The Stanley Cup Final hangover is real, and not so spectacular for the Bruins

The Stanley Cup Final hangover is real, and not so spectacular for the Bruins

The term “Stanley Cup hangover” has long been in vogue around the NHL.

The notion is that a team that plays that deeply into the previous season to win the Stanley Cup is pretty automatically placed at a disadvantage the following season based on the exertion extended into June at a playoff intensity. Everybody talks about the Stanley Cup winner suffering a hangover and the Washington Capitals were the poster boys for it last season both literally and figuratively as they battled their flagging energy levels throughout the season.

But nobody really talks about the “Stanley Cup Final hangover” in the same terms. This is the situation that the Bruins find themselves in as they get ready to drop the puck for the season opener tonight in Dallas.

They didn’t win the Cup when it was all over in Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues, but they did play 24 playoff games into the middle of June with the same heavily abbreviated offseason as the Stanley Cup champs.

Most of those Stanley Final teams make it to the postseason that following season, but what do they actually do in the playoffs? Interestingly enough, the Bruins have taken recent past history of Stanley Cup Finalists into account when looking ahead to this season.

“We actually did a study that [Stanley Cup Final] teams in the past four or five years have actually done very well in the regular season…so it’s certainly part of what we looked at," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "When it comes down to it on a little more of a day-to-day, you know your team is going to hit a wall at some point in time based on the mileage from the previous season. We have to find those pockets of the schedule and maybe utilize the break effectively, which didn’t happen in the past and allow them to recharge. We’ve had some open dialogue about it, but history says the team generally gets off to a good start.

“Mentally and physically, these guys are ready to go. It’s just a matter of getting into the grind and if you can stay healthy. Obviously, we proved last year with 37 players in our lineup, you need that [depth]. To be successful, you have to have it, and you run into challenging parts of the schedule, you’re going to go through injuries. You have to have other players come in and be able to step up, and that will be no different for us this year.”

But what did that Bruins study say when it comes to the playoffs. Welp, we helped them with the research there.

Washington and Vegas met in the 2018 Cup Final and both were first-round fodder this past postseason. The year before, Nashville and Pittsburgh met in the Final and they were both done in the second round the following postseason.

In fact, over the past five seasons, the two Cup finalists have a 50-percent chance of not making it out the first round the following season, and a 90-percent chance of not making it to the Stanley Cup Final with the back-to-back Cup seasons for the Penguins as the only obvious exception to the rule.

Pull it back to ten seasons and nearly half of the finalists didn’t make it out of the first round, and 15 of 20 were done by the end of the second round.

So, clearly the numbers don’t favor the Black and Gold going very deep into this postseason or returning to where they were last season, just 60 quality minutes away from hoisting the Cup. It becomes an even more difficult task when one considers the aging core of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask, all on the wrong side of 30 at the start of another season.

The chances of those key players remaining as healthy and productive as they were last season aren’t very good. Even the players themselves are curious to see what kind of extreme highs and lows may await them this season against the well-rested Lightning and Maple Leafs, who are ready to knock them off in the Atlantic Division.

“Every season is different. Every year is different. It’s a clean slate. But I think you really need to focus on short-term goals. I said that early in training camp. We’ve all come down the mountain and we’re all at the same level to start the year. The challenge to start the year is to be motivated to go back up there,” said Bergeron. “You set yourself some short term goals and just be excited to get in the battles with the guys as we go through the ups and downs of the season.”

Still, the Bruins have bucked the odds before and hope to do it again this season. They have the kind of depth that should allow them to provide “load management” rest for Bergeron, Chara, Rask and Krejci and keep them as fresh as possible. The Bruins also have arguably the best goaltending duo in the NHL in Rask and Jaroslav Halak. That elite level of puck-stopping should prevent the B's from dropping into an extended losing streak when they “hit the wall” as even the B’s brass are expecting.

“It’s a tough thing to do. Some of it will be dependent on the roles of the players and we tried to manage our training camp. We started with that and see where it goes from there because things change quickly. It’s about how we manage minutes of our players who have been through a lot of these runs,” said Cassidy. “Secondly, we’ve communicated with the players that have been through these, the Bergerons, the Charas that went through it in 2013 and came back the next year and had a great regular season.

“They didn’t achieve what they wanted in the playoffs; I don’t know if that had anything to do with going to the Cup the year before. Sometimes, it’s just hard to repeat. I think you’ve got to be careful how much you’re reading into that and rely on what the players are telling you and what their bodies are telling [them].”

What does it all mean?

Certainly, the “Stanley Cup Final hangover” is a very real thing facing the Bruins. They should be a playoff team, and they might even still finish ahead of Tampa Bay and Toronto in what’s become an annual three-team slugfest at the top of the Atlantic Division. But B's fans would be wise to temper expectations when it comes to playoff time, and hold off on any redemption tour talk when it comes to the B’s righting the wrong and winning the Cup this season.

The odds, father time and improved competition in the East are all working against them this time around, and it will prove to be much more difficult for them to return to the exact same Stanley Cup Final spot they were at just a few months ago.


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Watch Bruins break out into fake line brawl at the end of practice

Watch Bruins break out into fake line brawl at the end of practice

The Bruins have clearly been stuck in a rut as of late while losing back-to-back regulation games for the first time this season, and stuck in a three-game losing streak where they developed some bad habits at the end of an eight-game winning streak.

It’s not really that big of a deal for a B’s hockey club that still holds a double-digit lead in the division, but a 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Monday night really didn’t set them up for a promising road trip with Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida all on the schedule for the rest of the week. With that in mind, the Bruins opted for a little stress relief at the end of Tuesday’s practice in Washington as things devolved into a chaotic, raucous faux line brawl on the ice.

