Only four more days until Bruins-Red Wings. Since when did the NHL Playoffs take its waiting cue from the NBA?
The Bruins won’t have the easiest path to the Stanley Cup, having to get past the likes of Detroit, and possibly Montreal and Pittsburgh, prior to a repeat trip to the finals, but they are the favorites heading into the postseason, even with the Western Conference seen as a powerhouse versus the East. It could be the most talented group under Claude Julien’s watch beginning its quest later this week.
Boston is deep, has the best goaltender in North America, and home-ice throughout the playoffs. Other than that, no reason they should win, right?
Here are 10 reasons why the Bruins can – and should – win the Stanley Cup.
1. Tuukka Time.
Following the most outstanding season of his young career, Tuukka Rask is going to win the Vezina Trophy come June, but the Bruins goalie’s playoff resume is marred by two striking moments that have instilled a rumbling of doubt among the minority. In Game 6 of last year’s Stanley Cup final, of course, Rask allowed two late goals in the final 1:16 of play as the Chicago Blackhawks stormed back and ultimately paraded Lord Stanley’s Cup on the Garden ice. In 2010, Rask was between the pipes as the Bruins coughed up a 3-0 lead in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, as the Philadelphia Flyers completed their epic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit.
Even this season, the Bruins’ tendency to allow late-period goals is a chilling reminder of what occurred last June. But is there any other goalie in the league you’d rather have? Prior to the Blackhawks hiccup, Rask was enjoying an all-time run at the Cup, one even better than former teammate Tim Thomas in 2011 (Rask allowed 46 goals over 22 games, and had a .940 save percentage and a 1.88 GAA; Thomas allowed 51 goals over 25 games, .940, 1.98). Nothing will erase the memory of Thomas’ dominance en route to the Stanley Cup, but Rask came as close as any Boston goalie could imagine only two years later. No goalie with more than 29 games under his belt had a better save percentage this season than Rask (.930), and only New Jersey’s Cory Schneider had a better GAA (1.97 to 2.04) than Rask with goalies who played at least 44 games (Schneider played in 45, Rask 58). He’s not exactly the concern that a few naysayers will say he is.
2. Iggy’s shuffle.
Without Jarome Iginla, who kicked the Bruins to the curb at the trading deadline like a jilted lover, the Bruins only managed to make it to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final last year, plowing through Iginla’s first-choice Penguins with a veracity and a grudge that had to have an effect on the 36-year-old forward. Iginla scored 31 goals in his first season with Boston, even in Claude Julien’s system, which limited the talented likes of Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel, and Jaromir Jagr. It’s hardly debatable that he’s one of the smartest hockey players in the NHL, and seamlessly replaced Nathan Horton’s production on the Bruins’ first line. Paired with Iginla’s 31, Patrice Bergeron’s 30 goals marked the first time the Bruins had as many as two 30-goal scorers since 2003, when Joe Thornton, Glen Murray, and Mike Knuble all hit the plateau.
Some Bruins fans point to his playoff performance with the Penguins, his first appearance in four years, as a concern, but really that’s merely focusing on the Eastern Conference Finals, when the Bruins goosed Iginla. Prior to that series, Iginla had scored four goals and eight assists in 11 games against the Islanders and Senators. To boot, even with his late-season injury concerns, Iginla was a model of consistency, playing in 78 games this season. That’s almost as many (89) as Horton dressed for in his final two seasons combined in Boston.
3. It runs deep, so deep, so deep…
David Krejci was the Bruins’ leading scorer in 2013-14 with 69 points, his best regular season total since 2008-09. He was 23rd in the NHL in points.
In both Stanley Cup runs over the last three years, Krejci made two solid arguments that he, not Thomas or Rask, could have taken home the Conn Smythe Trophy, with playoff-leading 23-point and 26-point postseasons. When the Bruins lost their star forward with a dislocated right wrist in 2010 against the Flyers, Krejci’s absence was glaring as Boston…well, you know.
