Bruins

Why the Bruins are the team to beat for this unprecedented Stanley Cup

Why the Bruins are the team to beat for this unprecedented Stanley Cup

There’s nothing theoretical about it now. 

The NHL is coming back. That means the Boston Bruins, along with 23 other teams, will play meaningful hockey games less than a month from now. Credit the NHL and the NHLPA for using their vast experience, collaborative efforts and a sense of urgency to get the season back on track, as the NHL now has the best chance of any of the pro sports leagues of actually navigating and surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It’s a set of circumstances that could financially crush any pro sports league that didn’t properly prepare and the pandemic is already uncovering cracks in the foundation for sports like Major League Baseball and the NFL as they struggle to execute their plans.

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The natural question when it comes to the Bruins is exactly how they are going to fare against the competition. Many view them as a favorite after winning the President’s Trophy during the regular season and standing as the only club with 100 points when the regular season paused back in mid-March. The Black and Gold had the No. 1 seed already wrapped up for the entirety of the postseason and they ranked in the top-5 in every discernible category across the board, showing their all-around skill, their worthiness and the sheer motivation to right last season’s wrong against the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final. 

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. Clearly it’s going to take a bit to get the engine going for the Bruins and now they have two weeks of camp, one exhibition game and three round-robin games against the other top East seeds to ready themselves for the gauntlet run. 

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.  

It’s an assumption around the hockey world that it’s going to take older legs longer to get churning at full speed after a four month layoff from skating and playing, and that led Marchand to deduce a few months ago that “older teams are going to struggle” in the return to play format. 

The B’s will have their challenges in these playoffs, but the biggest ones would probably be head-to-head playoff series against teams like Tampa and Washington that pose challenges whenever they play them. It could very well play out that one of those teams simply proves to be better than the B’s over a seven-game series. That would shock nobody when it comes to a Capitals group that has had Boston’s number for almost 10 years.  

If anything, though, the experience, the leadership and the sheer mental toughness that a grizzled team like the Bruins bring into the tournament is going to be a large advantage over the younger player groups. Just think about the scenarios we’ll see in August and September: 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 drop out of lineups due to positive COVID-19 test results.

It’s going to be a minefield of challenges and adversity where hockey players are going to be tested like never before.  

“I think the message for us hasn’t changed in terms of what our ultimate goal is,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said during a Zoom call with reporters in late June. “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.”

It’s going to be a wildly unpredictable and unprecedented set of challenges that these 24 teams are going to have to deal with headed into the tournament. Meanwhile, the Bruins have a long-established leadership group in Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron that’s seen and played on through pretty much everything in their almost 40 years of playing experience. 

“I’m hoping that leadership plays a big role. Once everybody is together and knowing Bergeron, Chara, Tuukka, Torey (Krug) and Brad, those guys are going to get the others [going],” Bruins President Cam Neely said during a Zoom call with Bruins reporters back in May. “The others know what to expect from that leadership group, they know what to expect from themselves and they know what to expect from the coaching staff. My hope is that they will recognize that we are going from a training camp, in essence, right to the playoffs.

“That’s unusual as we all know, and I’m hoping that the experience of having it ramp up that quickly that the guys can lean on the older players for a little bit of comfort. They don’t necessarily have the experience [of this exact situation], but more being able to get yourselves ready to go in a short period of time.”

There have been unparalleled highs for this B’s core group like winning three Game 7s on the way to hoisting the Cup in Vancouver in 2011. 

And there have been painful lows like losing last year’s Game 7 to the Blues on home ice or imploding in Game 6 against the Blackhawks in 2013 after giving up two goals in 17 seconds in the third period. Or Bergeron sitting out nearly the entire 2007-08 regular season after suffering a nasty concussion at the hands of Flyers defenseman Randy Jones.

Or these Bruins players blowing a 3-0 lead in a seven game series against the Flyers back in the second round of the 2010 playoffs.  