It all started with Tuukka Rask giving up a goal at the end of a game at practice and then smashing his stick repeatedly over the crossbar, and then mass chaos ensued with a sea of Bruins players tackling each other on the ice.

It’s fun to see the Bruins blow off some steam and show they can have a little fun amidst a frustrating stretch, but it would also be nice to see them play with the same kind of energy in their games after sleepwalking through the first portions of games during their current losing streak.

In the old time hockey days, a team might have pre-planned a line brawl situation on the ice to snap out of a slump, or change the energy at a time when the schedule is getting demanding on the players with the Christmas break still weeks away.

But these days the Bruins will have to settle for a little phony shoving and play-punching against each other at the end of practice with the real thing — a big, tough customer in the Washington Capitals — getting ready to host them for a potential Eastern Conference Final preview on Wednesday night.

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How Bruce Cassidy could shake up lines to give struggling Bruins a jolt

How Bruce Cassidy could shake up lines to give struggling Bruins a jolt

Hard times have arrived for the Bruins, at least temporarily.

Boston has lost two regulation games in a row for the first time all season and three games in a row for just the second time all season while falling into complacency with a massive 11-point lead in the Atlantic Division over the next closest team in Florida.

Since dropping eight goals against the Canadiens in an embarrassing blowout win at the Bell Centre a couple of weeks ago, the offense has also slowed down for the Bruins with 16 goals scored over the last seven games. Some of it was about Patrice Bergeron being out of the lineup with a lower body injury, but some of it might also be the team literally crying out for some changes among the forward group combinations.

Now with Bergeron back after scoring a goal against the Senators on Monday night, Bruce Cassidy can actually fool around with his tried and true combinations.

With that in mind, here’s a modest proposal for some line combinations that might just work for the Black and Gold with it feeling like things have gotten a little stale over the last week as ennui seems to have struck with a Bruins team not getting pushed by anybody right now:

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Anders Bjork

This is perhaps Boston’s best chance to mix and match their forward lines while looking to get some diversity in their scoring attack during 5-on-5 play. Bjork brings the same kind of skating speed and youthful exuberance that David Pastrnak already brings to this line, and it seems that now Bjork understands the doggedness and two-way responsibilities he’ll need to pay attention to in order to stay at the NHL level.

Best of all, playing with Marchand and Bergeron could give Bjork more scoring opportunities and really boost his confidence to turn into the goal-scoring source he was projected to be when he first signed with the Bruins. The trick would be switching Bjork from left wing to his off-wing on the right side where he’s had challenges in the past, but it seems like he’s better-equipped to deal with it now that he’s healthy and a couple of years into his NHL career.

Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-David Pastrnak

There are Bruins fans everywhere clamoring for Krejci and Pastrnak to play together given their natural, Czech-born chemistry and some of the success that they have had in the past. Sliding Pastrnak down to the B’s second line would really make each of Boston’s top two lines formidable in their own right, and make them much more difficult to defend while not being quite as top-heavy as they are with the Perfection Line.

The one concern in the past has been that Pastrnak doesn’t score at quite the same rate when he’s away from Bergeron and Marchand, and that DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak can probably be exploited a bit defensively. That’s part of the reason Danton Heinen is with them right now given his attention to detail playing a strong two-way game. But Krejci and Pastrnak can be fun to watch and could bring some pizzazz to the second line.

Danton Heinen-Charlie Coyle-David Backes 

This would be a return to the third-line glory years of a couple of seasons ago when Heinen and Backes were the two wings and Riley Nash was the center who seemed to bring the best out of them. This line certainly wouldn’t be the fastest given that Coyle is the best skater of the three, but it would be offensively viable with all three forwards capable of scoring 15-plus goals in a season.

Also, the massive size of both 6-foot-3, 220-pound Coyle and 6-foot-3, 215-pound Backes would give the Bruins' third line a heavy, thumping style of play that could wear down other teams while playing the puck possession game. They wouldn’t be all that dynamic, but it could be a really effective third line if the top two forward lines are based on speed and skill.

Chris Wagner-Sean Kuraly-Brett Ritchie

Certainly an argument could be made for Joakim Nordstrom to be here and really he’s done nothing to get taken out of the lineup. But this humble hockey writer’s opinion is that the fourth line isn’t playing with the same jam and physicality as consistently as they did last season, and that is a big-time need on this Bruins team this season.

So this combo could be a big, heavy and punishing group capable of both playing against other teams' top lines and bringing energy, thump, or whatever is needed for a group that is going through the motions right now. A lot of it comes down to Ritchie, though, who needs to play to his size and strength more often if it’s all going to work. Otherwise the Bruins might as well just go with Nordstrom and utilize Ritchie as their extra forward until the light bulb goes off for him.

Bonus line combo: Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Charlie Coyle

This isn’t likely to be a line combo you’ll see much unless injuries hit, but shifting the big, strong Coyle to the wing and bringing his power forward game to the top line could be a great match.

Certainly Coyle might not be the shoot-first presence that one is usually looking for at the right wing spot alongside Bergeron and Marchand, but the one consistent way to frustrate that line is for a big defensive corps to wear them down physically while pushing them away from the net. It’s what the Tampa defense did successfully in the playoffs a couple of years ago and it’s what St. Louis was able to do against them in the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Coyle would make it a lot more difficult to push around the other two parts of the Perfection Line, and that could be a successful look against bigger D-men personnel. It would require Par Lindholm to be inserted into the lineup (and Backes or Ritchie scratched) as the third-line center, but that’s entirely doable based on Boston’s forward depth.

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