Bruins

Bruins

Which NHL team will present the biggest roadblock in the Bruins' quest to get back to the Stanley Cup Final? NBC Sports Boston's resident hockey experts Joe Haggerty and DJ Bean weigh in on which team the Bruins don't want to see come playoff time.

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The Bruins go into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the prohibitive favorite after finishing the regular season as the No. 1 seed and the only club in the shortened 2019-20 campaign to get to 100 points. But that doesn’t mean they are viewed as bulletproof by any means amidst the Eastern Conference field over the next six weeks, and perhaps they shouldn't be when viewed through the prism of realistic postseason expectations.

Take, for instance, the Washington Capitals team that has routinely torched the Bruins over the last decade. One can give the B’s credit for snapping a 14-game losing streak against the Big, Bad Capitals that extended from 2014 to 2019, but they routinely get beaten down by the Capitals.

Take an actual blowout win that the Bruins enjoyed over Washington earlier this season, just the second B’s win over Washington in the last 17 tries over the last seven years. They scored seven goals and wiped the ice with the Capitals at TD Garden in the final game prior to the Christmas holiday break, but Washington managed to knock out both Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy with massive hits during the victory.

 

One could just envision the Capitals taking out half of the Bruins D-man corps over the course of a punishing playoff series as we saw play out against the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final last season.

It underscores the big, physical nature of the way Capitals players like Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin and Radko Gudas play on the edge, and the way they are one of the few hockey teams that can bully the Black and Gold. Add to it a goaltender in Braden Holtby who routinely dominates the Bruins over the course of his career going back to eliminating the B’s in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it’s a bad, bad matchup for the Bruins.

One of the big reasons the B’s were able to advance to the Stanley Cup Final last postseason was because other teams did their dirty work for them, and both the Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning were eliminated by other teams in the first round. The chances of that happening again this season aren’t all that great for Boston, and that means the Bruins will have to find a way to be the better team against the Capitals in a seven-game series if they lock horns later on in the Eastern Conference bracket.

Bruins fans shouldn’t hold their breath that it’s going to happen against a Capitals team that’s bigger, more explosive offensively and deeper up and down the lineup when compared against a high-caliber Bruins team.

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People love pointing out that the Presidents' Trophy winner often doesn't win the Stanley Cup. This can be for a number of reasons, and one of them is that having the best record doesn't always mean you're the best team. 

That's how I feel about the Bruins this season. They had the best record, but Tampa's roster is a hair better. 

Statistically, the Lightning and the Bruins' strengths are flipped around. Tampa is first in goals per game and eighth in goals against. Boston is first in goals against and ninth in goals per game. 

What makes me worry for the Bruins in a series against the Lightning — other than the fact that Tampa won three of the four regular-season meetings — is that roster wise, Tampa isn't too far off from the Bruins on the back end and in goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy isn't as good as Tuukka Rask, but he's still one of the best goalies in the league.

 

Offensively, however, Tampa is leaps and bounds better. In other words, I think the discrepancy between Boston's defense/goaltending and Tampa's is smaller than the difference between Tampa's offense and Boston's. 

The Bruins have the best line in hockey, but Tampa is loaded across four lines, plus they've already proven capable of neutralizing Boston's top line with Brayden Point in the 2018 postseason. After the Bergeron line, the Bruins don't know what they have, as they've got a real lack of sure things at wing in the middle six outside of Jake DeBrusk. The Lightning even upgraded their bottom six with Barclay Goodrow at the trade deadline. 

And sure, the Lightning proved to be a disaster last postseason, as they were swept in the first round after turning in the best regular season ever. I'll caution this about the "once a choker, always a choker" logic: The Bruins humiliated themselves in the 2010 postseason and won the Stanley Cup the next year.

Teams can bounce back stronger from embarrassment, something Bruins fans should hope is the case after an embarrassing end to last year's Cup run.