Now that the NHL trade deadline has come and gone, the Bruins are fully formed as a group. They brought in a couple of new faces in Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson and a familiar face in Lee Stempniak as the veteran depth piece. They have more depth than they had before and they’re playing their best hockey of the season in the middle of a 16-game point streak.
So now, all that remains is the 17 remaining regular-season games and a playoff run that will make or break how this season is viewed. The Bruins have elevated to Stanley Cup contenders with the way they’ve played the past six weeks, and now it’s time to see how good they can be.
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All the Bruins fans are finally satisfied by what they’ve seen over the past six weeks, right? Well, maybe some are happy, but others always think there’s just a little more that the Black and Gold are capable of. As always these are real questions from real readers sent to my Twitter account using the #HaggBag hashtag, messages to my NBCS Facebook page and emails to my @JHaggerty@nbcuni.com email address. Now, on to the bag:
What line does Pasta fit in when he returns?
--Eugene Mannarino (@steelman58)
JH: Good question and a pressing one with David Pastrnak expected to return as early as Monday when it’s been roughly a month since he first suffered his thumb injury. I’m not going to lie. I’m looking forward to a chance to talk to No. 88 and find out what the hell happened for him to get injured in the first place. Still, when he does come back, I’d expect that he’s going to slot back into the "Perfection Line" alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
That would allow Marcus Johansson to continue jelling with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, and then Danton Heinen could slide back over to his strong left side with Coyle and David Backes. The Bruins have said as much given the kind of matchup problems they can create against playoff opponents based on how good that top line is. Last spring’s first-round series against the Maple Leafs was a prime example of that.
Still, it’s all predicated on the second and third lines consistently producing secondary offense. If they can do that, then the Bruins can keep their top line together, but if they again have trouble generating offense then it’s going to force Bruce Cassidy to drop Pastrnak down to the second line for some offensive diversification. So, short answer: I’d expect No. 88 to be back with No. 37 and No. 63 when things get settled.
Great to see the B’s rolling with sound defense and a way to win games with a never give up attitude! There is still a lot of hockey to play and as we have seen in the past two seasons— injuries to key players can derail this strong play. And I am certainly not of the mindset that a first round against a Babcock coached Leafs team will be another route to round two! Best to temper that enthusiasm and see the overall health of team moving forward after April 6! Like many in Bruins Nation, I too have seen my share of many disappointing outcomes since 1968.
JH: No doubt, Ron. The Bruins have owned the Maple Leafs the past couple of seasons, but I don’t expect that to turn into an easy first-round win right off the bat. Think about it: It took all of seven games for the Bruins to beat Toronto last season while enjoying home ice in Game 7. And this season the Leafs added John Tavares and Jake Muzzin to that group, so they are markedly improved from last season even if defense and goaltending are still a question mark.
The bottom line is that good health is paramount for the Bruins. That means keeping Bergeron, Marchand and Zdeno Chara in one piece while hoping that Pastrnak comes back at full power. Injuries could also give the Bruins an opening should something befall a player or two on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster, though, so it works both ways for every team.
The bottom line, Ron, is that the Bruins should have you believing in them as a Stanley Cup contender based on the way that they’ve played, so you should get excited about what awaits them next month in the playoffs. It should be a fun, entertaining run. There will be playoff hockey in Boston, so that’s a very good thing no matter how long it lasts.
So Haggs, I have a question that I feel like belongs in the category of a "George Carlin" question if you were on death row and you are hours from your death, what is your last meal? #HaggBag
--matthew Wilson (@mattframingham)
JH: Wow. That’s a damn good question. I would probably go with a prime rib with sautéed mushrooms, mashed potatoes and green beans from a steak house that I’ve been to in the past. I had Ruth’s Chris a couple of weeks ago for the first time and that was pretty good, and I certainly like Smith and Wollensky, DelFrisco’s, Flemings, the Capital Grille or Morton’s. But the best prime rib meal I ever had and my favorite restaurant of all time is actually Bugaboo Creek. If I could get a Snowbird Chicken appetizer, the prime rib and all the fixings and I could get the talking moose above the bar to just shut up the entire time I was there, that would probably be my final meal topped off with some apple crisp for dessert. Unfortunately, Bugaboo Creek doesn’t really exist anymore and the ones that are still around aren’t really as good as the originals. So I am out of luck, unfortunately.