Four years later, and the Bruins’ scoring depth is more dangerous than ever, with five 20-goal scorers (Iginla, Bergeron, Reilly Smith, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand) seemingly assuring that such a loss wouldn’t have such drastic repercussions again. Boston was third in the league in goals per game this season with 3.15, and Carl Soderberg’s emergence on the third line has given Julien the ability to roll four lines without even the whiff of denigration from drive-time talk show hosts. The Bruins don’t have a Sidney Crosby, who can beat you in many ways. They only have many guys who can beat you. I’ll take the latter, thank you.
4. POTNHL (Presidents of the National Hockey League).
Hey, they won the President’s Trophy with the most points in the NHL. Seals the deal, right?
If your view of “recent history” is one year, then sure. Last year’s Blackhawks were the last President’s Trophy winner to also win the Stanley Cup, but before that you have to go back to the 2007-08 Red Wings to find an NHL team to have won both. In fact, in the award’s 28-year-old history, only eight winners have gone on to win the Cup the same season. The last time Boston won it, the Bruins fell in the final to the Oilers in 1990. In fact, four President’s Trophy winners have bowed out in the first round in the salary cap era (Vancouver, Washington, San Jose, and Detroit).
But here’s a somewhat grasping but interesting stat: Of the franchises to have won the trophy twice in their history, six out of the eight won the Stanley Cup the second year. The holdouts are the 1995-96 Red Wings and the 2011-12 Canucks, who won it two years in a row. That, of course, guarantees nothing, but you think these guys want a shortcoming to be lumped in with Vancouver? That would, pardon the phrase, bite.
5. Vegas, baby.
Boston is a 7:2 favorite to win the Stanley Cup, followed by St. Louis (6:1), Pittsburgh (7:1), and Chicago (8:1). The Detroit Red Wings, the Bruins’ first-round opponent, are a 20:1 longshot to win the Cup, along with Montreal and the New York Rangers.
Here are the odds to win the 2014 Stanley Cup, according to Bovada:
St. Louis: 6:1
Anaheim, San Jose: 9:1
Los Angeles: 10:1
Detroit, Montreal, N.Y. Rangers: 20:1
Tampa Bay: 28:1
Columbus, Dallas: 50:1
6. Where there’s a rib, there’s a way.
When last year’s playoffs concluded, Bergeron, arguably the Bruins’ most important member, walked away with a broken rib, torn cartilage, and separated shoulder. His departure was brutal in Boston’s Game 5 loss to Chicago, and he only played 17:45 in Game 6 and was 5-for-11 on faceoffs in Game 6. Would a healthy Bergeron have meant a different outcome?
Impossible to say, but much like the Krejci injury submarined the Bruins in 2010, Bergeron’s absence left Boston short a pivotal component last June. This year, Bergeron is healthy, and enters the playoffs with his highest goal total since 2005-06, when he was all of 20 years old, and his faceoff presence is an asset unto itself.
“It’s the best I’ve seen him, period,” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Monday. “He’s had a terrific year. And of course the whole two-way component of his game has been so good. It’s always good. It’s not by accident that you hear his name in the Hart Trophy conversation. That doesn’t surprise me at all. This is the best I’ve seen him play.”
Bergeron already has an Olympic gold medal to his name this year, won with Team Canada at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the Hart and Stanley may indeed be in the near future.
7. World War Z.
It might prompt salivation knowing that Dennis Seidenberg is skating more and more frequently, with the outside chance of him being available come June, only five months after tearing his ACL. Until that possibility, Zdeno Chara and his merry band of D-men will be able to hold down the fort admirably.
Despite a concerning stretch following Seidenberg’s absence earlier this year, Boston’s defense has truly matured into a cohesive unit. Dougie Hamilton doesn’t exactly carry the stature of Seidenberg, but he’s proven himself worthy enough to get the start alongside Chara when the playoffs kick off on Friday. Johnny Boychuk has been Johnny Boychuk, Matt Bartkowski has Bruins fans wiping their brows that he didn’t have to be shipped to Calgary in last year’s aborted trade for Iginla, and Torey Krug, who burst onto the scene in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals against the Rangers, has another year of seasoning, and his versatility even had Julien toying with him at wing last week against Minnesota.
