In case you missed it yesterday, a first look at the Bruins was included in an article that had the Canes picking their poison between the Blue Jackets and Bruins.
A contender from the beginning
Whereas the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Islanders could all be considered surprises to emerge from the second round of the playoffs, the Boston Bruins were one of the favorites especially after the Tampa Bay Lightning were eliminated in the first round. The Bruins finished with 107 points which tied them for second in the entire NHL behind only the Lightning.
The Bruins 2019 playoffs
The Bruins playoffs started with a dog fight of a series that ended with the Bruins taking game 6 in Toronto before winning game 7 at home. Against Toronto the Bruins were led by their top line. Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand combined for a haul of 9 goals and 11 assists in the series. Tuukk Rask also seemed to get better as the series wore on. In the second round against the Blue Jackets, the Bruins were again down in the series. This time it was an early 2-1 margin before the Bruins won three straight to win the series in six games. Against Columbus, the Bruins relied on stingy defense and more balanced scoring. And the story of the series was Rask playing even better with a .936 save percentage and 2.02 goals against average. Probably most noteworthy coming out of the second-round series is the red hot play of Tuuka Rask.
The Hurricanes/Bruins regular season series
Including a couple throwback games in which the Hurricanes sported Hartford Whalers jerseys, the Bruins had the upper hand winning two out of three games with one of them in overtime. The story of the regular season series was which team’s top forwards had the upper hand. In first meeting on October 30, the Bruins squeaked out a 3-2 win led by the Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak line that netted all three goals. In the Whalers night game in Raleigh in late December, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen led the way to a 5-3 win with two goals and two assists each. Aho notched two more goals in the 4-3 overtime loss when the teams met again in Boston in March. On the Hurricanes side, Aho’s 4 goals and 3 assists in only three games jump out. But the Bruins top players were similarly impressive at times.
The challenges that Bruins present
In many ways, this match up reminds me of the Washington Capitals series. By no means are the Hurricanes a long shot, but I do think it is fair to declare the Bruins a modest favorite by virtue of their regular season pedigree and also home ice advantage. On the ice, the Bruins also match up to the Capitals in a couple regards. First, the Bruins have a top line that is among the best in the league and capable of scoring enough to win a game or a series. Second, they are big and physical such that there will be a physical toll to be paid in this series.
1) Slowing Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak
Especially on the road where Boston can dictate match ups a bit, the Hurricanes will need to be solid defensively to slow not even stop the Bruins top line. The Hurricanes defied playoff odds in the first round with their top line (started as Niederreiter/Aho/Williams) being outscored by Washington’s best by a huge margin. Whereas Niederreiter/Aho/Williams (mostly playing apart) collected only 3 goals and 7 assists, the Capitals trio of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Wilson tallied more than double that with 12 goals and 10 assists. Going back to the well of having the other team’s best players go off in the series is a treacherous one. The Hurricanes will need to find a way to hold Boston’s best in check. Courtesy largely of the same trio, the Bruins boast a power play that finished third in the entire NHL during the regular season.
2) Tukka Rask
Rask could be arguably the greatest X-factor in the entire series. He enters playing incredibly well as evidenced by his .936 save percentage and 2.02 goals against average against the Blue Jackets. But Rask also enters with a reputation for struggling at times. Seemingly trying to trigger a rough patch, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella talked about ‘denting’ Rask in game 5. But Rask was having none of the psychological games posted a shutout win in game 7. Rask’s history has a wide range to it. He has had stretches where he has been lights out like he has recently, but he has also had stretches where he struggled. A key to this series will could very well be if the Hurricanes can crack Rask in a way that carries forward. The situation very much reminds of the Hurricanes match up against Jose Theodore in 2002. Theodore entered on fire and seemingly charging toward a Conn-Smythe Trophy. It took the Hurricanes a few days to crack Theodore, but once they did the dam burst and goals came in bunches. The same could be true for Rask if the Hurricanes can solve him.
3) Withstanding and matching physicality
Again a bit like the Capitals, the Bruins boast some big bodies and the ability to play a physical brand of hockey. The Hurricanes will need to be willing to take hits to make plays and engage physically. In addition, the Hurricanes will need to be able to counter punch to keep the Bruins from gaining an edge. The Hurricanes will likely have five days off before the Bruins game which should do wonders for starting healthier and rested, but much can change over a long seven game series.
The Bruins strength could also be a bit of a weakness. The Bruins are a bit top-heavy scoring-wise and do not get a ton of offense from their lower lines. If the Hurricanes can somehow bottle up Bergeron’s line, the Bruins could suddenly be challenged and pressing for offense. Though his current trajectory says otherwise, I really think the potential is there for Rask to become a weakness if the Hurricanes can get to him. Past those two maybes, the Bruins are a pretty complete and balanced team that lacks any significant vulnerabilities.
Quick compare and contrast with the Islanders and Capitals
As stated above, I really think the similarities to the Capitals are striking. Both teams are big and physical. Both teams have a high-end top scoring line that is capable of winning games and even the series by themselves. Courtesy of those same players, the Bruins also have a dangerous power play like the Capitals. In total, the Bruins are every bit the dangerous team that the Capitals were.
The striking difference versus the Islanders is the greater amount of higher-end offense. In addition, I think the Bruins are better on the blue line maybe somewhat like the Islanders.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What is your assessment of the Boston Bruins in total?
2) Which of the points highlighted in the article will be most important in deciding the outcome of the series?