It’s a pattern: Tuukka Rask goes into the playoffs on fire but suddenly it’s a headache or some undisclosed ailment and he’s day to day. Seen this act before
--Jack Cann (@Tubroke2002Jack)
JH: Yeah, Rask has some questions to answer in the playoffs. Certainly, his numbers are excellent career-wise just as they are in the regular season. This 14-0-3 stretch he’s in since Christmas is extremely impressive. He’s as good as he’s ever been right now and it’s been that way for a couple of months. But the things he really has to prove are the big-game moments in the playoffs. Last season’s Game 7 vs. Toronto, for instance, when his Bruins teammates had to bail out a struggling Rask. That was one of those times when he couldn’t answer the bell in a big-game situation. There are too many instances of those and the only way that’s going to get vanquished is by Rask and the Bruins winning the Cup and the goaltender playing a major role to make that happen. There shouldn’t be any excuses with a well-rested Rask after getting all kinds of backup support from Jaroslav Halak, so we’ll see how it plays out.
There was a question on Twitter. If you were to start a new NHL franchise, who would you start it with? I’m still a big fan of what the Bruins have for a core and Bergeron, Marchand would be my top two. Your thoughts?
JH: I’d probably start the franchise with Connor McDavid because he’s awesome and young. Duh. It’s such a standard, pat answer, but it’s the only way to start a franchise. The whole key with a player like that is surrounding them with veteran winners who can show the young superstar the right way to play, and that’s where guys like Bergeron and Marchand come in. They are such a good example for all the young talent on the Bruins, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that McDavid, unfortunately, doesn’t have out in Edmonton. That’s part of the reason that they aren’t winning despite having a player with McDavid’s considerable talent level. So it’s not all about who you would start an NHL franchise with, but rather about what you are surrounding that player with as well.
Thoughts on this year's winter being uneventful? #HaggBag
JH: Do you mean the trade deadline? Yeah, it wasn’t super eventful for the Bruins, but they still upgraded with Coyle and Johansson. We’ll see how good they are, and it hasn’t been a great start for the pointless Coyle while Ryan Donato is off to a scoring spree with the Minnesota Wild. But Johansson is better than I thought he’d be already and that’s a credit to his talent and to the fact that he’s healthy for the first time in a couple of seasons. But they were never going to shell out the prospects or the massive contract for Mark Stone, and it seems clear that they didn’t see Wayne Simmonds as a good fit. So, they went with a couple of middle-tier moves instead of the big, massive trade that would have been a potential game-changer against an elite team like Tampa Bay. So, there were events, but they probably didn’t rock the world of Bruins fans.
I know like many would have loved to see the B's get Stone, Hayes or Simmonds but I think Sweeney did a very good job at improving the team’s depth and filling holes without giving up too much. When you consider outside of Columbus nobody in the East filled their needs as close to the Bruins. Tampa (don't think they have any) Toronto Right Shot D, D depth, Somebody to hit somebody, Islanders and Montreal Overall depth, Carolina scoring Pittsburgh Gudbranson? Also when healthy Johansson is a 45-50pt guy and it seems like he is just starting to get healthy after the hit 12 points in the last 13.
Bergy, March, Pasta
Krejci, Debrusk, Johannson
Coyle Heinen Backes/Nordstrom/Stempniak(whoever is hot)
Kuraly Acciari Wagner
Now that Debrusk and Heinen have turned things around the depth has increased and their back end is already deep when you consider John Moore has been sitting and he could be on many teams top-4, and almost all teams top-6 plus Steve Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon, they have the bodies for a long run.
