Playoff hockey is back in Boston and the Bruins are gearing up for yet another postseason run.
For the second straight season, Bruce Cassidy’s squad goes up against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The decorated Game 7 history between these two Original Six rivals needs no introduction.
This has all the makings of another thrilling series. The Bruins, coming off of a second-round exit at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, had high aspirations of hoisting Lord’s Stanley Cup this season. A plethora of tough challenges awaits in their quest to hoist their seventh Cup in franchise history, starting Thursday night against the Maple Leafs.
Here are five things Boston needs to accomplish to get past Toronto in Round 1.
Take it one game at a time
It’s one of the common cliches in sports. But it holds true in every sense, especially with the Bruins’ first-round opponent.
Boston can’t get caught looking ahead to a potential second-round rematch with top-seeded Tampa Bay. They’ll be in for a rude awakening if they do.
Make no mistake, the Maple Leafs are a terrific hockey team. They are certainly capable of spoiling the party — despite losing three of four meetings against the Bruins in the regular season — if Boston doesn’t bring it’s A game. Not to mention that the star-studded cast of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Morgan Reilly and John Tavares will be motivated to avenge last year’s Game 7 loss on Causeway Street.
The Black and Gold need to take this series one game at a time and do the simple things that make them so good in the first place. It all starts on the defensive end. Cassidy regularly preaches that hockey is just as much about keeping the puck out of your own net as it is scoring on the opposition’s and the Bruins have become a sound defensive unit. Boston’s defense also serves as an important catalyst to springboard transitional offense in the other direction.
The Bruins have Toronto’s number over the past couple of seasons. They also have the distinction of home-ice advantage again. Good things will happen if they stick to the gameplan.
Tuukka Rask needs to show up
Quite possibly the most important player of this series is Boston’s veteran netminder.
Rask is always an easy target for criticism — warranted or not — and will certainly be the fulcrum of this matchup. The prestigious history of the Stanley Cup playoffs shows that goaltenders can make or break a team’s chances of hoisting the Cup. Rask has been on both ends of that spectrum during his tenure in Boston.
The 32-year-old Finn strung together a 27-13-5 regular season and still has the capability of shouldering the load in high leverage moments. Rask, for all the chatter around him, had stretches this year channeling his 2014 Vezina Trophy season.
He’ll need to channel that form the entire series against a Maple Leafs squad that finished second in the league with 281 goals. There will be moments, especially on the road, where Matthews and company will be peppering the goal front.
Rask doesn’t have to put forth a shutout performance every night. He needs to make the routine saves and to not give up some of the occasional head-scratching mistakes.
Jaroslav Halak is waiting in the wings in case Rask falters. Cassidy won’t be shy going to Halak following his stellar first year in Boston. But the Bruins would like nothing more than for Rask to hold the fort against the highly skilled Leafs.
“Our best players need to be our best players.”
Cassidy may have that aforementioned quote trademarked by now. We’ve lost count how many times he mentioned this during his tenure behind the Boston bench.
He, of course, is referring to Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The dynamic top-line trio carried the bulk of the load all season and will most likely have to do so again for the second straight year.
It’s always a tall order to ask out of any top trio. But the “perfection” line can easily get the job done. Pastrnak, Marchand and Bergeron all set career-high point totals — sparked by Marchand’s first 100-point campaign — and combined for 260 points this season.
The confident trio has no problem going up against any other top line in the league. Cassidy echoed that confidence in the top line at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday.
“Very high. Very competitive, professional players, take a lot of pride in their game,” Cassidy said. “I think in the playoffs your best players need to be your best players but sometimes the story as you go along they cancel each other out, so now your depth players become guys that really have a chance to bubble up. That’s always the exciting part about the playoffs, there’s always a few players that step up and make a name for themselves so to speak. But that top line, I’m not worried about. They are going to play well, they are going to play hard. I don’t know if they are going to score every night, that’s a big ask. But at the end of the day, I’m not worried about them if they have an off night. They’re just too good.”
It’s hard to beat the Bruins when the top line clicks. Their chemistry is unparalleled, their talent is unquestionable and their pasta is dripping with marinara.
Toronto found that out first hand in last year’s first-round series. Their defensive and goaltending issues plagued them again at certain points this season. They’ll be heading toward another early exit if that problem continues.
Power Play efficiency
The Bruins turned on the engines and went to work on the man advantage this season. They ranked third in the entire NHL with a 25.90 power play percentage, trailing only Tampa Bay and Florida.
Boston’s man advantage always threatens to score. Torey Krug’s quarterbacking prowess and Pastrnak’s ability to unleash a one-timer at the left faceoff circle increases their odds of finding the back of the net.
But there’s another version of Boston’s power play that makes it a Jekyll and Hyde unit at times. Despite scoring almost at will, the Bruins allowed a league-leading 15 shorthanded goals during the regular season. That can’t happen against anyone in the playoffs, let alone a skilled team like Toronto.
Establishing an early lead is always a good starting point for any level of hockey but it is of the utmost importance in the postseason. Scoring first pays tremendous dividends not only on the score sheet but in the atmosphere of the arena.
Picture Jake DeBrusk lighting the lamp with a first period tally, doing a ridiculous celebration and sending 17,565 at TD Garden into a frenzy. Not to mention, Jack Edwards will most certainly be losing his mind in the booth and that is always must-watch television.
That environment is contagious. The players definitely feed off of it. The Bruins need to get to work early and ride that wave to victory.
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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