won or lost based on how important the PP is to Boston’s overall offensive effectiveness. Columbus had a good run with their PP in the first-round series against Tampa, but it’s difficult to see that continuing against Boston based on their below-average performance during the regular season. This should be an area where Boston can do some damage if the top PP group really gets going.
John Tortorella is a firebrand, a one-of-a-kind and a combustible force that showed what kind of impact he can have in the playoffs with his rah-rah intermission speech Game 1 of the Tampa series. The Torts’ attitude certainly helped Columbus come back in that pivotal first game of the series and it guides the Blue Jackets in their blue-collar, hard work approach to these games. He also can be funny as hell at times.
But Bruce Cassidy continues to show that he can go toe-to-toe with the best NHL coaches in the business, and he made all the right moves at the end of that series to put away Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs for the second spring in a row. Clearly Tortorella is more experienced overall as a Cup-winning coach in the past, but Cassidy is a big-time asset for the Bruins who will make key adjustments as the series goes along. Cassidy will start to be named among the NHL’s best head coaches sooner rather than later, and he’s showing why during this postseason.