No, they didn't get a 30+ goal guy but they have 3 on the first line and now you 5 guys who are 15-25 guys plus maybe the best 4th line in hockey where you have received nine goals from Wagner and tons of versatility. Plus prospect pool and 1st round picks in hand. Losing Vaakanainen, Frederic or Studnicka (who has been on fire since traded from Oshawa to Niagara) plus a first plus, plus to Ottawa (and they most likely would have wanted more to from the B’s than any other team being a division rival) for Stone would have been a tough one. I am pretty sure Dorion was not going to let Sweeney have the same opportunity to negotiate like Vegas did a new contract, and have to face Stone 4 times a year for the next 8.
Hopefully the new guys gel and we go for a run. Maybe Pittsburgh gets the 8th spot and upsets Tampa Bay in round 1.
JH: Boy, it is a positive world that you live in DJ! Look, the Bruins certainly upgraded with Coyle and Johansson. The problem, as you correctly mentioned at the end, is that the Bruins are going to need help taking Tampa Bay down whether it’s a first-round upset or a key injury or two that takes away some of the Lightning’s explosiveness. Once you’re hoping for that kind of stuff in order to beat a team in the postseason, then you’re kind of in trouble if it doesn’t happen. I think the B’s are better after making those trades, but I still don’t think they are nearly as good as Tampa Bay, and this season would probably end similarly to last spring’s second round when they fell to the Bolts in five games.
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I do agree with you about Stone, though. Look at where the Senators traded both Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman. They shipped both out to San Jose with the hope that their former players wouldn’t get a chance to torment them in the division over the years, and you expected the same was going to happen with Stone. And lo and behold he ended up in Vegas.
So, we’ll see how it works out for the Bruins, but they are in good shape in terms of the NHL roster quality and the prospect depth that’s supporting it.
Only two teams that I’m worried about getting passed in a playoff series Toronto and Tampa, and thanks to the terrible playoff structure, we have to go through both. I’ll take any other team any day of the week, what’s your take? Also any thoughts on Mandalorian series? #HaggBag
JH: I don’t know enough about the Mandalorian series, but I’ll buy anything that Jon Favreau is involved in. So I’m sure I’ll watch it and I’m sure it’s going to be good. As far as the playoff structure goes, I actually don’t hate it and have never hated it. I like that divisional rivals play each other over and over again in the postseason and that fosters the rivalry thing over time. It’s true that there’s always going to be a tough division where a team is going to get screwed in the first round, and that might be Toronto or Boston this season. Certainly, a second-round matchup against Tampa Bay is going to be unfortunate for either one of them if it ends up happening.
But I’ve made peace with that happening from time to time as long as the rivalries grow better within the divisions and the hatred starts to bubble over when two teams face each other over and over again. Think about how nasty, entertaining and hard-fought a first-round series between the Bruins and Leafs is going to be this season. I am all in on that and that's thanks to the current playoff format.
Are you going to see the #KISS during the #EndOfTheRoad tour?
--Stewart Allen Clark (@StewartAllenCl1)
JH: Nope. Sorry. Not a member of the Kiss Army. I just never got into them. They kind of scared the crap out of me as a kid, to be honest with you. I like some of their songs, but I was maybe a year or two too young to really get caught up in their heyday in the late 1970s.
I like the Coyle trade, fixing that third-line center spot was a must. Riley Nash was very good for the Bruins in that role last year, but I think Charlie Coyle is an upgrade. I agree 100 percent with you on the Marcus Johansson trade, they needed to get Stone, Simmons or Kevin Hayes. I will say this, Johansson will produce more than the over-rated Rick Nash. But this roster is not good enough to beat Tampa, and they will have their hands full with the Leafs. Being from the Toronto area I just hope they beat the Leafs.
PS I got to see the Bruins win in Vegas last week.
JH: This pretty much sums up my feelings too, Terry. We’ll see how it plays out and anything can happen in the playoffs based on injuries, hot goaltenders etc. But they needed a bona-fide, game-breaking scorer on the wing added to this roster if they wanted to really match firepower with the Lightning and they just didn’t do it, or couldn’t do it. You know what’s even worse? Maybe this team is peaking early with this current 16-game point streak and we’ll look back and say “the Bruins were never able to get back that late February/early March level” once the playoffs came around. There’s a positive thought to end the Hagg Bag! See you next week, folks.
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