For the first time in three seasons, playoff hockey is coming to Boston. Thanks to Toronto’s 2-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday, the Bruins will thankfully avoid the Washington Capitals in the first round. Instead, the Black and Gold will head to Ottawa to kick off their first round series Wednesday night.
The Senators are not much of a consolation prize, as the Bruins dropped all four games against their Atlantic Division rivals.
Here are five keys to a Bruins playoff run.
Tuukka Rask needs to the Bruins’ best player
If the Bruins are to move past the first round and make a deep playoff run in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tuukka Rask needs to be their best player. During the regular season Rask has battled inconsistency at times. But when Rask was on top of his game, good things happened.
Trying to stay alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race in late March, Rask was at his best when the team needed him the most. During the Bruins’ season high six-game win streak, Rask went 4-0 with a .972 save percentage and a 0.75 goals-against average. The first time All-Star also shut out the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning in that stretch.
In his career, Rask is 8-7-4 against the Senators with a .921 save percentage and a 2.34 goals-against average.
They need to solve the Senators’ 1-3-1 defense
They did it to Guy Boucher and his Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final; they’ll have to do it again in 2017. The Senators’ 1-3-1 defense has given the Bruins fits this season. Only one of their goals against the Sens this season came during five-on-five play.
Their interesting style of play makes getting through the neutral zone very difficult. The Bruins will need to use their speed and skill to break through the neutral zone and get pucks deep. The Senators are built around forcing you into dumping pucks deep and beating you to the puck. If the Bruins can’t skate their way through the neutral zone and can’t win the puck battles when they’re getting pucks deep, it may be a short series against Ottawa.
Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak must continue to score
Regardless of how well Tuukka Rask plays in the playoffs, the Bruins will still need to put the puck in the net. That’s where Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak come into play.
With 73 goals between the two, the Bruins will look to Marchand and Pastrnak to lead the offensive charge and step up with timely goals. With Marchand missing the Bruins’ final two regular season games due to his suspension for spearing Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin, the Bruins’ leading scorer should be motivated and well rested.
Pastrnak will be making his playoff debut Wednesday night and will be expected to play a key role in the Bruins’ offense throughout the playoffs. With offensive depth being a weakness for much of the 2016-17, Marchand and Pastrnak will be asked to carry much of the offensive load.
Playoff David Krejci must make an appearance
The Stanley Cup Playoffs always seem to bring out the best in David Krejci. The Bruins’ second center has 29 goals and 48 assists for 77 points in his 93-playoff games. During the Bruins run to the cup in 2011, Krejci led the league in postseason points with 23.
In his tenure as a Bruin, Krejci has played in the playoffs seven times. The assistant captain led the Bruins in playoff scoring during their appearances in the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
With teams planning on focusing on slowing down Marchand and Pastrnak, Krejci once again can sneak up on teams and provide some scoring depth that the Bruins will so badly need.
In 82 games, Krejci finished the season third on the team in points with 54 and tied a career high in goals with 23.
Getting and remaining healthy on defense
Thanks to injuries to defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo, the Bruins were forced into signing this past June’s first round draft pick Charlie McAvoy to an entry-level contract Monday morning. McAvoy practiced with the Bruins Monday and is expected to be in the lineup Wednesday for Game 1.
Per general manager Don Sweeney, Carlo is out for Game 1 and Krug may be out for most, if not the entire first round.
The Bruins are expected to have Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid, John-Michael Liles, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller and McAvoy on the blueline for at least the first game of their series with the Senators. Outside of Chara, McQuaid and Liles, McAvoy and the Millers have a combined 11 games of playoff experience, all of which were played by Kevan Miller in 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With the series against the Senators expected to be a low scoring one, one defensive mistake by an inexperienced defenseman can ultimately be the dagger to the Bruins’ playoff hopes.