The Bruins know about soul-searching adversity, they run a compassionate and tight NHL dressing room. This current core group also understands that their window to compete for Stanley Cups is no longer infinite.  

In a climate where there is so much unknown to an almost intimidating degree and where some teams might simply submit to the pressure surrounding them while playing amidst a global pandemic, here’s a simple hockey truth: The Bruins might have the exact right kind of collective mental toughness and experience level to compartmentalize things unlike any other team in the entire league. There is no substitute for real-life experience during a time of crisis, and the Bruins have that over every team in the NHL at this point. 

With an expectation that this might be the most challenging Stanley Cup of all-time to win in early October, the Bruins should be the favorites based on the experience, the mental toughness, the leadership and -- oh yeah, being a pretty darn good hockey team on top of it all.

Here's Bruins' first-round playoff scenario entering Sunday vs. Capitals

Here's Bruins' first-round playoff scenario entering Sunday vs. Capitals

The Boston Bruins' potential first-round playoff matchups are laid out for them as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Washington Capitals.

The Montreal Canadiens upset the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, thus eliminating the Pens from playoff contention. That means the B's will either begin their Stanley Cup run against the New York Islanders or the Carolina Hurricanes.

If the Bruins beat the Capitals on Sunday, they'll face the Islanders in the first round. If they lose, they'll face the Hurricanes.


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Carolina comes off three straight convincing wins over the New York Rangers in the Toronto bubble. As for the Isles, they took three out of four from the Florida Panthers.

Either way, the B's will have a tough test in Round 1, and their fate will be determined by their final round-robin matchup on Sunday.

Boston currently is 0-2 in Toronto, falling 4-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers and then 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In order to gain some momentum heading into the postseason, there's no doubt the Bruins will need to show more of a sense of urgency than they have in the bubble to this point.

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Jaroslav Halak miss Friday's practice

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Jaroslav Halak miss Friday's practice

Bruins players Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Jaroslav Halak were all missing from Friday’s practice in the Toronto bubble while “unfit to participate”, but all are expected to be back for Sunday’s round-robin showdown with the Washington Capitals.

Cassidy called it a “short-term thing” and expected all three players would be ready to practice on Saturday ahead of their final round-robin game this weekend.

“We anticipate [on Saturday] we’ll have our full group, but until we’ll just keep trying to make it work,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Obviously this whole training camp we haven’t had lines together consistently for different reasons. Will it affect us in the postseason? Time will tell.

“I’d like to see our group together to see what it looks like…all together. But until that happens we’re going to fit people in together for practices and games where they can best help us and then go from there.”

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It will be the first time the entire Bruins group will be healthy, ready and available to play and Bruce Cassidy indicated that both Ondrej Kase and defenseman Connor Clifton should get in their first game action of the last two weeks.

Clifton will likely play in place of rookie D-man Jeremy Lauzon in order to get him some game action prior to next week’s playoff games, and Kase will be expected to knock the rust off after being set behind while spending a month in quarantine at the beginning of the NHL’s Return to Play.

“He looks good. He’s making some plays. He’s got some jump,” said Cassidy of Kase in practice this week. “I think the first three days were tough on him for obvious reasons and now he’s been at it for a full week. You can see he’s a little more natural with everything he does. He’s got quick hands.

“My anticipation is he’ll have lots of energy and he’ll fight the puck like a lot of our guys early on in their first game back because of the speed. I anticipate he’ll get some shots because he’s been shot-first in practice and we could use a little more of that. We need him to play. Hopefully he can pick it up quick because he’s missed some time. We have every intention of using him in Game 1 [next week], we just have to see where he’s at [against the Capitals]. Hopefully he’s ready to go.”

With Kase and Clifton expected to play on Sunday, the Bruins will have everybody they expect to use on their roster with at least some game action under their belt and ready to play whoever their opponent ends up being whether it’s the Islanders, Penguins or Hurricanes based on the way things play out this weekend.