The Bruins defense allowed 117 five-on-five goals, second only to the Kings (105) during the regular season, and the team’s goal differential was off the charts, leading the NHL with a plus-80. Anaheim was a distant second with a plus-64 (the Red Wings were a minus-4, including a minus-14 at home). In all, 10 of the NHL’s top 30 in plus-minus are Bruins.
The defense will go as Chara goes, of course, but these playoffs are going to afford ample opportunity for Krug, Bartkowski, and Hamilton to enjoy postseason breakouts. And the Seidenberg watch commences…
8. Power rangers.
Oh, remember the good ol’ days when the Bruins’ power play was about as successful as Kenny’s ability to survive an episode of “South Park?” Against all odds, the Bruins survived one of the league’s most anemic man-advantage units (16.2 percent success rate) all the way to the Stanley Cup. Chiarelli, as best he could, attempted to remedy the situation with the addition of Tomas Kaberle at the trade deadline. We all know how that worked out.
In 2013-14, the Bruins were the NHL’s third-best power play team, scoring 21.7 percent of the time (Pittsburgh was No. 1, 23.4 percent; Washington No. 2, 23.4). On the flip side, Boston killed penalties at an 83.6 percent clip, which is seventh among this year’s playoff teams, but last month went through a stretch in which it killed 20 straight during the 12-game win streak.
The Bruins only had 230 power play opportunities, last in the NHL.
9. Loui, Loui…
There was plenty of hope, if not a lot of doubt, attached to Loui Eriksson earlier this season. The forward, who came to the Bruins along with Smith in the trade that sent Seguin and Rich Peverley to Dallas last summer, missed time with a concussion, but beyond that, seemed to have trouble fitting into the Bruins’ system, while the likes of other newcomers, including Smith and Iginla, fit in seamlessly.
Fast-forward the clock, and while Smith struggled down the stretch, Eriksson found his game, scoring four of his 10 goals since the Olympic break, and has been a significant reason why he, Soderberg, and Chris Kelly make up the best third line in the NHL.
“He’s skating a lot better,” Julien said last month. “It seems like he’s found his rhythm. What is it? I think it’s a matter of getting over those concussions. We’ve seen it with players. It’s hard to come back from a concussion. It takes a long time to find your stride and also that confidence. Right now, he’s really good. He’s got a good stick. He makes a lot of good heads-up plays. Very seldom do you see him make a mistake. He’s patient with the puck. He finds his guys. He’s just been a real good player. Hanging on to the puck and being strong on it gives you some opportunities to go on the power play.”
Does “Thank you, Kessel” still apply?
He came to town in 2007 as what we presumed was another lame duck head coach for the Bruins, a franchise that had dipped below the Revolution in terms of local popularity.
Seven years and 300-plus wins later, Julien helped break a 39-year Cup drought, was on the verge of winning a second in 2013, and heads into the NHL’s second season with arguably his most potent Bruins team yet. He’s second to Bill Belichick in terms of professional sports seniority among local head coaches.
Who would have thought in 2007?
Ticket sales, TV ratings, and general interest in the Bruins may indeed be at an all-time low, a matter that probably doesn’t bother Jeremy Jacobs as much as long as Disney on Ice brings in the dollars at the concession stands.
By many accounts, Julien is a nice coach, albeit one whose trap philosophies should make for an even more abhorred product in Boston. Most fans wanted Mike Milbury back in town, desperate for a rah-rah guy that might light a fire under this team. Instead, Julien is the man. After all, there’s always next year for Milbury.
The Bruins may have a promising future on their doorstep with players like Tuukka Rask and Phil Kessel emerging. But by the way business is done over on Causeway these days, even that is no cause for excitement, particularly the way this team has been totally dismantled over the past few seasons. That’s not the fault of management, mind you. It’s the coach. And after the Bruins falter during the ’07-’08 season, Julien will be on the way out the door, too.
Does this sound familiar?
Better yet, Claude, you may want to check what kind of long-term rate you can get at the Sheraton if you want to get involved in this mess. Enjoy the next 10 months though.
From that to this, and Julien, just as much as Chiarelli and Cam Neely, has led the turnaround.
Fire Claude? Yeah. Right.